Trace elements serve important roles as regulators of ocean processes including marine ecosystem dynamics and carbon cycling. The role of iron, for instance, is well known as a limiting micronutrient in the surface ocean. Several other trace elements also play crucial roles in ecosystem function and their supply therefore controls the structure, and possibly the productivity, of marine ecosystems. Understanding the biogeochemical cycling of these micronutrients requires knowledge of their diverse sources and sinks, as well as their transport and chemical form in the ocean. Much of what is known about past ocean conditions, and therefore about the processes driving global climate change, is derived from trace-element and isotope patterns recorded in marine deposits. Reading the geochemical information archived in marine sediments informs us about past changes in fundamental ocean conditions such as temperature, salinity, pH, carbon chemistry, ocean circulation and biological productivity. These records provide our principal source of information about the ocean's role in past climate change. Understanding this role offers unique insights into the future consequences of global change. The cycle of many trace elements and isotopes has been significantly impacted by human activity. Some of these are harmful to the natural and human environment due to their toxicity and/or radioactivity. Understanding the processes that control the transport and fate of these contaminants is an important aspect of protecting the ocean environment. Such understanding requires accurate knowledge of the natural biogeochemical cycling of these elements so that changes due to human activity can be put in context. Despite the recognised importance of understanding the geochemical cycles of trace elements and isotopes, limited knowledge of their sources and sinks in the ocean and the rates and mechanisms governing their internal cycling, constrains their application to illuminating the problems outlined above. Marine geochemists are poised to make significant progress in trace-element biogeochemistry. Advances in clean sampling protocols and analytical techniques provide unprecedented capability for high-density sampling and measurement of a wide range of trace elements and isotopes which can be combined with new modelling strategies that have evolved from the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) programmes. A major new international research programme, GEOTRACES, has now been developed as a result of community input to study the global marine biogeochemical cycles of trace elements and their isotopes. Here, we describe this programme and its rationale.
Helmholtz Research Programs > PACES I (2009-2013) > TOPIC 1: The Changing Arctic and Antarctic > WP 1.4: Antarctic Circumpolar Climate and Ecosystem Study