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OU researcher to lead £800k project to improve global climate change predictions

Coastline showing green land and light and dark blue sea

A new Open University (OU)-led project hopes to improve our ability to predict climate change using cutting-edge analysis of fossilised algae molecules.

Dr Marcus Badger, Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences from the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the OU and colleagues from the University of Birmingham will look to the Earth’s history to model how global temperatures will change within the next 100 years. The research could help scientists understand better how to tackle the climate crisis.

The Natural Environmental Research Council awarded more than £800k to the three-year project, which will examine the chemical signatures of alkenones - molecular fossils made by the same algae that make up the white cliffs of Dover.

The alkenone-producing algae lived during the Pliocene epoch, extending from more than five to two million years ago. Scientific evidence suggests the Earth’s conditions during the Pliocene were similar to today, with a comparable orbit around the sun, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and high global temperatures.

Dr Badger said: “Alkenone-producing algae living in surface waters during the Pliocene epoch used photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy. When they died and fell to the bottom of the ocean, they left behind layers of sediment containing fossilised molecules. Using carbon isotope analysis, we can read those layers like a book of the Earth’s history to reconstruct ancient atmospheric conditions.

“As the Pliocene was much warmer, we can use this analysis to understand better how atmospheric carbon dioxide influences global temperatures. This knowledge could help us make our climate change models more accurate and precise, allowing us to take appropriate steps to mitigate the climate crisis.”

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