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A clumped isotope laboratory for the Netherlands

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ClumpLab (A clumped isotope laboratory for the Netherlands)

Reporting period: 2015-04-01 to 2017-03-31

Analysis of the geologic record shows that Earth’s climate changed often, suddenly, and jumped swiftly, sometimes into extreme states, many times in its history. The exact nature of these climate changes is unknown. What can we learn from past changes about modern climate change? Such questions are investigated in the field of paleoclimatology. The backbone of paleoclimatology is the reconstruction and accurate quantification of key climate parameters in the past. In this context, the goal of the ClumpLab project is to better constrain past temperatures through the application of a new and powerful paleo-thermometer: clumped isotopes in carbonates. The ClumpLab project brought the first carbonate clumped isotope facility to the Netherlands. The method was established at the Utrecht University, in one of the world’s best labs in the field of paleoclimate research. State of the art techniques and latest developments in the field were implemented to refine the clumped isotope method in order to reduce necessary sample volumes and improve accuracy. The technique was then applied on climate archives to produce novel temperature records for the past warm climate periods. The results help to improve our understanding of the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gas forcing.
The main objective of this project was to establish a basis for a carbonate clumped isotope laboratory in the Netherlands. This goal has been achieved.
Existing infrastructure has been adapted for clumped isotope geochemistry. All lab procedures follow the method that has been previously developed at the ETH Zürich. After successful tests with standard measurements, first research projects have been started that are still ongoing. First publications of results will be expected in the next year.

Examples:

- deep sea temperatures of the Sea of Japan have been reconstructed to gain better insights into the circulation changes in this marginal basin during the Quaternary
- Eocene corals from South Australia have been investigated for their potential for clumped isotope geochemistry
- soil carbonate nodules from the Bighorn Basin in North America across the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum event have been analysed for clumped isotopes to reconstruct continental temperatures during this extreme greenhouse gas event
- planktic foraminifera of Pliocene age have been analysed for clumped isotopes from various IODP sediment cores in order to reconstruct sea surface temperatures during this period of increased greenhouse gas concentrations

Further research activities in this new clumped isotope facility are ensured through successful acquisition of research funds during the Marie Curie project. This research money (in total 1.3 million Euro) will fund a PhD position, a postdoc position and the position of an Assistant Professor (50%). In addition funds will allow further investment in the infrastructure of the new clumped isotope laboratory and will allow the purchase of an additional gas isotope ratio mass spectrometer that is specifically configured for the measurement of small samples.

Teaching activities of the Marie-Curie fellow have been also a part of the project and in particular the incorporation of clumped isotope geochemistry into the curriculum in the Earth Science Department of Utrecht University. More than 10 BSc and MSc projects have been supervised by the Marie-Curie fellow. The fellow was also awarded a Basic Teaching Qualification Certificate and a teaching award of the faculty. These teaching related activities strengthened the position of the Marie Curie fellow and brought in the course of the project in a permanent position at Utrecht University.
During the project the clumped isotope method has been successfully tested on a wide range of materials. Foraminifera, soil carbonates, diagenetic calcites, soil CO2. These test have shown the large potential of the method to reconstruct paloeoclimates, but also in a variety of other geoscientific fields. Towards the end of the project, a collaboration was started with TNO. In this collaboration the clumped isotope technique was applied on soil CO2 in the framework of a large scale European project that investigates the potential of carbon capture underground.
The K-Pg boundary in Zambia, Spain; fieldwork with students