13 August 2012Dr Fanny Monteiro has been awarded a 3 year NERC Fellowship for a research project entitled 'Determining the marine ecosystem response to global change: Lessons from the past using a new Earth system model'.
Today our climate is getting warmer due to large release of carbon to the atmosphere causing our marine ecosystem to change. We however do not know exactly how this ecosystem will response to the change in climate, mainly because of the complexity of the ocean system in which organisms keep interacting with each other and their environment. In particular little is known for the phytoplankton which constitute the base of the marine food chain. One way to understand better the change in the marine ecosystem interactions is to look at significant climatic events in the past, such as the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) of 20 thousand years ago, a time when great ice sheets were covering our continent, and the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) of 55 million years ago, a good analogue to today's climatic perturbations. By comparing the distribution and the diversity of the phytoplankton living in the ocean today with the ones of the LGM and the PETM, I plan to understand better how the marine ecosystem functions and reacts to changes in the climate.
One of the biggest challenges is that we do not have enough observations to reproduce the phytoplankton distribution and diversity of the global ocean of past climates. Ocean models can help because they represent all the important factors that determine where different phytoplankton species prefer to live . But current models only account for a handful of different phytoplankton based on modern species. I will develop a new Earth system model to represent the diversity of the paleomarine ecosystem using the Darwin approach.
What is the Darwin approach? Usually models represent only a handful of different sorts of phytoplankton, based on modern species which have been grown in the laboratory. Unfortunately there have not been enough experiments to realistically reproduce the wide diversity of phytoplankton of the real ocean. In the Darwin approach, the model generates randomly a hundred phytoplankton 'characters', each with different abilities and properties to live, and the ocean environment selects for the diversity of the organisms. This type of models has been very successful in representing most of the marine ecosystem of today, but has not been applied to past climates. I propose to do so for the first time in this project.
The core of the research will be done at the University of Bristol which has a strong group of experts in climate observations and modelling. In addition I will carry out close collaborations with MIT in the US for its expertise in the Darwin approach (Darwin project: http://darwinproject.mit.edu/) and universities in London, Cardiff and Southampton for their expertise in coccolithophores and diatoms.