The changing face of geochemistry

We’re only a half-day into the 2015 Goldschmidt meeting, but one theme I see emerging (or, at least, I hope is emerging) is the idea that the scope of geochemistry is rapidly broadening. Eric Oelkers, the conference convener, introduced Peter Sale, today’s plenary speaker, by saying that he’s “not really a geochemist“. This was a compliment: his point that Sale’s research on coral reefs, which comes more from an ecological perspective, has profound geochemical implications. That is to say: geochemists need to be listening to ecologists if they want to understand anthropogenic changes in ocean chemistry.


This flow goes both ways, too. I spend the second half of the afternoon in session 04b, “Transport and Transformation of Emerging Organic Pollutants“. In this session we saw talks about concentrations of perfluorinated organics in whales in the North Atlantic and pathways of microbial degradation of the herbicide glyphosate. These fields are pretty far removed from ‘classical’ geochemistry, but public health experts and environmental toxicologists need geochemistry to understand the complex biotic/abiotic transformations that organic pollutants experience in the environment.


I hope this trend is real, and accepted by the wider community of geochemists, for two reasons. First, my research program is basically founded on this kind of disregard for traditional disciplinary boundaries: I’m trying to better understand the physical biochemistry of enzymes that catalyze transformations of organic carbon in aquatic systems. I’m delighted to get the chance to rub shoulders with ‘mainstream’ geochemists for a week here in Prague. But I also think this is a sign of health in the geochemical community: scientific fields must change or die, and based on what’s happening here, the field of geochemistry is clearly expanding quite rapidly.