Paleoceanography

The main focus in this area is the ocean's role in earth's climate. Joint Program faculty, staff, and students have diverse interests, including defining problems in paleoclimatology, modeling the general circulation of the ocean and atmosphere, micropaleontology, ocean paleochemistry and sedimentation dynamics of marine particulates.

Cross-departmental links are strong between faculty at MIT's EAPS and WHOI's Geology & Geophysics, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, and Physical Oceanography departments.

Areas of specialty include:

  • Proxy reconstructions of changes in ocean chemistry and ocean circulation—Many paleoceanographic studies involve field programs to recover deep-sea sediments and subsequent analysis and interpretation of "proxies." These physical, chemical and biological aspects of the sediment provide clues for deducing the behavior of the ocean and climate at times in the past.
     
  • Numerical climate modeling—Earth's climate is the result of the complex interplay of the ocean, atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, and "solid" earth. Interactions (feedbacks) among these components, as well as external forcings, produce a system whose behavior is not easy to intuit. The system is further complicated by differences in the characteristic response time of the various components involved, which can vary from days to hundreds of thousands of years. Researchers use models that describe processes such as fluid flow, radiative and chemical processes in the ocean and atmosphere, and geochemical reservoir inputs and outputs to try to understand ancient climate change analogs for future climate change.
     
  • Process studies of modern sediment composition and paleochemical proxies—Biogeochemical processes in the water column and at the sea floor influence carbon and trace-element cycling in the ocean directly. They can also affect important aspects of the sediment record, including bulk sediment composition and benthic foraminiferal shell chemistry. Researchers use sediment traps, and pore water and solid phase studies of modern sediments to investigate the controls on organic matter decomposition, calcium carbonate dissolution, and trace metal cycling in sinking particles and in surficial sediments. They also study the factors that influence the isotopic and trace element composition of the calcium carbonate shells of benthic and planktonic foraminifera.
Faculty: Karen Bice (G&G), Ed Boyle (EAPS, MIT), Bill Curry (G&G), Konrad Hughen (MCG), Lloyd Keigwin (G&G), Pat Lohmann (G&G), Dan McCorkle (G&G), Olivier Marchal (G&G), Delia Oppo(G&G), Sarah Das(G&G), Joan Bernhard (G&G)

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