The research project is under the direction of associate professor of geology Figen Mekik who said the project is meant to unlock one of the big mysteries in how human activities affect climate change. “To understand and mitigate climate change, we need to look at the Earth’s history,” said Mekik. “We need to go back 20,000 years, to the time since the last Ice Age. This was a time of dramatic natural global warming but it was nothing compared to the human-caused global warming we have been experiencing since the Industrial Revolution.”
Mekik said oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. She and a group of Grand Valley undergraduates plans to measure how quickly oceans can absorb extra CO2 by studying the shells of foraminifers, or single-celled organisms with shells.
“We have already collected deep sea sediment samples bearing forams from oceans around the world,” she explained. “We will spend the next three years studying to what extent they have been preserved/dissolved in deep sea sediments since the last Ice Age, as a way to investigate how quickly and under what conditions the oceans sequester or release CO2 into the atmosphere.”
Mekik said the research is important because human-caused global warming is imminent due to the rapid rise in atmospheric CO2. It is estimated that the oceans will sequester only 75 percent of our current CO2 emissions in the next millennium or two, and 25 percent will remain in the atmosphere for about 500,000 years. “This important research will lead to better understanding of the response time and manner of the oceans in regulating atmospheric CO2 concentration.
The National Science Foundation said it funded the project because of the importance of the scientific problem, but also because of Mekik’s record of outreach work as well as research with undergraduates and publishing with student co-authors in peer-reviewed scientific journals.