Crowley and Janine Sparks, a UC doctoral student in geology at the time and first author on the study’s publication, joined researchers at the University of the West Indies to measure sulfur isotope levels from wind-blown ocean spray on Trinidad's weedy native plants.
"We looked at the sulfur content in plants found across the island of Trinidad to see how windward coastal locations compared to inland and leeward wind coastal areas," says Crowley.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Geochemistry, described some interesting findings. Along windward coastlines with the most torrential rain and strongest winds blowing off the ocean, the chemical detectives found what they expected — the highest concentrations of marine-derived sulfur.
"But in the middle of the island, there was not as much as we thought we would see," says Sparks, now a laboratory manager in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. "Levels started dropping off between 1.5 to 10 kilometers inland.
"We based our expectations on a previous study other researchers performed on sheep's wool in Ireland. There they found a higher content of marine sulfur on sheep near the coast but almost as high a content level for sheep who lived 100 kilometers inland from the windy coast."