William Burnett

Burnett Photo The Carl Henry Oppenheimer Professor of Oceanography

Chemical Oceanography
Ph.D., University of Hawaii, 1974

My research includes two main topics: (1) applications of naturally occurring radio isotopes to address problems in the earth, marine, and environmental sciences; and (2) environmental radioactivity. My research usually involves a combination of field and laboratory work where we use state-of-the-art equipment and procedures whenever possible.

The distribution of geochemical tracers like radium isotopes and radon can be used to trace groundwater discharge and mixing in the ocean. For example, coastal waters in the Gulf of Mexico have a higher concentration of these isotopes closer to shore because of inputs via submarine groundwater discharge. Further out the level drops off because the ground water has mixed with ocean water that has lower concentrations of radium and radon. Since we know the rate of decay, we can subtract that out to get the amount of ocean mixing. The direct discharge of groundwater into the marine environment has been overlooked for many years as a pathway for fresh water, nutrients, and pollutants. Our studies in Florida and elsewhere indicate that this process may be much more important than previously thought.

The studies being performed by my research group in the area of environmental radioactivity involve several aspects. For example, our group is studying the occurrence of natural radioactivity in drinking water and sediments and we are developing new methods for more precise measurement of radioactive nuclides (both natural and artificial) in environmental materials.

I am also involved in the new Biogeochemical Dynamics Program at FSU. The Biogeochemical Dynamics Program is an interdisciplinary research-oriented, graduate-only program within the FSU College of Arts and Sciences which focuses on environmental biogeochemistry.