I grew up on a dairy farm in the countryside of Germany. Inspired by my geography teacher at high school I developed a strong interest for physical geography, but it needed an alert career advisor at high school to point out to me that what I was interested in was actually called geology. So I took up undergraduate studies in geology and palaeontology at the University of Bonn (Germany) and never looked back! My interests developed from earthquakes and volcanoes to Earth‘s history, plate tectonics, and how to use chemistry to follow and fingerprint geological processes.
How did you become interested in palaeoceanography and palaeoclimate?
When my PhD advisors at ETH Zürich (Switzerland) took me on for a thesis in palaeoceanography, I came to the field with almost zero background. However, I quickly embraced that the ocean is a fascinating playground, as it covers almost every possible aspect of geology. Who would have thought 100 years ago that by analyzing the chemistry of seawater and marine deposits, we can tell stories about past ocean currents and temperatures, volcanic activities, mountain building and erosion processes, and ice extent on the continents?
What do you study and why is it important?
For most of my research, I use big mass spectrometers to measure small variations in the isotopic composition of particular elements in seawater, marine sediments (i.e., ice-rafted debris), deep-sea corals, or ferromanganese crusts. Different isotope systems can tell us about different processes on earth. I am particularly keen to learn about past changes in ocean circulation patterns, continental weathering, and ice sheet evolution and how they interact with (or govern) the prevailing climate. Studying the past teaches us about important processes, tresholds, and feedbacks in the climate system – knowledge that is vital in the light of current rapid and human-induced climate change.
What will be your role on the cruise?
I will be one of two shift leaders, overseeing the various activities of the biology and palaeoclimate teams during my 12 hours shift. I will also be in charge of the fossil coral database. This sounds quite dry, but is very important, as we use the fossil (=dead) corals to reconstruct ocean chemistry in the past. Hence it is vital that they are all described, catalogued and packed in a systematic way.
How do you spend your free time when not on research cruises?
I like to spend quality time with friends, whether it is hiking, seeing a movie, or going out. I also like reading and listening to music. A guaranteed way to get me really excited is a good football game (Fulham or Bayern Munich) and the carnival in Cologne (Kölle Alaaf!).