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Forams in the laser sights – getting the most out of laser ablation ICPMS analysis of planktic foraminifera

Project Description

Planktic foraminifera are unicellular protists that secrete a 100-1000 m multi-chambered shell during their four week life cycle. Accumulations of their dead shells form a major component of many deep sea sediments and, because the composition of their shells varies as a function of the environment and water chemistry, they are a major palaeoclimatological tool. Foraminiferal shells are however formed under tight biological control, causing a departure from thermodynamic equilibrium for many chemical systems. This results in so called “vital effects” that require some level of empirical calibration [1].

The standard approaches of foraminiferal analysis is to aggregate 10-100 individuals to get sufficient material for analysis that averages across time and/or individual level variability in vital effects. All this averaging obscures individual- and environmental-level variation, which is paramount when partitioning sources of variance in chemical composition. Laser ablation analysis offers the potential to reconstruct past environments at a much finer granularity, especially as it is possible to target not just individual foraminifera, but also individual growth stages [2].

This PhD will exploit several novel analytical tools and approaches to overcome these analytical and biological challenges to realise the full potential of finer resolution laser ablation ICPMS.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibilty and how to apply


[1] Edgar, Hull & Ezard (2017) Evolutionary history biases inferences of ecology and environment from δ13C but not δ18O values. Nature Communications 8, 1106.
[2] Eggins, S.M., Sadekov, A., De Deckker, P. (2004) Modulation and daily banding of Mg/Ca in Orbulina universa tests by symbiont photosynthesis and respiration: a complication for seawater thermometry? Earth and Planetary Sciences, 225, 411-419, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2004.06.019.
[3] Burke, J.E., Renema, W., Henehan, M.J., Elder, L.E., Davis, C.V., Maas, A.E., Foster, G.L., Schiebel, R. and Hull, P.M. (2018) Factors influencing porosity in planktonic foraminifera, Biogeosciences, 15, 6607–6619,

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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