Pleistocene-Holocene Southern Ocean coccolithophore calcification and productivity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Marine phytoplankton form the basis of pelagic food webs and ecosystems. With modern anthropogenic environmental impacts - including eutrophication, climate change and ocean acidification - there is evidence that this group is already experiencing biogeographic range shifts and changes to community structure. Here, we seek to investigate the response of a key group of marine phytoplankton to rapid environmental change, especially acidification, in the Southern Ocean.

The alage concerned produce calcium carbonate (calcite) plate-like scales, which are produced by and surround the cell during life, but on death accumulate in great numbers in deep ocean sediments. These fossil scales, called coccoliths, can be used to reconstruct the abundance and diversity of species that were living in the surface ocean across millions of years. The chemistry of coccoliths can also be used as an indicator of cell processes and the conditions in the surface ocean environment at the time the coccoliths were formed. Together, we propose to use the variations in the size and abundances of coccoliths produced by different species, as well as chemical indicators of cell growth rates and environment, to determine the response of coccolithophore algae in the Southern Ocean to intervals of rapid ocean acidification in the recent past, specifically those associated with rapid increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at the end of glacial climate intervals.

Planned Impact

POLICY IMPACT: Given the importance of Southern Ocean environmental and ecosystem change in the 21st century, a major objective of the impact plan for this project will be to clearly communicate the importance of IODP Expedition 383 science findings, and this project in particular, to the public and policy organizations. We will make use of the training being provided to Dr Saavedra-Pellitero during her Marie Curie fellowship to communicate and engage with the far wider government, policy and NGO community concerned with the future management of the Southern Ocean. In particular, European nations, governments and society have always taken a leading role in the governance, and more recently, the protection of the Southern Ocean realm. To achieve this, Dr Saavedra-Pellitero will take on active engagement with the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) Biological Symposium and State of the Antarctic Ecosystem (AntEco) Programme.

EDUCATIONAL IMPACT: Earth Science Teachers Association (ESTA); in collaboration with the Lapworth Museum of Geology Staff, the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, is hosting the annual ESTA teachers conference in September 2019, but beyond this will be hosting termly Continuing Professional Development (CPD) events for teachers as a "regional hub" for Geoscience educators. This is a new undertaking for ESTA, with this initiative in the West Midlands being run as a trial initiative to help boost Geoscience education and profile within schools. As part of the impact from this project, Dr Saavedra-Pellitero will work with Lapworth secondary school outreach officers to develop, through the forum of these ESTA meetings, curriculum-relevant materials to engage secondary school students about ocean science, IODP and climate change. This work will specifically build on the highly successful temporary exhibition, outreach comic and website on IODP science hosted by the Museum in 2019 "Mysteries of the Deep".

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IMPACT: We believe that communicating the discipline of Earth Science to the wider public is critical for an understanding of the global-scale challenges posed by 21st century climate change. We propose to communicate the science of IODP Expedition 383 and the findings of this project through high-profile outreach work at the British Science Association Annual Festival. Palaeoclimate scientists have a unique position within ongoing public debates about future climate predictions by situating these within established records of past climate variability. Here, Dr Saavedra- Pellitero will give a talk the BSA Science Festival about her research, explicitly making the link between paleoclimate records and the latest debates about the future of Antarctic and Southern Ocean climates and ecosystems.

This moratorium proposal will fund a technician post, likely to be taken-up by a recent graduate of the MSc Micropalaeontology at Birmingham. This research experience, including laboratory preparation and analytical techniques, will provide them with positive experience for a future research career.


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