Explore the Science
Chemical Oceanography is fundamentally interdisciplinary. The chemistry of the ocean is closely tied to ocean circulation, climate, the plants and animals that live in the ocean, and the exchange of material with the atmosphere, cryosphere, continents, and mantle. This diversity of influences on the chemistry of the ocean is represented by the topical research interests of the Chemical Oceanography faculty at the University of Washington, listed below, with links to the individual research groups.
The Carbon Cycle: All living things and the fossil fuels they can evolve into are comprised of carbon. The ocean contains a large reservoir of carbon many times the size of the atmospheric reservoir that can substantially alter atmospheric CO2 levels.
Paleoclimatology: Understanding the natural variability of the climate system is essential for determining when the current climate is outside its normal range. Since thermometers, rain gauges, weather balloons, oceanographic research vessels, and satellites have only been used extensively for less than a century the only way to reconstruct climate is from ocean and lake sediment cores, ice cores, tree rings, coral and the like.
Geochemistry of Rivers and Estuaries: The ultimate source of the chemical constituents of the sea is primarily from rivers that deliver their dissolved and particulate input through estuaries.
Global Biogeochemistry: The source of most of the chemical changes in the sea is the flux of biologically produced organic matter from the euphotic zone. Gas exchange at the air-water interface is the sink for anthropogenically produced greenhouse gases.
Sediment Geochemistry: Chemical reactions in the ocean change dramatically and are facilitated by a unique set of microbes when the oxygen concentration is exhausted. The most widespread example of this is in ocean sediments which become the most important sink for nitrate after organic matter diagenesis depletes oxygen. Other examples are the oxygen minimum zones of the ocean and anoxic basins like the Black Sea.
Hydrothermal Systems & Chemistry: Chemical reactions at mid-ocean ridge spreading centers that bisect all ocean basins involve unique reactions that greatly influence ocean chemical mass balance and provide a host for unique biological systems.