Life & its Interactions with Changing Environments

Life & its Interactions with Changing Environments

We solve scientific and societal challenges using advanced understanding of critical biogeochemical interactions in organic and inorganic systems at a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. We do this by answering key questions including: a) How do changes in the carbon-cycle affect flood and energy security risks? b) How resilient are ecosystems to multiple stressors in the environment? c) How stable are terrestrial and marine carbon stores? d) How do Anthropocene by-products (e.g., microplastics, biochar, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) become incorporated into the environment and what are the inherent risks? We take a cross-disciplinary approach using cutting-edge analytical equipment, and advanced field techniques including Earth Observation facilitated through collaboration with the Global Landscape Change and Dynamic Earth & Planetary Evolution Themes. Our research is strengthened through collaboration with environmental isotope expertise and facilities at SUERC and the School for Interdisciplinary Studies

Keywords: biogeochemistry, organisms, carbon stores, palaeoclimate, Anthropocene, linking organic and inorganic processes, proxy calibration, remediation

Theme members

Dr Nicholas A Kamenos (Theme leader)  Prof Susan Waldron   Prof Jaime Toney   Dr Adrian Bass  Dr Brian Barrett  Dr Thorsten Balke  Dr John MacDonald Dr Julien Plancq

 

PhD Students

Alyssa Bell Bianca Cavazzin Mike Zwick Heather Baxter Jinhua Mao Kirsty Shona Hill 

 

MSc by Research Students

Anca Amarei, Cairns Harrison, Scott Kirby, Natasha Kumar

 

Current MSc by Research Opportunities (non-funded)

 Also see Marine and Coastal Science opportunities

Fugitive methane in Scotland: Plume mapping and isotopic characterisation using Cavity Ring-down Spectrometry

Supervisor: Dr Adrian Bass (Adrian.Bass@glasgow.ac.uk)

Proposal:

Methane (CH4) has a global warming potential 28-36 times greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2) and thus, its formation, distribution, stocks and fluxes require our understanding. Atmospheric methane concentration has increased significantly since the industrial revolution, but our knowledge of local and regional production processes is still limited. Where it is, where it comes from and how did it get there are questions still needing exploration at the finer scales.

Utilising the stable isotopes of carbon we can begin to elucidate the origin of a methane source, allowing for the separation of anthropogenic and natural sources to the atmosphere on small spatial scales. To assess the contributions from anthropogenic activities such as mining (active and retired), agriculture, and natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracture we use high resolution measurements of methane isotopic composition. Specifically in this project we will use Cavity Ring-down Spectrometry to map and characterise methane plume distribution across Scotland’s central belt, quantifying the significance of anthropogenic and natural methane sources on a regional scale.

Specific and transferrable skills:

The student will gain expertise in carbon isotope analysis via Cavity Ring-down Spectrometry and isotope ration mass spectrometry as well as general laboratory practice. Stable isotope analysis and use are widely used in numerous fields of study and training in their application will be a valuable asset. Unique to this project, the student will become versed in the relatively new technology of Cavity Ring-down Spectrometry, a rapidly expanding methodology in biogeochemistry. This will include extensive utilisation during field campaigns.

Required background:

The student will likely have a background in chemistry, geology or environmental geoscience, with an interest in developing this into a comprehensive biogeochemical framework. Laboratory experience is desirable though not essential, as is experience with field work. A willingness to learn techniques not already possessed is essential. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained during an undergraduate dissertation, is expected.


Energy-efficient alteration of natural algal products for use in biofuel technology

Supervisor/s: Dr. Jaime L. Toney, Dr. Ian Watson (School of Engineering, University of Glasgow), Dr. David France (School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow)

Proposal:

Dependence on fossil fuels is one of the most critical challenges facing modern society and research into renewable and sustainable sources of fuel are essential as society moves forward. One of several “Green” solutions to the looming global energy crisis is the generation of biofuels from plants. Producing ethanol from corn is one potential strategy, although this process currently has a finely balanced energy requirement (i.e. about the same amount of energy goes into producing the ethanol as comes out). An attractive alternative would be to use aquatic plants like algae, which can be “farmed” much more efficiently and do not carry concerns of soil nutrient depletion. Algae have recently been discovered from lakes with unusual water chemistries that produce high concentrations of high molecular weight ketones of varying saturation states.

This project will isolate these molecules from lake sediments using known organic geochemical techniques and investigate the experimental conditions needed to break these compounds into smaller, usable molecules for the biofuel industry. This project provides a key opportunity to work in a growing, interdisciplinary field with colleagues across the Schools of Geographical and Earth Science, Engineering, and Chemistry. The main objective of this project is to determine which processes are the most energy-efficient for converting the natural algal molecules into biofuels.

Specific and transferrable skills:

Data analysis and problem solving, experimental design, leadership, mentoring, project management, oral presentation, expertise in organic geochemistry, effective proposal and report writing

Required background:

Highly motivated student from Earth Science, Geography, Engineering or Chemistry backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will have, or be about to receive, a Bachelor degree (at least 2:1 or equivalent).

 

If interested, please contact Dr. Jaime Toney at: Jaime.toney@glasgow.ac.uk


Characterising and Quantifying Long-term Sediment Stores of Carbon in Scottish Sea Lochs

Please click here for full details.


Reconstructing interglacial terrestrial climate variability & ecosystem response across MIS 19 (~790ka) from Stoneman Lake, Arizona

Please click here for full details.


The physical and chemical interaction between legacy steel slag and lake water

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk)

Figure 1. Kilbirnie Loch (left) and slag on the lake shore (right).

Aim:

This project will investigate the physical and chemical interaction between legacy steel slag and lake water, where the slag has been dumped into a lake.

‌Rationale of the project:

Worldwide, it is estimated that steelmaking produces up to 250 million tonnes of waste slag per year. Slag was, until the last few decades, dumped in heaps with little or no subsequent remediation.  Previous research has shown that interaction of rainwater with these subaerially exposed legacy slag heaps facilitates release of ecotoxic metals (such as Cr, As, V and Pb) into surrounding streams. However, in some instances, steel slag has been dumped directly into standing water (lakes). The degree of physical and chemical interaction between slag and the water was dumped into has not been studied and will control the extent of ecotoxic metal release into the lake.

Methods:

At the former Glengarnock Steelworks in North Ayrshire, Scotland, steel slag was dumped into Kilbirnie Loch between the 1850s and 1980s. During this period, the size of the loch decreased by around a quarter. In order to investigate the interaction of slag and lake water, samples of water will be taken from the lake surface as well as sediment from lake shore and slag from the slag heap which is exposed above the lake level. A range of petrographic and geochemical analytical techniques will be applied to the samples in this project, including optical and SEM petrography, XRD, ICP-OES and ICP-MS.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a geoscience or environmental chemistry background with an interest in pollution. Laboratory experience is desirable although not essential but a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This MSc by Research project will give the student experience in a range of analytical techniques and familiarity with aspects of pollution science. These skills will equip them for further research through a PhD or a career in environmental monitoring and management.

If interested, please contact Dr. John MacDonald at: John.MacDonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk


How is atmospheric CO2 captured by steel slag?

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk), Dr. Luke Daly

Figure 1. Carbonated slag (left); micro-computed tomography model of calcite in a piece of slag (right).

Aim:

This project will investigate the crystallinity and crystallography of calcite which has precipitated during sequestration of atmospheric CO2 by steel slag.

‌Rationale of the project:

Steel slag is the waste product from steel manufacturing. It is usually dumped in heaps open to the atmosphere. Similar to ultramafic rocks, steel slag is dominated by minerals with divalent metals cations and is highly reactive. This results in carbonation of the slag – the divalent metal cations in the slag minerals react with atmospheric carbon dioxide and precipitate carbonate minerals such as calcite on the surface of the slag pieces or in the pore spaces. As this chemical reaction captures CO2 from the atmosphere, it has attracted attention as a possible method for sequestering atmospheric CO2 and therefore potentially mitigate the effects of climate change.

Methods:

Samples of carbonated steel slag will be collected and cut into polished blocks and polished thin sections. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) analysis will be conducted to determine the crystallinity of the precipitated calcite, and to quantify the crystal size, shape and structure as well as any crystallographic orientation relationships with other minerals within the slag. The EBSD data will then be compared with μCT analysis and crystallographic modelling to investigate the way the calcite crystals have grown through the reaction between the slag and atmospheric CO2.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a geoscience or chemistry background with a strong interest in climate change and its mitigation. Laboratory experience is desirable - particularly use of SEM - and a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This MSc by Research project will give the student experience in advanced SEM techniques and familiarity with industrial residues and the opportunities they present. These skills will equip them for further research through a PhD or a career in a discipline relevant to climate change.

If interested, please contact Dr. John MacDonald at: John.MacDonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk


Cement Waste Carbonation for Carbon Capture

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk)

Figure 1. Section through a waste cement deposit (left) and a close-up of calcite precipitated on the cement clinker (right).

Aim:

This project will investigate the natural capture of carbon dioxide by a legacy cement waste heap.

‌Rationale of the project:

Cement manufacture involves smelting raw materials (predominantly limestone and clay) in a furnace at ~2000 °C which produces gravel- to cobble-sized cement clinker, which is subsequently ground up to become cement powder. Some clinker may be discarded for quality-control reasons and has historically been dumped in heaps around cement works. The clinker is composed of highly reactive minerals (this is what gives cement its desired properties), which are far from equilibrium in the natural environment and, similar to other industrial smelting products like steel slag, react with atmospheric CO2 to precipitate calcium carbonate (calcite). This reaction, which draws down atmospheric CO2, merits further investigation as it may present an opportunity to limit or reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations which are increasing global temperatures. In order to address the feasibility of this, various questions need to be addressed such as how much CO2 could waste cement clinker sequester, and what are the mechanics of the calcite precipitation.

Methods:

Samples of cement clinker have been collected from a former cement works near Wishaw in Scotland. A small cliff section through a bank of partially ground discarded clinker shows irregular layering and a range of textures. Photography and logging of this cliff will provide context to subsequent petrographic and XRD analysis to determine the mineralogy. μCT analysis will be conducted on samples to determine the spatial distribution and volume of calcite which has precipitated on the clinker.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a geoscience or chemistry background with a strong interest in climate change and its mitigation. Laboratory experience is desirable and a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This MSc by Research project will give the student experience in advanced SEM techniques and familiarity with industrial residues and the opportunities they present. These skills will equip them for further research through a PhD or a career in a discipline relevant to climate change or environmental management.

If interested, please contact Dr. John MacDonald at: John.MacDonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk


The effect of crystallinity on the distribution and release of ecotoxic metals from steel slag

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk), Dr. Luke Daly

Figure 1. Hand specimen (left) and thin section (right) of steel slag.

Aim:

This project will investigate the degree of crystallinity in steel slag, and its spatial variation within lumps of slag relative to ecotoxic metal distribution.

‌Rationale of the project:

Worldwide, it is estimated that steelmaking produces up to 250 million tonnes of waste slag per year. Slag was, until the last few decades, dumped in heaps with little or no subsequent remediation.  Previous research has shown that interaction of rainwater with these subaerially exposed legacy slag heaps facilitates release of ecotoxic metals (such as Cr, As, V and Pb) into surrounding streams. Slag is generated in a furnace at >1000 °C and is rapidly quenched when dumped in a heap. The effect of this quenching on the crystallinity of the minerals that make up the slag, and the ecotoxic trace elements they contain, is not known. Low-crystallinity or amorphous areas are more likely to undergo rapid dissolution and therefore release ecotoxic metals into the environment more rapidly than more crystalline areas. In crystalline regions, the host phase of these elements will determine their susceptibility to weathering. This project may inform quenching protocols for slags to promote sequestration in environmentally robust mineral phases.

Methods:

Samples of steel slag from legacy slag heaps at various locations in Scotland and/or Northern England will be collected. Thin sections will be prepared for electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) analysis on a scanning electron microscope; this will determine crystalline and amorphous domains within the slag. Solution inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) of these different domains will determine whether ecotoxic metals are concentrated in low crystallinity or amorphous areas, and which specific mineral phases ecotoxic metals are sequestered into in more crystalline regions.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a geoscience or environmental chemistry background with an interest in pollution. Laboratory experience is desirable although not essential but a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This MSc by Research project will give the student experience in a range of analytical techniques and familiarity with aspects of pollution science. These skills will equip them for further research through a PhD or a career in environmental monitoring and management.

If interested, please contact Dr. John MacDonald at: John.MacDonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk


The effect of crystallinity on the distribution and release of ecotoxic metals from steel slag

Supervisor: Dr. John MacDonald (john.macdonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk), Dr. Luke Daly

Figure 1. Hand specimen (left) and thin section (right) of steel slag.

Aim:

This project will investigate the degree of crystallinity in steel slag, and its spatial variation within lumps of slag relative to ecotoxic metal distribution.

‌Rationale of the project:

Worldwide, it is estimated that steelmaking produces up to 250 million tonnes of waste slag per year. Slag was, until the last few decades, dumped in heaps with little or no subsequent remediation.  Previous research has shown that interaction of rainwater with these subaerially exposed legacy slag heaps facilitates release of ecotoxic metals (such as Cr, As, V and Pb) into surrounding streams. Slag is generated in a furnace at >1000 °C and is rapidly quenched when dumped in a heap. The effect of this quenching on the crystallinity of the minerals that make up the slag, and the ecotoxic trace elements they contain, is not known. Low-crystallinity or amorphous areas are more likely to undergo rapid dissolution and therefore release ecotoxic metals into the environment more rapidly than more crystalline areas. In crystalline regions, the host phase of these elements will determine their susceptibility to weathering. This project may inform quenching protocols for slags to promote sequestration in environmentally robust mineral phases.

Methods:

Samples of steel slag from legacy slag heaps at various locations in Scotland and/or Northern England will be collected. Thin sections will be prepared for electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) analysis on a scanning electron microscope; this will determine crystalline and amorphous domains within the slag. Solution inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) of these different domains will determine whether ecotoxic metals are concentrated in low crystallinity or amorphous areas, and which specific mineral phases ecotoxic metals are sequestered into in more crystalline regions.

Knowledge background of the student:

The student should have a geoscience or environmental chemistry background with an interest in pollution. Laboratory experience is desirable although not essential but a willingness to learn new techniques in a laboratory environment is vital. A competent ability in scientific writing, gained through an undergraduate mapping or research project, is expected.

Career prospects:

This MSc by Research project will give the student experience in a range of analytical techniques and familiarity with aspects of pollution science. These skills will equip them for further research through a PhD or a career in environmental monitoring and management.

If interested, please contact Dr. John MacDonald at: John.MacDonald.3@glasgow.ac.uk