Laura Robinson: The secrets I find on the mysterious ocean floor
Laura Robinson - Ocean scientist
Dr. Laura Robinson's scientific mission is to document and understand the processes that govern climate. Full bio
of the ocean today.
of the ocean in the past.
of deepwater corals.
of these corals behind me.
thousands of meters below the sea,
than the kinds of corals
if you've had a tropical holiday.
beautiful two-dimensional image
so it's got tremendous spatial resolution.
easy to understand.
because there's more sunlight.
because there's less sunlight.
to build up on Antarctica
or even put your toes in the sea,
that fill the abyss of the ocean
where the waters are dense.
20,000 years ago,
of one of the major differences
if you went back that long.
and they extended out over the ocean.
much lower than they are today.
to five degrees colder overall,
in the polar regions.
are trying to understand,
cold climate condition
that we enjoy today.
cold conditions to warm conditions
from the slow increase in solar radiation.
because if you drill down into ice,
and you can see this in the iceberg.
so we can measure CO2 --
was lower in the past --
also tells us about temperature
from 20,000 years ago to the modern day,
has a lot to do with this.
than is in the atmosphere.
across the equator,
and it controls primary productivity.
what's going on down in the deep sea,
coming from a seamount
in international waters
to see this bit of the seafloor,
and do some very intense taxonomy.
growing on these corals.
like tentacles coming out of corals.
of calcium carbonate
massive undersea mountain,
those are fossilized corals,
a little more about those
to charter a research boat.
an ocean-class research vessel
a little more like this.
that we don't lose precious samples.
and I get terribly seasick,
but overall it is.
a really good mapper to do this.
coral abundance everywhere.
the right places.
and overlaid was our cruise passage
of the seafloor in seven weeks,
of the seafloor.
look featureless on a big-scale map,
are as big as Everest.
to deploy our equipment,
that are one-meter resolution
of big lights on the top.
to put your samples.
of this particular cruise,
the remotely operated vehicles
it's a small sea slug, basically.
you is speeded up,
coming up was a big surprise.
and it took us all a bit surprised.
and we were all a bit trigger-happy,
sea monster started rolling past.
or colonial tunicate, if you like.
deep sea corals.
of one in a moment.
so you can see its tentacles there,
for about a hundred years.
chemicals from the ocean.
or the amount of chemicals,
it depends on the pH,
these chemicals get into the skeleton,
collect fossil specimens,
used to look like in the past.
that coral with a vacuum system,
carefully, I should add.
an image taken by my colleague,
meters below Hawaii.
of these corals and polish it up,
across this coral --
that these are actual annual bands,
us back to our last glacial maximum.
with my research team.
there are swimming holothurians,
to these dead fossil areas
around on the seafloor.
bring them back, we sort them out.
those chemical signals,
in the ocean in the past.
polished it very carefully
put it in a nuclear reactor,
about the rates and dates
when we're thinking about climate.
thorium, in these corals,
how old the fossils are.
of the Southern Ocean
how we're using these corals
of the surface water
the Southern Ocean is.
particularly the Drake Passage,
currents in the world
flowing from west to east.
great big undersea mountains,
with the atmosphere in and out.
through the Southern Ocean.
across this Antarctic passage,
from my uranium dating:
to the interglacial.
to do with the food source
we've found about climate
We collected little fossil corals.
we've made in the corals,
was very rich in carbon,
layer sitting on top.
coming out of the ocean.
that are of an intermediate age,
partway through that climate transition.
out of the deep ocean.
closer to the modern day,
where carbon can exchange in and out.
we can use fossil corals
with this last slide.
piece of footage that I showed you.
to find things this beautiful.
to appreciate the fossil corals
to fly over the ocean
sea mountains down there
About the Speaker:Laura Robinson - Ocean scientist
Dr. Laura Robinson's scientific mission is to document and understand the processes that govern climate.
Why you should listen
Dr. Laura Robinson's research the processes that govern climate on time scales ranging from the modern day back through hundreds of thousands of years. To do this research, Robinson uses geochemical techniques, with an emphasis on radioactive elements including uranium series isotopes and radiocarbon. These elements are particularly valuable as they have a wide range of decay rates and geochemical properties and can be analyzed in geologic materials such as corals, marine sediments and seawater.
Through a combination of field work and lab work, Robinson has been tackling questions relating to: timing of Pleistocene climate change events; palaeoclimate reconstructions; deep-sea coral paleo-biogeography; impact of weathering on the ocean and climate; biomineralization; development of new geochemical proxies for past climate conditions; chemical tracers of ocean circulation.
Robinson describes the inspiration behind her work:
“When I finished my PhD, I moved to California to work with Professor Jess Adkins at Caltech on a project using deep-sea corals. Before that time, like many people, I did not know that corals lived in the deep ocean. The first thing I did was prepare for a research cruise to the North Atlantic. We took the research submarine 'Alvin' out to undersea mountains and were able to collect fossil corals from the seafloor. The start of my work in the Southern Ocean came from analysis of a single coral specimen from the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC. They loaned us the sample, and we found that it was about 16,000 years old, just right for looking at the middle of the last global deglaciation. Being able to access and work on these specimens is a fantastic way of starting a science project. We published a paper on that sample, and then, together with a coral biologist, I wrote a proposal to fund specific expeditions to the Southern Ocean, and to the Equatorial Atlantic to gain a wider view of how the Atlantic Ocean behaved during major climate transitions.
I love the research as it combines field work, lab work and collaborations with all kinds of people including scientists, engineers as well as the ships' crews. In terms of scientists, I work with biologists, oceanographers, chemists, geologists, habitat specialists and a whole range of people who have technical expertise across these fields.”
Learn more about Robinson's current expidition in the Southern Ocean.
Laura Robinson | Speaker | TED.com