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ERC Starting Grant for biogeochemist Caroline Slomp

1,5 million euros for research on the role of phosphate in climate change

Dr. ir. Caroline Slomp from Utrecht University has been awarded an ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant of 1.5 million euros by the European Research Council (ERC). This will finance her research on the development of anoxic zones in oceans and the role of variations in the availability of phosphate for the next five years.  Slomp hopes to find out what the relation is between the quantity of oceanic phosphate and climate in the past, present and future.


Her research proposal titled 'Phosphorus dynamics in low-oxygen marine systems: quantifying the nutrient climate connection in Earth’s past, present and future' has been awarded the highest score of eight points. The review panel was especially enthusiastic about the combination of modeling and new analytical techniques and the research on recent as well as geological sedimentary deposits.


Phosphate and growth of algae

Phosphate is an important nutrient for algae in oceans. Growth of algae makes phosphate and carbon dioxide convert into oxygen and organic matter. When organic matter is being buried on the ocean floor, this will lead to atmospheric carbon dioxide take up and production of oxygen. In this way, variations in the amount of phosphate in oceans will have an effect on the climatic system. It is known that there have been strong variations in the amount of phosphate in oceans in the geological past, especially during periods of anoxic events. However, so far very little is known about these dynamics.

Samples from the Baltic and Arabian Sea

‘We will use new techniques to do research on the burial of phosphate in marine waters with low-oxygen. We just came back from a scientific expedition in the Baltic Sea, where we collected samples from the ocean floor. We will also study samples from the from Arabian Sea from different geological marine sediments, for example from the Cretaceous. By looking at the past we will be able to better understand the way the ocean will react to future changes’, Slomp explains.