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J. Kirk Cochran


Ph.D., 1979, Yale University

Marine geo-chemistry, use of radionuclides as geochemical tracers; diagenesis of marine sediment


Research Interests

My research group and I are using natural radionuclides to study Earth surface processes. The fact that different chemical elements are represented in the suite of radioactive nuclides permits studies of chemical behavior, and the property of radioactivity provides a clock with which to measure rates. Much of my recent research has focused on using naturally occurring radionuclides to determine rates of particle cycling and particulate organic carbon fluxes in the open ocean. This work has as its goal an understanding of the fate of carbon in the ocean and has been carried out in the North Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea Radionuclides such as 234Th and 210Po provide a means of determining the export of particulate organic carbon from the upper ocean and provide information on this important aspect of the carbon cycle.

In coastal waters and estuaries, naturally occurring particle-reactive radionuclides provide tracers to determine rates of removal of contaminants from the water column and the subsequent transport and deposition of sediments and associated contaminants. Radionuclides that tend to remain in solution, such as the Ra isotopes, serve as tracers of submarine groundwater discharge to the coastal ocean. These applications are part of ongoing projects in New York’s coastal lagoons (Jamaica Bay, Great South Bay) and in Long Island Sound. A related area of research in regional settings is the health and resiliency of the area’s salt marshes. Marshes are increasingly being lost and we seek to understand the causes of loss. I am applying an integrated approach to examine both the biogeochemical and physical dynamics of natural and restored salt marshes.

In addition to broad applications of natural radionuclides to recent Earth surface processes, I am collaborating with colleagues in the Stony Brook Dept. of Geosciences, the American Museum of Natural History and Brooklyn College (CUNY) to characterize the geochemical setting of the Late Cretaceous (~70 Ma) Western Interior Seaway of North America and oceanographic conditions prior to and immediately after the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary (66 Ma). This research involves measurements of carbon, oxygen and strontium isotopes in well-preserved shells of fossil molluscs, authigenic carbonate deposits and sediment formations.

Selected Publications

Krishnaswami, S. and J. K. Cochran. 2008. U-Th Series Nuclides in Aquatic Systems, Elsevier, New York, 458 pp.

Cochran, J.K. and P. Masqué. 2003. Short-lived U/Th series radionuclides in the ocean: Tracers for scavenging rates, export fluxes and particle dynamics. In: Uranium Series Geochemistry (B.P. Bourdon, G. Henderson, C.C. Lundstrom, S.P. Turner eds.), Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, vol. 52, Mineralogical Society of America, pp. 461-492.

Cochran, J. K., J. C. Miquel, R. Armstrong, S. Fowler, P. Masqué, B. Gasser, D. Hirschberg, J. Szlosek, A. M. Rodriguez y Baena, E. Verdeny, and G. Stewart (2009) Time-series measurements of 234Th in water column and sediment trap samples from the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. Deep-Sea Research II, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.12.034.

Cochran, J. K., N. H. Landman, N. L. Larson, K. C. Meehan, M. Garb, and J. Brezina (2015) Geochemical evidence (C and Sr isotopes) for methane seeps as ammonite habitats in the Late Cretaceous (Campanian) Western Interior Seaway. Swiss J Palaeontol. doi: 10.1007/s13358-015-0087-9.

Hayes, C. T., E. E. Black, R. F. Anderson, M. Baskaran, K. O. Buesseler, M. A. Charette, H. Cheng, J. K. Cochran, R. L. Edwards, P. Fitzgerald, P. J. Lam, Y. Lu, S. O. Morris, D. C. Ohnemus, F. J. Pavia, G. Stewart and Y. Tang (2018) Flux of particulate elements in the North Atlantic Ocean constrained by multiple radionuclides. Global Biogeochem. Cycles,  <

Landman, N. H., J. K. Cochran, M. Slovacek, N. L. Larson, M. P. Garb, J. Brezina, and J. D. Witts (2018) Isotope sclerochronology of ammonites (Baculites compressus) from methane seep and non-seep sites in the Late Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, USA: Implications for ammonite habitat and mode of life. American Journal of Science 318: 603-639

Tamborski, J. J., J. K. Cochran, and H.J. Bokuniewicz (2017) Submarine groundwater discharge driven nitrogen fluxes to Long Island Sound, NY: Terrestrial vs. marine sources. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 218: 40–57.

Witts, J. D., N. H. Landman, M. P. Garb, C. Boas, E. Larina, R. Rovelli, L. E. Edwards, R. M. Sherrell and J. K. Cochran (2018) A fossiliferous spherule-rich bed at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary in the Mississippi Embayment and Eastern Gulf Coastal Plain. Cretaceous Research 91: 147-167.

Related News Articles

Continental Area Shelf Exchange Study (CASES)

Principle Investigators: Kirk Cochran at MSRC and Louis Fortier at Univ. Laval, Canada (CASES leader) Funded by NSERC – Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Student Supported: David Amiel, M.S., Ph.D. Project Description: The overarching...

Ocean Impacts on Global Climate Change

A site in the northeast Mediterranean Sea is providing MSRC researchers with new information about the ocean's role in the global carbon cycle. The MedFlux project - a large international collaborative effort including MSRC professors Cindy Lee, Kirk Cochran and Rob...


Principal Investigators: Cindy Lee, Rob Armstrong, Kirk Cochran and investigators from 6 other US and European institutions. Funded by NSF Ocean Sciences Division Students Supported: Gillian Stewart, Aaron Beck, Jennifer Szlosek, Zhanfei Liu, and Jianhong Xue (all...

Submarine Groundwater Discharge into the Venice Lagoon Italy

Principal Investigators: Henry Bokuniewicz and Kirk Cochran Funded by William J. Fulbright Foundation, the Institute of International Education and ALCOA Corporation Students Supported: Aaron Beck (Ph.D.) and John Rapaglia (Ph.D.) Project Description: Beginning in...

A Memorial to Akira Okubo (1925-1996)

On February 1, 1996 the world lost a distinguished scientist and the faculty, staff and students of the Marine Sciences Research Center lost a beloved colleague, mentor, teacher and friend. Akira Okubo died peacefully in his sleep after a long battle with cancer....

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