Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) is the flow of fresh or recirculated groundwater into the ocean. This process introduces substantial amounts of nutrients to coastal areas, which significantly influences ecological systems. In karstic settings SGD dominantly occurs from submarine springs that manifest as point source discharge sites. Their identification generally relies on sea-surface changes (e.g. visual sea-surface anomalies or changes in sea-surface temperature) and is therefore confined to shallow areas with high discharge rates. As a result the distribution of offshore freshwater springs in karstic environments, which is crucial for determining the architecture and dissemination of offshore groundwater systems, is usually poorly constrained. Similarly, the negative effects of groundwater springs on seagrass diversity and biomass have been investigated at individual springs but have not been characterised over larger areas. This proposal focuses on the identification, characterisation and distribution of submarine springs and their influence on local ecosystems in karstic environments. KARST will make use of state of the art geophysical and remote sensing techniques for optimal imaging at various depths. In the shallow coastal areas (<~5 m), unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with multispectral and thermal infrared cameras will be used to simultaneously image and correlate biological habitats and sea-surface anomalies related to submarine springs. In deeper areas, a newly developed geoelectric system from the University of Kiel in combination with multibeam water column imaging techniques will provide insight into the physical behaviour of the water column as well as salinity and seagrass distribution around springs. All techniques will be guided by biological sampling and flow rate measurements, which will not only help to determine the ecological effects of SGD but will also provide valuable knowledge on the architecture of karstic groundwater systems.
AMPLIFI aims to develop an innovative auxetic, antimicrobial meta-material based on a supramolecular coordination polymer for the design of biomedical devices. Auxetics are unique due to their negative Poisson’s ratio, which imparts superior mechanical qualities when compared to conventional materials. They offer huge potential if used to design biomedical devices such as catheters. There is as yet no synthetic material that demonstrates auxeticity at the nano-level, even if potential auxeticity was demonstrated through simulations. Through AMPLIFI I will design a polymeric structure with superior mechanical strength that offers better patient comfort by virtue of its auxetic properties while also dealing with the challenge of bacterial infections. The project exploits the versatility of supramolecular chemistry of calixarenes or related macrocycles and self-assembly. Appropriate building blocks for a self-assembled auxetic polymer will be identified by MM simulations, and the effect of adding antimicrobial agents studied. The identified coordination polymer will be synthesized, fully characterised and subsequently tested for antimicrobial properties. I have a strong background in supramolecular chemistry which makes AMPLIFI an ideal project for me, and I will be joined by a strong supervisory team at the University of Malta consisting of an expert in auxetics, a renowned microbiologist and a structural chemist. AMPLIFI also boasts of the co-supervision of a leader in calixarene and related macrocyclic chemistry from the University of Parma. AMPLIFI builds on my expertise and enables me to work within a multidisciplinary team at the interface of theoretical chemistry, experimental organic synthesis and microbiology. In short, AMPLIFI provides me with a holistic research and training package to kick-start an independent research path and affords an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the urgent plead for more comfortable and safer biomedical devices.
Coralline algae are an important group of benthic marine organisms that form unique, but endangered, biotopes on the seafloor. Coralline algae, have been a notable component of the Mediterranean realm for millions of years and persist to this very day. This is in spite of the multiple environmental perturbations that the Mediterranean had experienced, such as its decupling from other oceanic basins in the past to anthropogenic forcing in the present. As such, the deposits from by coralline algae can allow us to study some of the most significant environmental perturbations in the Mediterranean, explore habitat resilience and improve our understanding of this environment in general. To do so, this project will explore multiple occurrences of coralline algae in the south central Mediterranean using a one of a kind comprehensive data and sample set. This includes both extensive seafloor and sub-seafloor acoustic data, over 1.5km of cored material penetrating multiple ancient coralline rich units, ROV dives from modern living coralline biotopes and compilation of data from the rest of the region. The project will implement cross-disciplinary integration of this data set in a holistic fashion, inducting the researcher into seafloor studies. Together, these elements will give the fellow the ability to explore novel and inventive tools for detailed investigation of these deposits. The combined approach will produce a comprehensive model of the behaviour and evolution of corallines in the Mediterranean over key periods of the last 25 Myr. This work will expend the fellows’ multidisciplinary capacity and will promote the career development of this young researcher within the European community. The products of this project will be made available to the public across multiple venues to be used to promote truism and provide bases for planers and dissection makers in respect to the possible effect on coralline algae rich environments.