Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award: Controls on the preservation of organic carbon in the marine environment

This fellowship will focus on the factors controlling the reactivity and cycling of organic carbon in the marine environment. The balance between the degradation and preservation of organic carbon in seawater and marine sediments is of the most important processes for regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide on anthropogenic timescales, and has played a major role throughout Earth history in global climate and planetary oxygenation since the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. Despite the fundamental importance of organic carbon dynamics however, the factors controlling organic carbon preservation are very poorly understood. Current work suggests that the uptake, or sorption, of organic carbon by marine minerals might play a significant role in preserving organic carbon, and so might be responsible for a significant proportion of organic carbon preservation in the modern Earth system. 
This project will employ a unique combination of state-of-the-art biogeochemical and geomicrobiological techniques to investigate the interactions of organic carbon with marine minerals at the molecular level, and determine whether and to what extent organic carbon is stabilized and preserved in association with marine minerals. This approach will provide fundamental new insights into organic carbon reactivity and cycling in seawater and marine sediments, and will help better understand the links between carbon cycling, climate and planetary homeostasis over geological time.