This is the web-page of the trace metal group in the Oceanography Department at the University of Hawaii.
Our research is focused on using the distribution of trace elements in the ocean to understand global biogeochemical cycles. We particularly focus on the distribution of dissolved Iron (Fe), Aluminium (Al), and Manganese (Mn). These elements are all in quite low concentrations in seawater, often of the order of nano-moles per litter, which is equivalent to 1 part in a billion (109) by weight.
In addition to dissolved trace elements in ocean water we are also interested in trace elements associated with particulate material in the ocean and also how much of atmospheric aerosols dissolve in the surface ocean.
Iron (Fe) is an important trace element needed to support biological processes in the oceans, but in some areas of the ocean the Fe concentrations are so low that they limit the growth of oceanic plants (phytoplankton). Understanding how Fe is distributed in the ocean and how it is added to the surface ocean where phytoplankton live is an important link in understanding how biological processes in the ocean help control atmospheric carbon dioxide levels both now and in the past.
Aluminium (Al) can be used to trace where dust, carried from the continents by atmospheric processes, is deposited in the surface ocean. Although it is estimated that as much as 200 x 1012 mg mineral dust are deposited on the surface ocean each year, we have very incomplete information where that dust lands in the ocean. But where it lands and dissolves is important because dust also brings Fe to the surface ocean.
Manganese (Mn) is a trace element that is turned into a very soluble form in the organic rich sediments found at the edges of many ocean basins. Because of this its distribution can be a very good tracer of how sediments at the edges of the ocean basins may be contributing other chemicals to the oceans.