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UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS | INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER

People of IARC

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Rob Rember

As a chemical oceanographer, Rob Rember oversees research relating to the chemistry of ocean water, measurements of oceanic trace metals, and the impact of the ocean’s heat content on Arctic sea ice. Since 2004, Dr. Rember has operated IARC’s inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) lab, as well as helping to organize and administer the Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational System (NABOS).

Contact Dr. Rember

What might people find interesting about your current work?

Of the many projects of which I’m a part, there are a few that dominate my year-round work. The first of these is NABOS, an observational system built around biannual research cruises in and around the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean.

For NABOS, I lead our chemical oceanography team as well as helping to build, deploy, and recover our host of data collection moorings. Since NABOS involves a variety of funding agencies, research objectives, and institutional levels of participation, this work is both extremely involved and important.

Secondly, I maintain and oversee IARC’s ICP-MS lab, designed to identify and measure very low concentrations of trace elements (especially metals) within solution (such as sea water). After years of experience running and developing this equipment, I have a special expertise with these measurement techniques, and I now work closely with the equipment designers and manufacturers to ensure these tools continue to improve.

As ours is the only lab of its kind in Alaska, we possess unique capabilities for measuring levels of lead, manganese, nickel, zinc, cadmium, and especially iron—some of which can be limiting for life in the ocean.

In addition, I study Arctic sea ice, as well as our technical capabilities for collecting it. Commercial ice corers are not designed to trace metal specifications for cleanliness, so it has been quite difficult to obtain “clean” samples—that is, samples that are both consistent and without abnormal contaminants.

From this work, I’ve been able to design a new type of ice corer capable of collecting cleaner and more consistent samples. This new coring design will also provide further benefit to our upcoming 2015 GEOTRACES cruise, during which our research team will collect Arctic ice samples for researchers from around the world.

How have your background and interests contributed to the research you do now?

I consider myself fortunate to have moved back and forth quite a bit from the technical side of chemistry to its observation and collection. My graduate work focused on the measurement of trace metals in sediments and the water column, working with BOEM (the Bureau of Energy Management) on the chemical implications of the energy and mining industries on the North Slope.

I then came to IARC to administer the new ICP-MS system, and have since continued to balance my work between lab work and field collection. My notion of balance extends to my free time as well, which is devoted mostly to the veterinary clinic I own with my wife, our son, and our team of 30 sled dogs.

The seaFAST S2 system eliminates sample handling and automates separating trace elements from seawater by pre-concentrating elements onto a commercially available resin prior to elution directly into the ICP-MS, where ions are measured. (Photo: Y. Bult-Ito)
The seaFAST S2 system eliminates sample handling and automates separating trace elements from seawater by pre-concentrating elements onto a commercially available resin prior to elution directly into the ICP-MS, where ions are measured. (Photo: Y. Bult-Ito)
Data for multiple elements can be collected in one sequence, drastically reducing the amount of time the instrument requires. Prior to the seaFAST system, each element required its own sequence, and sample throughput was significantly slower. (Photo: Y. Bult-Ito)
Data for multiple elements can be collected in one sequence, drastically reducing the amount of time the instrument requires. Prior to the seaFAST system, each element required its own sequence, and sample throughput was significantly slower. (Photo: Y. Bult-Ito)
Rob Rember attaches an SBE 37 microcat, for measuring temperature, salinity, and pressure, to a mooring line during the 2013 Akademic Fedorov NABOS research cruise. (Photo: I. Goszczko)
Rob Rember attaches an SBE 37 microcat, for measuring temperature, salinity, and pressure, to a mooring line during the 2013 Akademic Fedorov NABOS research cruise. (Photo: I. Goszczko)