Challenges and Benefits

Many trace elements serve as regulators of biological processes in the ocean, influencing marine ecosystem dynamics and the carbon cycle. But knowledge of the marine biogeochemical cycles of these essential elements, called micronutrients because of their ultra-low abundance in seawater, is surprisingly incomplete.

GEOTRACES is quantifying the supply, removal, chemical form, and distribution of micronutrients. This emphasis on understanding the processes regulating the marine biogeochemical cycles of trace elements will improve prediction of the availability of micronutrients, as well as of the transport and fate of contaminants in the ocean, and thereby help to protect the ocean environment.

Much of what is known about ocean conditions in the past and, therefore, about the ocean’s role in climate variability, is derived from trace element and isotope patterns recorded in marine archives (sediments, corals, etc.). Greater knowledge of the processes governing the transition of these tracers into the marine archives in the modern ocean has already improved our understanding of past ocean conditions, from which predictions of future changes can be made more reliable.

GEOTRACES has created an open-access database, trained young researchers, and developed capacity for GEOTRACES science worldwide. This has resulted in the formation of a strong, well-qualified and interactive research community of marine geochemists who are answering questions about how trace elements affect, and respond to, the interactions of humankind with the ocean.