Welcome to the
Paytan Biogeochemistry Lab

photos of sunsets

The Paytan Lab at UCSC

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The Paytan Biogeochemistry Lab is a part of the Institute of Marine Science and the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Ocean Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Our group's primary research interests lie in the fields of biogeochemistry, chemical oceanography, and paleoceanography. We use both chemical and isotopic tracers in diverse environmental samples such as water, sediments, aerosol, and vegetation in order to study present and past biogeochemical processes on a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. An over-arching goal of our research is to link changes observed in the earth and ocean systems to global changes in climate and tectonics with an emphasis on human impacts.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact us!

Paytan Lab News

4/2019 -- Adina was featured as a blog writer to talk about importance of studing paleoclimates. You can read the post here

1/2019 -- Adina was recognized as a American Geophysical Union (AGU) fellow, an honor given to individual AGU members who have made exceptional scientific contributions and gained prominence in their respective fields of Earth and space sciences. Congratulations Adina!

1/2019 -- Adina is now a supporter of Fellowship for the Future! For more information on how you can get involved and support women in STEM, visit their website

4/2017 -- Adina was featured in a Meet Women in Science video in which she talks about why she is a researcher in Earth Science. You can find the video here

12/17 -- Adina was interviewed by the European Association of Geochemistry. You can pind a pdf of the interview here

10/7/15 -- Adina was hosted on Planet Watch to talk climate change and climate education. Please see the video here

10/7/15 -- Adina participated in a panel discussion "How perceptions of time influence environmental action". Please see the video here

9/25/15 -- Adina Receives 2015 Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Dansgaard Award! here

12/1/14 -- Adina talks about ocean acidification and coral reefs here

6/6/14 -- Adina will be honored as a Geochemical Fellow at the 2014 Goldschmidt Conference in Sacramento here

4/14/14 -- New results from our paleoceanography study on the news here

1/31/14 -- Adina's Public Lecture on Ocean Acidification. Watch her presentation here

December 13 -- Adina has presented the Rachel Carson Lecture in the Ocean Sciences Section at AGU this year. Watch her presentation here

6/17/12 -- New results from our coral reef ocean acidification study on the news here

3/28/13 Awards and Honors
-- Marine scientist Adina Paytan receives prestigious international award here

4/12/12 -- Our lab's work on coral reefs is highlighted in an article written by Adina Payatan published in the Talking Points section of the online edition of Environmental Research Letters. The article, "Coral reefs - are they tough enough?" discusses current research in coral environmental biology as well as our own lab's studies of corals growing near acidic springs. The article includes photos of the coral research done by Adina and Elizabeth Derse Crook off of the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Read the full article here.

12/9/11 -- LiveScience reporter Wynne Parry writes an article on Adina's coral reef research that was just presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Fransisco. The article, "Surprise! Corals Discovered in Acidic Submarine Springs", includes amazing photos of the corals found in these underwater springs (off of the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico) and of the SCUBA diving research performed by Elizabeth Derse Crook. Read more here.

11/28/11 -- UCSC's News and Events page highlights our lab's work on coral reefs along the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Adina and Elizabeth Derse Crook, a graduate student in our lab, have been studying the submarine springs at Puerto Morelos near the Mesoamerican reef for the past 3 years. The submarine springs discharge water with a lower pH than the surrounding seawater. They found the number of coral species and size of coral colonies declined with increasing proximity to the center of these springs. The findings are reported in a paper published in the journal Coral Reefs (click here for the paper). Read the UCSC press release here.

Adina in Tahiti

Adina measuring sea water chemistry in Tahiti.

Featured Project

Coral Skeleton δ15N as a Tracer of Historic Nutrient Loading to Coral Reef in Maui, Hawaii


Coral heads directly adjacent to active SGD vents

Excess nutrient loading to nearshore environments has been linked to declining water quality and ecosystem health. Such effects have been observed for decades in West Maui, Hawaii, where macro-algal blooms, eutrophication, and reduction in coral cover have been linked to nutrient inputs from coastal submarine groundwater seeps. Work in our lab headed by PhD student Joseph Murry in collaboration with scientists from the USGS produced an unprecedented record of historic nutrient loading to a tropical fringing reef adjacent to a densely inhabited shoreline, using annually resolved nitrogen isotopes (δ15N) of intra-crystalline coral skeletal organic matter and evaluate the record in terms of changes in nitrogen (N) sources and nutrient loading.

Our results show a dramatic increase in coral δ15N values after 1995, corresponding with the implementation of biological nutrient removal at the nearby Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility (LWRF). The elevated coral δ15N values corroborate a previously suggested link between wastewater injection at the LWRF, algal blooms, and degradation of the reef. This record demonstrates the power of intra-crystalline coral skeletal δ15N records as a tool for evaluating nutrient dynamics and anthropogenic nutrient loading over time within coral reef environments.

Gulf of Aqaba

Historic record of coral skeletal δ15N and tissue layer δ15N Coral skeletal δ15N values plotted through time (lines and filled symbols) and tissue δ15N values (open symbols). Cores close to groundwater seepage show a sharp increase in δ15N between 1995 and 1996 in response to the implementation of biological nutrient removal at the LWRF, while a core further away does not show any response to LWRF activities. .


Biogeochemical research is the study of chemical and biological processes, often which are intrinsically coupled, operating within earth systems. Biogeochemical interactions occur on a wide-range of spatial and temporal scales, ranging from atomic and microbial to global and from the distant past to the present, and operate within environments ranging from terrestrial to marine to atmospheric.

Chemical Oceanography is the study of everything about the chemistry of the ocean based on the distribution and dynamics of elements, isotopes, atoms and molecules. This ranges from fundamental physical, thermodynamic and kinetic chemistry to interactions of ocean chemistry with biological, geological and physical processes.

Paleoceanographyis the study of the history of the oceans in the geologic past with regard to circulation, chemistry, biology, geology and patterns of sedimentation. Paleoceanography data are derived from many proxies found in deep sea sediments including trace metal and isotopic composition of fossil plankton, species composition, and lithology.

Page last updated on May 28, 2019