New magnetic device to measure climate change

Monday 15 January 2001

Experts from the lab and the land are joining forces to improve the understanding of climate history.

The University of St Andrews’ School of Chemistry has been awarded £139,000 by the Department of Trade and Industry to fund an ultra-sensitive magnetometer which will help analyse climate signals within soils, sediments and rocks, some of which date back thousands of years.

Together with chemistry, biology and physics experts, one of the main user groups of the SQUID facility (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device) will be the School of Geography and Geosciences who are working on the characterisation and dating of a variety of rock, sediment and soil samples from all over the world including Scotland where Dr Bill Austin and Dr John Walden are examining sediments in sea lochs. The team, based in the Environmental Magnetism Laboratory, are also examining samples from Tunisia, Lybia, Namibia, Australia, Iceland, Atlantic Ocean, Greece, Krakatoa and the USA.

With the assistance of the SQUID facility, which will provide more detailed forms of magnetic analysis, the research will improve the understanding of how the earth’s climate system operates and, in particular, which key elements of the climate system are sensitive to change. The research will also play a key role in predicting future climate trends, for example the extreme weather recently suffered throughout the UK and whether these extremes are a consequence of human influenced climate change.

The SQUID will also enhance ongoing research into where sediment in rivers originates from, work which is crucial to land management experts. For example, identification of areas of top soil loss can help improve agricultural practices. In addition, identifying sources of sediments being deposited into water supply lake/reservoir systems can be useful in planning how to reduce sediment input and therefore prevent the water storage lake/reservoir from silting up.

Dr John Walden of the School of Geography and Geosciences said, “Environmental magnetic measurements are now accepted as a valuable, sensitive and effective means of characterising soils, sediments and rocks and are proven to play a key role in the investigation of global and regional climate and environmental change. In some environmental contexts, there are also strong links between the magnetic properties of a sediment and pollution levels – for example, by detecting magnetic materials within some peat sediments, we are been able to obtain detailed records of industrial pollution over the last 200 years.”

The facility will be based in the St Andrews Centre for Advanced Materials (STACAM) which houses around 20 academic staff and over 50 research staff and postgraduate students from the Schools of Chemistry, Geography and Geoscience and Physics. It will further strengthen interdisciplinary activities, enhancing links between Materials and the Earth sciences including research with applications for thin film magnetic memory storage media, molecular magnets and battery materials.


Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email [email protected] Ref: SQUID/standrews/chg/15jan2001

Category Research

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