Alasdair SkeltonProfessor of Geochemistry and petrology
Alasdair Skelton graduated from Cambridge University in 1989. He completed his PhD in 1993 at Edinburgh University. The title of his thesis was “Petrological, geochemical and field studies of fluid infiltration during regional metamorphism of the Dalradian of the SW Scottish Highlands”. He was a NERC postdoctoral fellow at Edinburgh University from 1993 to 1997, Ocean Drilling Program shipboard and post-cruise scientist in 1998, and a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at Uppsala University from 1999 to 2000. He worked as a science communicator at the Museum of Evolution in 2001. He was appointed as Professor of Geochemistry and Petrology at the Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University in 2001. He served as Head of Department from 2004 to 2012and he was Director of the Bolin Centre for Climate Research from 2013 to 2021. His main research interests include metamorphic petrology, earthquake forecasting, climate of the past and societal transformation. Presently, he is Vice Chairperson of the Education Board at Stockholm University, and Chairperson for the European Civic University Hub on Climate, Environment and Energy. He sits on the Advisory Board for the Climate Roadmap at Stockholm University. He is strongly committed and actively involved in educating about geology and climate at all levels from pre-school to research training both within and beyond academia. He is co-founder of Researcher's Desk.
A selection from Stockholm University publication database
Lockdown Measures Which Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions With Little Negative Impact on Quality of Life
2021. Maria Niemi (et al.). Earth's Future 9 (5)Article
Lockdown measures in response to the new Covid-19 virus have caused the largest ever fall of annual greenhouse gas emissions. A key question that we attempt to answer in this study is which, if any, of these measures can be productively encouraged post-lockdown in efforts to sustain at least part of this reduction in emissions. Sweden is uniquely suited for our study because the voluntary nature of lockdown in Sweden allowed us to assess the level of compliance to recommendations and its effects on greenhouse gas emissions. First, we assessed the change of perceived quality of life (QOL) among 746 individuals from Stockholm region due to adhering to lockdown measures. Second, we calculated the associated change of annual per capita greenhouse emissions. We found that avoiding travel for work, avoiding purchasing, and avoiding restaurants had the least negative effect on QOL, and at the same time the largest positive effect on carbon dioxide equivalent (CO(2)e) emission reductions. We conclude that these are potential leverage points for stimulating behavioral change that has a positive climatic impact.
10 myths about net zero targets and carbon offsetting, busted
2020. Alasdair Skelton (et al.). Climate Home NewsArticle
Skewness of Temperature Data Implies an Abrupt Change in the Climate System Between 1985 and 1991
2020. Alasdair Skelton, Nina Kirchner, I. Kockum. Geophysical Research Letters 47 (23)Article
Instrumental records of mean annual temperature extend back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries at multiple sites in Europe. For such long time series, we expect and find that histograms of mean annual temperature data become skewed toward higher temperatures with time because of global warming. However, we also find that skewness changed abruptly and started increasing between 1985 and 1991 (95% confidence) at 17 sites. We argue that this finding may imply an abrupt change in the climate system affecting Europe which probably occurred at this time. We investigate possible causes and find Arctic sea ice loss, potentially linked to reduced sulfate aerosol emissions and coupled to temperature by an albedo feedback mechanism, a likely candidate. This is based on good correlations of sea ice extent and sulfate aerosol emissions with skewness of mean annual temperature data.
Hydrochemical Changes Before and After Earthquakes Based on Long-Term Measurements of Multiple Parameters at Two Sites in Northern IcelandA Review
2019. Alasdair Skelton (et al.). Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth 124 (3), 2702-2720Article
Hydrochemical changes before and after earthquakes have been reported for over 50years. However, few reports provide sufficient data for an association to be verified statistically. Also, no mechanism has been proposed to explain why hydrochemical changes are observed far from earthquake foci where associated strains are small (<10(-8)). Here we address these challenges based on time series of multiple hydrochemical parameters from two sites in northern Iceland. We report hydrochemical changes before and after M >5 earthquakes in 2002, 2012, and 2013. The longevity of the time series (10 and 16years) permits statistical verification of coupling between hydrochemical changes and earthquakes. We used a Student t test to find significant hydrochemical changes and a binomial test to confirm association with earthquakes. Probable association was confirmed for preseismic changes based on five parameters (Na, Si, K, O-18, and H-2) and postseismic changes based on eight parameters (Ca, Na, Si, Cl, F, SO4, O-18, and H-2). Using concentration ratios and stable isotope values, we showed that (1) gradual preseismic changes were caused by source mixing, which resulted in a shift from equilibrium and triggered water-rock interaction; (2) postseismic changes were caused by rapid source mixing; and (3) longer-term hydrochemical changes were caused by source mixing and mineral growth. Because hydrochemical changes occur at small earthquake-related strains, we attribute source mixing and water-rock interaction to microscale fracturing. Because fracture density and size scale inversely, we infer that mixing of nearby sources and water-rock interaction are feasible responses to small earthquake-related strains. Plain Language Summary Changes in groundwater chemistry before and after earthquakes have been reported for over 50years. However, few studies have been able to prove that the earthquakes caused these changes. Also, no study has explained why these changes are often reported far from where the earthquake occurred. Here we address these challenges based on measurements of groundwater chemistry made at two sites in northern Iceland over time periods of 10 and 16years. We used statistical methods to prove that the earthquakes caused changes of ground water chemistry both before and after the earthquakes. We showed that changes of groundwater chemistry before earthquakes were caused by slow mixing between different groundwaters, which triggered reactions with the wall rock that changed groundwater chemistry, and that changes of groundwater chemistry after earthquakes were causes by rapid mixing between different groundwaters. That these changes were detected far from where the earthquakes occurred suggests that cracking of the wall rock at a very small scale was all that was needed for mixing of different groundwaters and reactions with the wall rock to occur.
Stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in meteoric water during the Cryogenian Period
2019. Alasdair Skelton (et al.). Precambrian Research 320, 253-260Article
We measured delta O-18 and delta H-2 values of muscovite and carbonate mineral separates from metamorphosed carbonate -bearing mudstone layers in late Tonian to early Cryogenian strata, including Sturtian glacial deposits, which were deposited in a coastal setting at an approximate paleolatitude of 30-35 degrees S and now crop out on Islay and the Garvellach Islands, Scotland. From these values, we calculated delta O-18 and delta H-2 values of meteoric water that equilibrated with clay at diagenetic conditions which we infer were reached shortly after deposition (i.e. before the end of the Cryogenian Period) because sediment accumulation was rapid due to fast subsidence at that time. This calculation required removal of the effects of exchange with reservoir rocks, metamorphic volatilization and mixing with metamorphic fluids on delta O-18 and delta H-2 values. The values we calculated for meteoric water fall within the 2 sigma ranges delta O-18 = 1 to -4 parts per thousand and delta H-2 = 0 to -23-parts per thousand, respectively. These ranges are similar to present day values at equivalent latitudes. This finding is consistent with sediment accumulation in the Cryogenian Period having occurred in a climate similar to present day (Ice Age) conditions. This conclusion is not at odds with the Snowball Earth hypothesis because one of its predictions is that sediment accumulation occurred as the climate warmed at the end of panglaciation, a prediction supported by sedimentological evidence of multiple glacial advances and retreats in our study area and elsewhere.
Ikaite nucleation at 35°C challenges the use of glendonite as a paleotemperature indicator
2020. Elin Tollefsen (et al.). Scientific Reports 10Article
Glendonites have been found worldwide in marine sediments from the Neoproterozoic Era to the Quaternary Period. The precursor of glendonite, ikaite (CaCO3 · 6H2O), is metastable and has only been observed in nature at temperatures <7 °C. Therefore, glendonites in the sedimentary record are commonly used as paleotemperature indicators. However, several laboratory experiments have shown that the mineral can nucleate at temperatures>7 °C. Here we investigate the nucleation range for ikaite as a function of temperature and pH. We found that ikaite precipitated at temperatures of at least 35 °C at pH 9.3 −10.3 from a mixture of natural seawater and sodium carbonate rich solution. At pH 9.3, we observed pseudomorphic replacement of ikaite by porous calcite during the duration of the experiment (c. 5 hours). These results imply that ikaite can form at relatively high temperatures but will then be rapidly replaced by a calcite pseudomorph. This finding challenges the use of glendonites as paleotemperature indicators.
Changes in groundwater chemistry before two consecutive earthquakes in Iceland
2014. Alasdair Skelton (et al.). Nature Geoscience 7 (10), 752-756Article
Groundwater chemistry has been observed to change before earthquakes and is proposed as a precursor signal. Such changes include variations in radon count rates(1,2), concentrations of dissolved elements(3-5) and stable isotope ratios(4,5). Changes in seismicwave velocities(6), water levels in boreholes(7), micro-seismicity(8) and shear wave splitting(9) are also thought to precede earthquakes. Precursor activity has been attributed to expansion of rock volume(7,10,11). However, most studies of precursory phenomena lack sufficient data to rule out other explanations unrelated to earthquakes(12). For example, reproducibility of a precursor signal has seldom been shown and few precursors have been evaluated statistically. Here we analyse the stable isotope ratios and dissolved element concentrations of groundwater taken from a borehole in northern Iceland between 2008 and 2013. We find that the chemistry of the groundwater changed four to six months before two greater than magnitude 5 earthquakes that occurred in October 2012 and April 2013. Statistical analyses indicate that the changes in groundwater chemistry were associated with the earthquakes. We suggest that the changes were caused by crustal dilation associated with stress build-up before each earthquake, which caused different groundwater components to mix. Although the changes we detect are specific for the site in Iceland, we infer that similar processes may be active elsewhere, and that groundwater chemistry is a promising target for future studies on the predictability of earthquakes.
Flux rate for water and carbon during greenschist facies metamorphism
2011. Alasdair Skelton. Geology 39 (1), 43-46Article
The time-averaged flux rate for a CO2-bearing hydrous fluid during greenschist facies regional metamorphism was estimated to be 10–10.2 ± 0.4 m3 m−2 s−1 by combining (1) Peclet numbers obtained by chromatographic analysis of the propagation of reaction fronts in 33 metamorphosed basaltic sills in the southwest Scottish Highlands (UK), (2) empirical diffusion rates for CO2 in water, and (3) calculated time-averaged metamorphic porosities. The latter were calculated using an expression obtained by combining estimated Peclet numbers with empirical porosity-permeability relationships and Darcy's law. This approach yielded a time-averaged metamorphic porosity of 10–2.6 ± 0.2 for greenschist facies conditions. The corresponding time scale for metamorphic fluid flow was 103.6 ± 0.1 yr. By using mineral assemblages to constrain fluid compositions, a time-averaged annual flux rate for carbon of 0.5–7 mol C m−2 yr−1 was calculated. This matches measured emission rates for metamorphic CO2 from orogenic hot springs and exceeds estimated rates of CO2 drawdown by orogenic silicate weathering, suggesting that orogenesis is a source rather than a sink of atmospheric CO2.