Micronutrient Biogeochemist

Dr Pier van der Merwe

Dr van der Merwe received his undergratuate on the Great Barrier Reef at James Cook University in far north Queensland.  A fascination with Antarctica later led him to move south to complete his PhD at the University of Tasmania.  Since then Dr van der Merwe has spent 217 days in the deep field, either in Antarctica or bobbing around in the Southern Ocean.

His research focuses on phytoplankton, the single celled marine plants that form that basis of the marine food chain and grow in such incredible numbers that they modify the concentration of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere. He is interested in how nutrients in the ocean – specifically iron – ultimately control phytoplankton growth, with flow on effects for ecosystems and the atmospheric concentration of CO2.


Bulk measurements of particulate and dissolved iron do not provide enough information to chemical oceanographers to assess the sufficiency or deficiency of iron within natural phytoplankton assemblages. This availability of iron determines Southern Ocean productivity and influences atmospheric CO2 concentration and climate.

Dr van der Merwe’s project aims to develop a novel method to assess the transfer between the particulate and dissolved iron phases from a range of samples including those collected at hydrothermal vents near Heard Island (Southern Ocean) to enable prognosis of natural phytoplankton iron deficiency.

The achieved quantification of iron availability from particulate sources will aid in assessing change in Southern Ocean productivity and its influence on atmospheric CO2.

Authorised by the CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre October 2019.

The ACE CRC was established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program.

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