This years' "MARUM Re­search Award for Mar­ine Sci­ences" is awar­ded to NIOZ PhD Nad­ine Smit for her mas­ter thesis “Geo­chem­ical char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of as­phalt de­pos­its in the Campeche Bay (south­ern Gulf of Mex­ico) - In­sights in the per­sist­ence of heavy oil in the mar­ine en­vir­on­ment". ‘We need to better understand the impact of anthropogenic induced oil spills.’

The MARUM Award is awar­ded an­nu­ally for out­stand­ing sci­entific theses in the field of mar­ine sci­ences at the Uni­versity of Bre­men. Smit is excited she won. ‘The fact they awarded my research project - one of many good master theses and PhD theses - makes me feel happy. And the best part is that we have been able to generate new scientific results.’  

What was your master thesis all about?

‘During my master thesis research, I dealt with the origin and alteration processes of natural spilled heavy oil at asphalt seeps in the southern Gulf of Mexico (Campeche Knolls). We wanted to understand more about the impact of toxic heavy oil compounds in the deep-sea marine environment and how the diversity of microbial life degrades these compounds.

In my study, the biomarkers give conclusive evidence that the heavy oil and asphalt deposits originated from immature carbonate source rocks instead of being a result of heavy biodegradation through microbes in the subsurface -which was assumed before for the Campeche Knolls.’

Can you explain your PhD-work at the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC)?

‘I am currently developing new lipid biomarker proxies to constrain aerobic and anaerobic methane oxidation in present and past environments within the NESCC project. We would like to better understand the sources, sinks and chemical reaction pathways of methane in times of global warming.

Lipid biomarkers, which are synthesized by microbes in their cell membrane and are very resistant to alteration processes, are a good tool to reconstruct environmental conditions over long timescales.

What may we expect from you the upcoming years?

My main goal is to find a lipid biomarker proxy for atmospheric methane and contribute to a better understanding our earth systems. The Royal NIOZ has an excellent reputation in microbiology and offered me the multidisciplinary approach needed to push my research forward. I was determined to work here.

In one of my projects, I work together with the microbiology group at the Radboud University in Nijmegen on a unique methane oxidizing bacteria which is able to oxidize methane under oxygen absent conditions but in a pathway which normally only occurs under aerobic conditions. This intra-aerobic methane oxidizer, called Methylomirabilis oxyfera, potentially influences both the carbon and nitrogen cycles in natural environments.

I already set up experiments in the lab. First results indicate new and interesting biomarker lipids.'