Fulbright Scholar joins Kiel University to study the carbon cycle

Cassandra Bartels from the US investigates the role of the Southern Ocean in the global carbon cycle

Cassandra Bartels, an environmental scientist who recently graduated from Barnard College in New York City (USA), joined the working group Paleoceanography and Marine Geology of Professor Julia Gottschalk at the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University as a Fulbright Scholar on September 16. With a scholarship from the Fulbright Commission, Bartels studies the role of the Southern Ocean in the global carbon cycle during the last deglaciation, a time about 15,000 to 19,000 years ago, that was characterized by a retreat of continental ice masses. The prestigious grant promotes academic exchange between Germany and the US.

"We are very excited to have Cassandra join our research group. The Fulbright scholarship is a wonderful recognition of her scientific achievements so far, and allows her to further hone her interests. It will also allow us to deepen our research collaborations with US American universities", says Professor Julia Gottschalk, head of the Paleoceanography and Marine Geology research group at the Institute of Geosciences and member of the priority research area Kiel Marine Science (KMS) at Kiel University. "Throughout the project we will investigate processes driving the global carbon cycle and try to find the puzzle pieces from marine climate archives that help us understand the role of the ocean in the climate system under different climate conditions."

Southern Ocean: Crucial role in carbon cycling in the past

The ocean stores significantly more carbon than the atmosphere and terrestrial biosphere combined. Changes in the marine carbon cycle are therefore considered crucial for atmospheric CO2 fluctuations in the past. To reconstruct the release of carbon from the ocean in the past and draw potential parallels to future ocean and climate dynamics, marine sediment cores and the remains of marine organisms contained therein are studied with an approach involving many different techniques. The Southern Ocean is a particularly suitable study area because it is thought to have played a crucial role in the release of carbon during two rapid increases in atmospheric CO2 levels over the past 20,000 years. "Kiel is an ideal environment for my personal development, allows me to become part of the German culture and exchange new ideas and research findings with great researchers in the field", says Bartels. "I am looking forward to collaborating with members of Julia Gottschalk's research group and researchers in Kiel, investigating the marine global carbon cycle based on unique sediment material from the Southern Ocean and applying innovative techniques in Kiel."

New technology for dating of sediment material will be applied

Bartels' Fulbright project aims at providing crucial paleoceanographic insights into the processes and timing of marine carbon release from marine climate archives in the Southern Ocean. For this purpose, radiocarbon measurements will be performed on unicellular, calcareous foraminifera using mass spectrometry to determine the age of the sediments. Innovative methods such as the Mini Carbon Dating System (MICADAS) at the University of Bern are available to Bartels via a collaboration between the University of Bern and Professor Dr. Julia Gottschalk. Within the framework of a planned research stay at the University of Bern, Bartels will further strengthen the partnership of Kiel University with other European universities.

Science communication and interdisciplinary exchange at KMS important for her application

In addition to investigating the role of the Southern Ocean in global climate dynamics after the last ice age and the associated increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, Bartels' project also focuses on science communication. The environmental scientist also chose Kiel University for her Fulbright Scholarship because she hopes to gain impulses from different disciplines for the dialog with society. The FYORD (Foster Young Ocean Researcher Development), a jointly organized interdisciplinary and inter-institutional program of the priority research area Kiel Marine Science (KMS) at Kiel University and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, offers an ideal environment for career development and science communication. "I am especially looking forward to Kiel Week, which will provide me with many opportunities to get involved and communicate my research to a lay audience. Overall, Kiel has a lot to offer in this field", says Bartels, who also has the opportunity to take classes outside her discipline at Kiel University and gain seagoing experience for instance on the research vessel ALKOR.

Previously, Bartels worked as a research assistant at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Her senior thesis in the environmental sciences, with minors in chemistry and architecture, focused on carbon sequestration in the Pacific Ocean in the past.

Portrait of a woman, sea in the background
© Cassandra Bartels, private

In Kiel since the beginning of September: The American environmental scientist Cassandra Bartels. With the Fulbright Scholarship in the research group of Professor Julia Gottschalk at Kiel University, she conducts research on the role of the Southern Ocean in the carbon cycle.

Woman on a ship deck, skyline in the background
© Julia Gottschalk, Kiel University

During an excursion in the Kiel Fjord, the Fulbright Scholar Cassandra Bartels gains her first seagoing experience on board the research vessel ALKOR.

Scientific Contacts:

Prof. Dr. Julia Gottschalk
Institute of Geosciences (IfG)
Kiel University

Cassandra Bartels
Institute of Geosciences (IfG)
Kiel University

About Kiel Marine Science

Kiel Marine Science (KMS), the Center for interdisciplinary marine science at Kiel University, is devoted to excellent and responsible ocean research at the interface between humans and the ocean. The researchers combine their expertise from various natural and social science disciplines to investigate the risks and opportunities that the sea provides for humans. The success of Kiel Marine Science is based on close interdisciplinary cooperation in research and teaching between researchers from seven faculties at Kiel University. Together with actors from outside the scientific community, they work globally and transdisciplinarily on solutions for sustainable use and protection of the ocean.

Press Contact:
Friederike Balzereit
Science Communication Kiel Marine Science (KMS), CAU