A closer look at the chemistry behind global warming and ocean acidification

The cycling of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen (three key chemical controls) is undergoing unprecedented change due to increased human activity in the ocean. Dasha Atamanchuk aims to provide evidence of what’s happening from a chemical oceanography perspective.

A desire to expand her area of expertise and gain experience made Dasha Atamanchuk’s decision to join Dalhousie University’s CERC.OCEAN group an easy one. After completing her PhD studies in Sweden, she became a postdoctoral fellow with the group. Led by Douglas Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology, CERC.OCEAN was established in 2011, and uses new technology to study biogeochemical and ecological changes in the global ocean.

“Luckily Doug was looking for someone who knew carbonate chemistry, was familiar with ocean measurement techniques and had experience working with sensors and autonomous platforms,” says Atamanchuk, who is originally from the Ukraine. “Honestly, I never thought twice about taking this position.”

Postdoctoral fellows like Atamanchuk are a prime example of how the CERC program is attracting global talent to Canada.

With a strong interest in carbon chemistry and the ocean’s carbon and oxygen cycles, Atamanchuk is currently tracking carbon dioxide in the ocean, to better understand its biogeochemical processes.

One project she is working on involves the SeaCycler. This new oceanographic mooring system offers a unique perspective on the annual biogeochemical cycle in difficult to access places, like the Labrador Sea.

Unlike most existing technology, the SeaCycler is designed to withstand intense ocean currents and storm waves, allowing it to take measurements near the ocean’s surface over long periods of time. ┬áThe direct measurements it produces will serve to validate models and satellite-based data, the most common data products scientists currently use.

“I’m using sensors and submersible instruments for my measurements,” she says. “At the same time, I’m working on developing and improving these instruments to make data coming from them more reliable and trustworthy.”

Atamanchuk’s work will help equip, moorings, gliders, buoys and ferry-boxes with multiple new sensor technologies that are more robust and better suited for unsupervised operation. At this point, the sensor package is still a custom product. Creating something that is modular along with easy to operate and service will be a huge advantage.

Atamanchuk’s hope is that the ferry-box systems become something that any ship engineer would agree to install onboard. The system would be certified, with the idea of increasing the underused, comparatively cheap resource of data that numerous containerships, ferries, supply vessels, ships and boats could provide.

“I’ve always been concerned about the applicability of the science I’m doing,” says Atamanchuk. “It’s important for me to know about the impact that my work is having. In light of global warming and ocean acidification, my goal is to increase the awareness of this threat.”

“The CERC.OCEAN group is always working as a team,” she says. “From lab assistants who help us get ready for a research cruise or process water samples, to technical assistance from the engineers, to the collaborative discussion of scientific findings with other scientists, we operate as a whole.”