European Research Council Award for Ocean Scientist

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Dr  Alessandro Tagliabue, from the University’s School of Environmental Sciences, has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Award for a project which will explore what controls variations in phytoplankton growth, in order to explain the contemporary patterns of ocean productivity and carbon cycling, as well as improve confidence in the projections of future trends.

As one of the largest carbon reservoirs in the Earth system, the ocean is central to understanding past, present and future fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide. In this context, microscopic plants called phytoplankton are key as they consume carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and transfer part of this carbon to the ocean’s interior and ultimately the lithosphere.

The overall abundance of phytoplankton also forms the foundation of ocean food webs and drives the richness of marine fisheries.

Dr Tagliabue said: “The project will combine knowledge of biological requirement for trace metals with newly emerging datasets at the ocean and cellular scale to move ‘beyond the iron curtain’ and catalyse a more complete understanding of the resource limitation of phytoplankton growth, accounting for complex co-limiting interactions.

"Via a progressive combination of data synthesis and state of the art modelling, this project aims to deliver a step-change into how we think resource availability controls life in the ocean.”

While it has been long known that trace metals are fundamentally important to the photosynthesis and respiration of phytoplankton, but it is only very recently that the necessary large-scale oceanic datasets required by numerical models have become available.

Dr Tagliabue is leading such efforts with the trace metal iron, but there is an urgent need to need to expand the approach to other essential trace metals such as cobalt, copper, manganese and zinc.

Professor Douglas Mair, Head of the School of Environmental Sciences, said: “This award is important recognition of the standing of Dr Tagliabue and his continued contribution to leading research in the processes that regulate the cycling of nutrients and phytoplankton productivity in the ocean.”

Dr Tagliabue has been awarded €1.7M over the next 5 years for the project entitled BYONIC (Beyond the Iron Curtain).

The European Research Council, set up in 2007, is a Europe-wide funding organisation which supports outstanding frontier research in any scientific discipline.