My research is fundamentally based on aqueous and isotope geochemistry. In general, I investigate carbon cycling (in particular, CO2) on both modern and geologic (millions of years) timescales, but my research spans a variety of landscapes and tools.
In the modern system, I study carbon exports from Greenland Ice Sheet subglacial discharge and supraglacial melt. I am interested in the extent to which carbonate weathering and microbial communities contribute to these CO2 fluxes as well as the potential impact of this CO2 release on global atmospheric CO2 concentrations in a future, warming world. For this research, my primary tools include bulk geochemical concentration analyses, stable and radiogenic C isotopes, as well as stable and radiogenic Sr isotopes.
“Gloriously Researching Ancient Carbon Exchange”
-David Watts, Penn State University
My research also takes me to Fiordland, New Zealand and Iceland where I investigate mafic bedrock chemical weathering and its controls. Chemical weathering, the chemical breakdown of rocks, is considered to be a primary process in moderating atmospheric CO2 concentrations on long timescales and making Earth habitable for life. I investigate chemical weathering primarily through the dual lenses of radiogenic and stable Sr isotopes and have spent a significant portion of my Ph.D. developing a TIMS* method for measurement of stable Sr isotopes. I am broadly interested in the biogeochemical cycling, and fractionation, of non-traditional stable isotopes (Sr, Ca, Mg, etc) and the application of these isotope systems to understanding Earth surface processes.
Chemical weathering is also the backbone of my research into Enhanced Rock Weathering, a new climate change mitigation technology. As part of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation (LC3M), we are implementing the first large-scale field tests of this technology, which seeks to optimize the natural controls on chemical weathering such that large quantities of CO2 are sequestered on human, rather than geologic, timescales, thereby reducing anthropogenically induced climate change. This project brings together scientists from seven universities and institutions across Europe, Asia, and North America.
* TIMS: Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometer