A picture of a marine development.

Marine biogeochemistry

Marine biogeochemistry involves measuring and modelling carbon and nutrient cycling in estuarine, coastal and ocean systems.

  • 15 February 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011

CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (CMAR) maintains diverse capabilities in marine biogeochemistry.

Scientists involved in this research work primarily at CMAR laboratories in Hobart (Tasmania) and also in Floreat (Western Australia) and Brisbane (Queensland).

They have field and laboratory expertise in:

  • nutrient dynamics
  • phytoplankton and zooplankton ecology
  • microbial ecology and genomics
  • marine chemistry and organic geochemistry
  • hydrodynamic, sediment and biogeochemical modelling.

The research group is supported by a diverse collection of marine sensors and moorings and well-equipped analytical chemical and biological laboratories, and is responsible for managing the Australian National Algae Culture Collection.

Strong research links are maintained with CSIRO Land and Water, and with other research agencies in Australia and overseas.

CMAR marine biogeochemistry research has an emphasis on the environmental effects of human activities and global climate change.

CMAR marine biogeochemistry research has an emphasis on the environmental effects of human activities and global climate change.

It underpins an adaptive approach to the multiple-use management of marine resources, and generates expert advice for government agencies on development issues relevant to the marine environment.


Oceanic and coastal observations: observational strategies – research vessels (large and small), moorings, profiling floats, gliders, sediment traps, in-situ sampling using trace-element and trace-organic clean sampling techniques - supported by advanced analytical procedures.

Micro and macronutrient measurements: analyses of the major macronutrients (such as nitrate and phosphate) in seawater and sediments using autoanalysers, and micronutrients (such as iron and zinc) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

Hydrodynamic, sediment and biogeochemical modelling: application of three-dimensional biogeochemistry models in scenarios for different uses of marine ecosystems (integral to this is the development of methods for error analysis, data assimilation and observing system design in coastal systems).

Phytoplankton and zooplankton ecology: studying the factors controlling phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms, and eutrophication and low oxygen in coastal waters; experimentation to calibrate and validate biogeochemical models.

Microalgal culture and taxonomy: the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service accredited Algal Culture Facility supplies 'starter' cultures to industry and researchers in Australia and overseas through the Australian National Algae Culture Collection and associated CSIRO Microalgae Supply Service.

Sediment biogeochemistry and organic geochemistry: using stable isotopes, pigments and lipid biomarkers to identify the sources of carbon and nitrogen in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical estuaries. Sediment traps, benthic landers and sediment incubations are used to quantify nutrient fluxes into and out of sediments. Organic contaminants such as oil and sewage are identified and traced in waters and sediments.

Stable isotope and trace element analyses of bulk materials and individual compounds: stable isotope facilities coupled to an elemental analyser and capillary gas chromatography.

Environmental genomics: developing new metagenomic approaches (use of genetic material from environmental samples) to investigate microbial processes associated with nutrient cycling, and gene probes (gene identification tools) to map phytoplankton species distribution and dynamics.

Ocean acidification and carbon cycles: using moored sensors, research and commercial vessels and autonomous profilers to characterise ocean carbon, carbon transformations, primary production, and carbon transfer to the ocean interior (improves knowledge of ocean acidification and the influence of ocean fertilisation on carbon sequestration).

Satellite ocean colour validation: the only laboratory in Australia that determines the inherent optical properties of in situ samples used in validating satellite estimates of biogeochemical properties such as chlorophyll concentration, total suspended solids and chromophoric dissolved organic matter.


  • Remote Sensing Facility
  • Biosecure aquaria and laboratories
  • Chemistry, biology and molecular laboratories
  • Australian National Algae Culture Collection
  • Australian Quarantine Inspection Service accredited Algal Culture Facility
  • Electronics, engineering and moorings workshops
  • Oceanographic observation equipment
  • Autonomous underwater vehicles
  • Ocean and coastal research vessels

Research applications

CMAR expertise in marine biogeochemistry is applied to projects in four of CSIRO’s National Research Flagships:

  • Wealth from Oceans
  • Water for a Healthy Country
  • Energy Transformed
  • Food Futures.

Read more about CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.