Dr Thomas Brown

        Photo of Tom Brown

Lecturer in Marine Ecology and Chemistry

I am interested in how sea ice derived organic carbon is utilised in polar environments. I use chemical biomarkers, including fatty acids, sterols and highly branched isoprenoids (HBIs) to understand questions about how species might respond to decreasing sea ice cover, and potentially carbon supply, in the future.

Contact details:

My interests lie in understanding how sea ice derived organic carbon is utilised in polar environments.

To study this, I use chemical biomarkers, including fatty acids, sterols and highly branched isoprenoids (HBIs) to understand questions about how species might respond to decreasing sea ice cover, and potentially carbon supply, in the future. More...

I am also interested in exploring the potential value of identifying further algal species that contribute to the presence of HBI lipids in all aquatic settings, including freshwater and marine, temperate and polar settings.

Current research projects

Benthos of the Arctic as a Storage reservoir for sea-ice carbon (BASIC): To demonstrate spring sea ice primary production is used by animals all year round, not just in springtime. Funded by NERC. PI. 2018-20

Southampton Island Marine Ecoystem Project (SIMEP): Assessment of the Southampton Island region’s oceanography, productivity, biological community and trophic structure. Funded by MEOPAR. Collaborator. 2018-20

Arctic isotopes and seals (ARISE). Funded by NERC. Partner. 2017-21

Mechanistic understanding of the role of diatoms in the success of the Arctic Calanus complex and implications for a warmer Arctic (DIAPOD): Funded by NERC. Partner. 2017-21

Future Arctic Algae Blooms – and their role in the context of climate change (FAABulous): Funded by the Norwegian Research Council. Partner. 2015-20

FROZEN LIPidS: Funded by the British Ecological Society. 2017-18

Lacustrine Ecosystems under ICE (LAkE-ICE): to understand how available carbon sources (e.g. phytoplankton, ice associated algae, detritus or macro algae) fuel lake ecosystems. Funded by NERC. Prinicpal Inestigator. 2018-19

Relevant past research projects

Sustainability of Arctic Commercial Fisheries (SACriFice): To provide data to guide the growth of sustainable commercial fisheries in the Canadian Arctic. Funded by NERC. Prinicpal Inestigator. 2017-18

Small project fund: Development of UK-Canada collaboration. Funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Principal Investigator. 2013-13

A novel chemical investigation of animal food webs: Pump-priming funds for development of lipid biomarker analysis in Arctic ecosystems. Funded by the Seale-Hayne Educational Trust. Principal Investigator. 2-11-12


Marine Science BSc: Module leader 'Defining the marine carbon cycle' (year 4, SQA level 10)

Lecturer 'Marine Biogeochemical Cycling' (year 3, SQA level 9)

Current research students

Martin Foley: Do Arctic benthic communities show preferential food uptake? PhD. 2017-21. University of the Highlands and Islands

Alumni research students

Elizabeth Chrystal: Analysis of highly branched isoprenoid lipids in the Cumberland Sound beluga whale population. MSc. 2014-15. University of Plymouth

Lukas Smik: Development of biomarker-based proxies for palaeo sea-ice reconstructions. PhD. 2013-16. University of Plymouth

Charlotte Alexander: Regional variation in marine mammal diet determined using highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) diatom biomarkers. MSc 2012-13. University of Plymouth

Ashleigh Ringrose: Temporal and vertical distributions of IP25 and other lipid biomarkers in sea ice from Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canada. MPhil. 2011-12. University of Plymouth

Patricia Cabedo-Sanz: Identification of variability in sub-Arctic sea ice conditions during the Younger Dryas and Holocene. PhD. 2010-13. University of Plymouth

Alba Navarro Rodríguez: Reconstruction of recent and palaeo sea ice conditions in the Barents Sea. PhD. 2010-14. University of Plymouth

Peer-reviewed publications

Brown, TA (2018) Stability of the lipid biomarker H-Print within preserved animals. Polar Biologyhttps://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-018-2317-2

Schmidt, K, Brown TA, Belt ST, Ireland LC, Taylor KWR, Thorpe SE, Ward P and Atkinson A (2018) Do pelagic grazers benefit from sea ice? Insights from the Antarctic sea ice proxy IPSO25. Biogeosciences 15 (7): 1987-2006. https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-1987-2018

Brown TA, Galicia M, Thiemann GW, Belt ST, Yurkowski DJ and Dyck MG (2018) High contributions of sea ice derived carbon in polar bear (Ursus maritimus) tissue. PLoS ONE 13(1):e0191631. 

Brown TA and Vare LL (2018) Quantifying sea ice organic carbon in a changing Arctic Ocean. Challenger Soc

Belt ST, Brown TA, Smik L, Assmy P, Mundy CJ. (2018) Sterol identification in floating Arctic sea ice algal aggregates and the Antarctic sea ice diatom Berkeleya adeliensisOrg. Geochem. 118:(1-3).

Belt ST, Brown TA, Smik L, Tatarek A, Wiktor J, Stowasser G, Assmy P, Allen C and Husum K (2017) Identification of C25highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) alkenes in diatoms of the genus Rhizosolenia in polar and sub-polar marine phytoplankton. Org Geochem (In press)

Brown TA, Assmy P, Hop H, Wold A and Belt ST. (2017) Transfer of ice algae carbon to ice-associated amphipods in the high-Arctic pack ice environment. J. Plank. Res. (In press).

Brown, T. A., E. Chrystal, S. H. Ferguson, D. J. Yurkowski, C. Watt, N. E. Hussey, T. C. Kelley and S. T. Belt (2017). Coupled changes between the H-Print biomarker and δ15N indicates a variable sea ice carbon contribution to the diet of Cumberland Sound beluga whales. Limnology and Oceanography: (In press).

Brown, T.A. and Belt, S.T. Biomarker-based H-Print quantifies the composition of mixed sympagic and pelagic algae consumed by Artemia sp. J. Plank Res. 488: 32-37

Belt, S.T., Smik, L., Brown, T.A., Kim, J.-H., Rowland, S.J., Allen, C.S., Gal, J.-K., Shin, K.-H., Lee, J.I. and Taylor, K.W.R. (2016) Source identification and distribution reveals the potential of the geochemical Antarctic sea ice proxy IPSO25. Nature Communications 7:12655. [doi: 10.1038/ncomms12655].

Brown, T.A. and Belt, S.T. (2016) Novel tri- and tetra-unsaturated highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) alkenes from the marine diatom Pleurosigma intermedium. Organic Geochemistry 91, 120-122. [doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2015.11.008].

Brown, T.A., Belt, S.T., Gosselin,, M. Levasseur, M., Poulin, M., and Mundy, C.J. (2016) Quantitative estimates of sinking sea ice particulate organic carbon based on the biomarker IP25. Marine Ecology Progress Series 546, 17-29. [doi: 10.3354/meps11668].

Kaiser, J., Belt, S.T., Tomczak, M., Brown, T.A., Wasmund, N. and Arz, H.W. (2016) C25 highly branched isoprenoid alkenes in the Baltic Sea produced by the marine planktonic diatom Pseudosolenia calcar-avis. Organic Geochemistry 93, 120-122. [doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2016.01.002].

Rontani, J.-F., Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A., Amiraux, R., Gosselin, M., Vaultier, F. and Mundy, C.J. (2016) Monitoring abiotic degradation in sinking versus suspended Arctic sea ice algae during a spring ice melt using specific lipid oxidation tracers. Organic Geochemistry 98, 82-97. [doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2016.05.016].

Brown, T.A., Hegseth, E.N. and Belt, S.T. (2015) A biomarker-based investigation of the mid-winter ecosystem in Rijpfjorden, Svalbard. Polar Biology 38, 37-50. [doi: 10.1007/s00300-013-1352-2].

Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A., Ampel, L., Cabedo-Sanz. P., Fahl, K., Kocis, J.J., Massé, G., Navarro-Rodriguez, A., Ruan, J. and Xu, Y. (2014) An inter-laboratory investigation of the Arctic sea ice biomarker proxy IP25 in marine sediments: key outcomes and recommendations. Climate of the Past 10, 155-166. [doi: 10.5194/cp-10-155-2014].

Brown, T.A., Alexander, C., Yurkowski, D.J., Ferguson S.H. and Belt, S.T. (2014) Identifying variable sea ice carbon contributions to the Arctic ecosystem: A case study using highly branched isoprenoid lipid biomarkers in Cumberland Sound ringed seals. Limnology and Oceanography 59, 1581-1589. [doi: 10.4319/lo.2014.59.5.1581].

Brown T.A., Belt S.T. and Cabedo-Sanz P. (2014) Identification of a novel di-unsaturated C25 highly branched isoprenoid in the marine tube-dwelling diatom Berkeleya rutilans. Environmental Chemistry Letters 12, 455-460. [doi: 10.1007/s10311-014-0472-4].

Brown, T.A., Belt, S.T., Tatarekm A. and Mundy, C.J. (2014) Source identification of the Arctic sea ice proxy IP25. Nature Communications 5: 4197. [doi: 10.1038/ncomms5197].

Brown, T.A., Yurkowski D.J., Ferguson S.H., Alexander C. and Belt S.T. (2014) H-Print: A new chemical fingerprinting approach for distinguishing primary production sources in Arctic ecosystems. Environmental Chemistry Letters 12, 387-392. [doi: 10.1007/s10311-014-0459-1].

Megson, D., Brown, T.A., Johnson, G.W., O'Sullivan, G., Bicknell, A.W., Votier, S.C., Lohan, M.C., Comber, S., Kalin, R. and Worsfold, P.J. (2014) Identifying the provenance of Leach's storm petrels in the North Atlantic using polychlorinated biphenyl signatures derived from comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography with time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Chemosphere 114, 195-202. [doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.04.061].

Rontani, J.-F., Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A. and Aubert, C. (2014) Electron ionization mass spectrometry fragmentation pathways of trimethylsilyl derivatives of isomeric allylic alcohols derived from HBI alkene oxidation. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 28, 1937-1947. [doi: 10.1002/rcm.6974].

Rontani, J.-F., Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A., Vaultier, F. and Mundy, C.J. (2014) Sequential photo- and autoxidation of diatom lipids in Arctic sea ice. Organic Geochemistry 77, 59-71. [doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2014.09.009].

Rontani, J.-F., Belt, S.T., Vaultier, F., Brown, T.A. and Massé, G. (2014) Autoxidative and photooxidative reactivity of highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) alkenes. Lipids 49, 481-494. [doi: 10.1007/s11745-014-3891-x].

Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A., Ampel, L., Cabedo-Sanz. P., Fahl, K., Kocis, J.J., Massé, G., Navarro-Rodriguez, A., Ruan, J. and Xu, Y. (2013) An inter-laboratory investigation of the Arctic sea ice biomarker proxy IP25 in marine sediments: key outcomes and recommendations. Clim. Past Discuss. 9, 5263-5298. [doi: 10.5194/cpd-9-5263-2013].

Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A., Ringrose, A.E., Cabedo-Sanz, P., Mundy, C.J., Gosselin, M. and Poulin, M. (2013) Quantitative measurements of the sea ice diatom biomarker IP25 and sterols in Arctic sea ice and underlying sediments: Further considerations for palaeo sea ice reconstructions. Organic Geochemistry 62, 33-45. [doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2013.07.002].

Brown, T.A., Belt, S.T., Ferguson, S.H., Yurkowski, D.J., Davison, N.J., Barnett, J.E.F. and Jepson, P.D. (2013) Identification of the sea ice diatom biomarker IP25 and related lipids in marine mammals: A potential method for investigating regional variations in dietary sources within higher trophic level marine systems. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 441, 99-104. [doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2013.01.020].

Brown T.A., Bicknell A.W.J., Votier, S.C. and Belt, S.T. (2013) Novel molecular fingerprinting of marine avian diet provides a tool for gaining insights into feeding ecology. Environmental Chemistry Letters 11, 283-288. [doi: 10.1007/s10311-013-0402-x].

Megson D., Kalin R., Worsfold P.J., Gauchotte-Lindsay C., Patterson, D.G., Jr., Lohan M.C., Comber S., Brown T.A. and O'Sullivan G. (2013) Fingerprinting polychlorinated biphenyls in environmental samples using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography with time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography A 1318, 276-283. [doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2013.10.016].

Navarro-Rodriguez, A., Belt, S.T., Knies, J. and Brown, T.A. (2013) Mapping recent sea ice conditions in the Barents Sea using the proxy biomarker IP25: Implications for palaeo sea ice reconstructions. Quaternary Science Reviews 79, 26-39. [doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.11.025].

Belt, S.T., Brown T.A., Cabedo Sanz, P. and Navarro Rodriguez, A. (2012) Structural confirmation of the sea ice biomarker IP25 found in Arctic marine sediments. Environmental Chemistry Letters 10, 189-192. [doi: 10.1007/s10311-011-0344-0].

Belt, S.T., Brown, T.A., Navarro Rodriguez, A., Cabedo Sanz, P., Tonkin, A. and Ingle, R. (2012) A reproducible method for the extraction, identification and quantification of the Arctic sea ice proxy IP25 from marine sediments. Analytical Methods 4, 705-713. [doi: 10.1039/C2AY05728J].

Brown, T.A. and Belt, S.T. (2012) Identification of the sea ice diatom biomarker IP25 in Arctic benthic macrofauna: direct evidence for a sea ice diatom diet in Arctic heterotrophs. Polar Biology 35, 131-137. [doi: 10.1007/s00300-011-1045-7].

Brown, T.A. and Belt, S.T. (2012) Closely linked sea ice-pelagic coupling in the Amundsen Gulf revealed by the sea ice diatom biomarker IP25. Journal of Plankton Research 34, 647-654. [doi: 10.1093/plankt/fbs045].

Brown, T.A., Belt, S.T. and Piepenburg, D. (2012) Evidence for a pan-Arctic sea-ice diatom diet in Strongylocentrotus spp. Polar Biology 30, 1281-1287. [doi: 10.1007/s00300-012-1164-9].

Brown, T.A., Belt. S., Mundy, C., Philippe, B., Massé, G. and Poulin, M. (2011) Temporal and vertical variations of lipid biomarkers during a bottom ice diatom bloom in the Canadian Beaufort Sea: further evidence for the use of the IP25 biomarker as a proxy for spring Arctic sea ice. Polar Biology 34, 1857-1868. [doi: 10.1007/s00300-010-0942-5].

Rontani, J.-F., Belt, S.T., Vaultier, F. and Brown, T.A. (2011) Visible light induced photo-oxidation of highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) alkenes: Significant dependence on the number and nature of double bonds. Organic Geochemistry 42, 812-822. [doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2011.04.013.].

Other publications

Barber D and Barber D (Eds.) (2009) 'Two ways of knowing – merging science and traditional knowledge during the fourth international polar year'. University of Manitoba, Manitoba.

Barber G, Tjaden T, Leitch D, Barber L and Chan W (Eds.) (2012) 'On the edge – from knowledge to action during the fourth international polar year, Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study 2007-2008'. University of Manitoba, Manitoba.

Professional memberships

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Member of the Royal Society of Biology

Member of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography

Member of the British Phycological Society




Relevant research expeditions

FAABulous, Norwegian Arctic - 2017

Polar Night Cruise, Norwegian Arctic - 2012

Circumpolar Flaw Lead (CFL) Canadian Arctic - 2007

Employment history

2016-present: Lecturer. SAMS

2014-16: Research Fellow. Leverhulme Trust. Plymouth University

2011-14: Research Fellow. Biogeochemistry Research Centre. Plymouth University

2011-16: Associate Lecturer. Plymouth University


2011: PhD in environmental organic biogeochemistry. Funded by NERC. Plymouth University

2007: BSc (Hons) Environmental Science (Marine Conservation). Plymouth University