Dr. Heather Reader
Research invovles: Developing new chemical approaches to probe the marine carbon cycle
Research relevance: This research will develop better ways of monitoring the ocean ecosystem and enhance our understanding of the global ocean carbon cycle
Unraveling the puzzle of organic matter in the ocean
97% of the organic carbon in the ocean is dissolved; that’s 32 times as much carbon than is in all of the living organisms in the ocean, from the tiny phytoplankton to the blue whales. Despite being so big, we know very little about what individual chemicals make up dissolved organic matter, making determining its role in the global carbon cycle challenging.
Chemically, dissolved organic matter is very complex, leading different fractions to function in very different ways in the marine ecosystem. For example, some fractions of dissolved organic matter are very good food sources for microbes at the bottom of the food chain, and are recycled very quickly in the surface ocean. On the other hand, a very large fraction resists biodegradation and chemical degradation and acts as a form of carbon storage throughout the ocean.
From coastal systems to the open ocean, Dr. Reader uses novel combinations of chemical analysis to figure out the puzzle of dissolved organic matter. Applying statistical approaches to complicated chemical datasets, Dr. Reader is developing smarter ways of tracing where dissolved organic matter comes from, how it has interacted with the marine ecosystem in the past, and where it will end up in the future.
Dr. Reader’s work will help to decipher the various roles that dissolved organic matter plays in the environment. The development of new methods to analyze the chemical nature of this carbon will allow for better monitoring of shifts in marine ecosystems, and will lead to a more complete understanding of the part that the oceans play in our complex physical world.