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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Chris German
  • (508) 289-2853
Award Date:12/07/2012
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 101,316
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 101,316
  • FY 2013=$101,316
Start Date:01/01/2013
End Date:12/31/2016
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Collaborative Research: Suspended particle geochemistry along the US GEOTRACES Eastern Pacific Zonal Transect, from high productivity ocean margin to deep sea hydrothermal plume
Federal Award ID Number:1235248
DUNS ID:001766682
Parent DUNS ID:001766682
Program:Chemical Oceanography
Program Officer:
  • Henrietta Edmonds
  • (703) 292-7427

Awardee Location

County:Woods Hole
Awardee Cong. District:09

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Street:183 Oyster Pond Rd.
City:Woods Hole
County:Woods Hole
Cong. District:09

Abstract at Time of Award

During the 2013 GEOTRACES Eastern Pacific cruise a diverse range of oceanic environments will be encountered from the high productivity/high particle flux waters off Peru to the Peru-Chile oxygen minimum zone, the hydrothermal plume of the East Pacific Rise, and finally to some of the most oligotrophic waters around Tahiti. Scientists from Rutgers University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will sample suspended particulates from the same GO-Flo bottles that will be used to sample dissolved trace metals and their isotopes (TEIs) across this entire transect. The suspended matter samples will be analyzed for 42 elements, including the particle-reactive rare earth elements. In addition, core-top sediments will be collected at every water-column sampling station and analyzed for both bulk composition (i.e., relative % content of organic carbon, opal, biogenic carbonate and lithogenic components) and the same 42 elements to be analyzed in the suspended particulates. Results from this study will be used to assess the role of suspended particulates in the biogeochemical cycling of TEIs across the Eastern Pacific by addressing three key sets of questions: (1) How does uptake of TEIs into phytoplankton and non-living particles in the upper ocean drive the suspended particulate composition through the deeper water column, along the substantial gradient from the high productivity Peru margin to the oligotrophic ocean interior?; (2) How faithfully is the along-transect variability in the upper ocean transmitted to the sediment (paleo) record?; (3) What are the relative influences of vertical recycling versus lateral advection in generating the distributions of dissolved and particulate TEIs observed in the Peru-Chile OMZ?; (4) Is there a characteristic signature of OMZ activity that is preserved in core-top sediments?; (5) What dominates TEI uptake onto/into authigenic particles in hydrothermal plumes and to what extent are these processes augmented by continuing uptake in core-top sediments?; and (6) What is the net effect from submarine venting on global TEI budgets? As regards broader impacts, the scientist from Rutgers University is collaborating with the Education Director of the Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence Networked Ocean World (COSEE-NOW) to contribute to the MARE (Marine Activities, Resources, and Education) program by inviting teachers and high school students to workshops and presentations on climate and ocean sciences. With the help of COSEE-NOW, he also plans to create educational video clips during the Pacific cruise and the subsequent laboratory based analytical work to educate them on the use of geochemistry to understand how the ocean works. Both scientists also plan to develop a teaching module entitled "Particles, Metals, and Carbon" for an Introduction to Oceanography class taught by the Rutgers scientist. One postdoc from Rutgers University would be supported and trained as part of this project.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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J.N.Fitzsimmons, S.G.John, C.M.Marsay, C.L.Hoffman, S.L.Nicholas, B.M.Toner, C.R.German & R.M.Sherrell "Iron persistence in a distal hydrothermal plume supported by dissolved-particulate exchange" Nature Geoscience, v.10, 2017, p.195.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

This project was part of a larger study investigating ocean chemistry that extended far across the Southern Pacific Ocean, from the coast of Peru to the islands of Tahiti.  The remoteness of the area meant that this region had not been well studied previously but our investigation, part of the international GEOTRACES program was able to provide new insights into ocean chemistry as a whole.  Our emphasis, in particular, was on trace chemical compositions in the oceans – these are defined as chemicals that are only present in very low concentrations (less than one part in a million) in seawater.  While the entire survey revealed many processes, a particular highlight from the Western half of the section (the entire sampling cruise in Fall 2013 lasted nearly 2 months at sea) was that hydrothermal venting (underwater hot springs) located along an underwater volcanic chain called the East Pacific Rise, spewed chemicals upward into the overlying water column which we could trace, westward, for more than 4000km.  All across the Pacific, water samples were collected at 34 different depths at 36 different stations and each sample was filtered so that both dissolved and particulate trace metal concentrations could be determined.  In our project, we focussed upon the concentrations of trace elements in the particulate material found in the deep part of the ocean (deeper than 1000km) and this included the long-range hydrothermal plume.  Other colleagues involved in the project showed, while we were out at sea, that dissolved iron and manganese (two metals that are most enriched in hydrothermal fluids where they exit the seafloor) could be traced all across the section as far west as Tahiti.  What our project showed, which was even more of a surprise, was that particles rich in these same metals also persist in the water column all the way across the section with iron only sinking slowly and manganese apparently not sinking at all.  Previously, it had been expected that iron in particular would precipitate to form mineral particles that would sink rapidly to the seabed to generate halos of metal rich sediments closer to the vent sites.  While that process does happen, too, what our new results showed is that an important proportion of the iron released from hydrothermal vents can be bound up with organic matter in the overlying plumes.  Then, apparently because of the reduced density of these iron-organic complexes, the iron can avoid deposition and be transported long distances into the ocean interior.  In turn, this opens up the possibility that this iron may persist in the ocean long enough to well up into the surface ocean, particularly toward Antarctica in the Southern Ocean.  There, iron – which acts as an essential micro-nutrient for life – is in short supply and acts as the limiting ingredient for biological productivity.  Our research has helped pose a new hypothesis, therefore, that hydrothermally sourced iron released from hot springs on the deep ocean floor may help drive a significant proportion of the biological productivity (and associated uptake of carbon dioxide from the overlying atmosphere) across much of the surface of the Southern Ocean.  As well as being significant for our own planet, awareness of these new processes that we had not previously been aware of is also helping shape planning for investigating the geochemical cycles (and perhaps also the functioning of life?) on other newly-revealed ocean worlds in our outer solar system, including Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus where it is argued that evidence for seafloor hydrothermal venting has also now been found.  Our project provided important training and research opportunities for an early career female scientist and our exciting first results have been published in the high impact journal Nature Geosciences.

Last Modified: 03/27/2017
Modified by: Chris German

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