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Antarctica, aerosols and optics: new grants in Chemistry

The Remotely Operated Vehicle, Isis

The Remotely Operated Vehicle, Isis

4 October 2006

New grants awarded to staff in the School of Chemistry will further their work on Antarctic ecosystems, the behaviour and properties of organic aerosols, and the development of new optical sensors.

Antarctic ecosystems

Dr Richard Pancost of the School of Chemistry is the Bristol Principal Investigator for a Consortium project to explore and analyse deep-water chemosynthetically driven ecosystems in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. The total funding for the project is £3.2 million.

The research consortium consists of the National Oceanography Centre at the  University of Southampton, the Universities of Bristol and Newcastle, the British Antarctic Survey and the Institute of Zoology. It is led by Professor Paul Tyler of the National Oceanography Centre.

Chemosynthetic ecosystems are better known as hydrothermal vents (or openings in the sea floor from which hot water issues, such as occur along mid-ocean ridges) and cold seeps (or springs) on the ocean floor. Such ecosystems rely on chemical energy from beneath the earth’s surface as their primary energy source rather than sunlight, which drives most of earth’s ecosystems. Although there has been limited evidence for some years that vents and seeps occur around Antarctica, it is not known how much or what types of marine life they support. Also unknown is how these systems could serve as a bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and will use the latest marine technology, such as the Remotely Operated Vehicle Isis, which can be used to video, photograph and obtain fauna samples from depths of up to 6,500 metres. This will allow the discovery and exploration of new deep-sea ecosystems and potentially new forms of life that thrive in them.

Organic aerosols

NERC has awarded £294,263 to Dr Jonathan Reid as Principal Investigator for a project on the formation pathways and properties of organic aerosols. There is significant uncertainty in scientists’ understanding of the impact of aerosol particles and clouds on the earth’s climate. To more accurately predict climate change, this uncertainty must be reduced. The project will focus on one of the key uncertainties: the role of organic compounds, both naturally occurring and those produced through fossil fuel burning, on the behaviour of aerosol particles and clouds. The project is a collaborative endeavour between researchers at the Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia, Manchester and Bristol.

New optical sensors

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has awarded a grant totaling £892,774 to Professor Andrew Orr-Ewing as Principal Investigator and Professor Mike Ashfold for a project to develop new methods to design and exploit optical sensors based on the small, low-cost diode lasers used widely by the telecommunications industry. The wavelengths at which these lasers operate are not best suited for most chemical applications, so new techniques will be tested to generate infra-red and ultraviolet light from these compact lasers. The resultant light sources will be used in a variety of applications ranging from the study of plasmas used to grow advanced materials (such as diamond films) to analysis of trace constituents of human breath (as indicators of specific medical conditions), and measurement of very low levels of organic compounds (such as man-made pollutants) in ambient air.


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