Uncovering the long term sensitivity of Southern Ocean phytoplankton to Antarctic climate change, using novel geochemical and ancient DNA proxies

Lead Research Organisation: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Department Name: Camborne School of Mines


The Antarctic is changing. Delicate ecosystems, from marine mammals and birds, to the phytoplankton at the base of the food web, are under threat from both global warming and human activities such as fishing and whaling.

The goal of this project is to better understand how Antarctic phytoplankton will react and adapt to future changes, by examining changes in the past.

The early Holocene is characterised by warming comparable to future 21st century projections, and the Holocene/Anthropocene transition experienced severe environmental disturbance from climate change and fishing during the acceleration of industrialisation. However, there are no fossil records from many of the main phytoplankton groups with which to examine their past sensitivity.

In this project the student will reconstruct past phytoplankton changes in the Southern Ocean, and the offshore Antarctic Peninsula, with diatom micropalaeontology and sedimentary ancient DNA - a new technique recently developed for non-fossilising groups.

The student will also use geochemistry to date the core material, and reconstruct environmental change.

Research focus
The aims of this project are to provide the first records of past changes to Antarctic phytoplankton from species that do not produce a fossil record. Sediment core palaeo-proxies for stable isotopes and micropalaeontology will aid in constraining our reconstructions of past marine environments, with which to build a new understanding of the main causes of phytoplankton change both in the past and into the future.

The student will have opportunities to be involved in the design of the project, particularly with respect to the existing skills and interest in marine, earth and biological sciences. A range of palaeo-proxies are available including but not limited to ancient DNA, isotope geochemistry, and micropalaeontology.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007504/1 01/10/2019 30/11/2027
2578968 Studentship NE/S007504/1 01/10/2021 31/03/2025 Charlotte Greenall