Dr Nicky Allison

Dr Nicky Allison
Senior Lecturer


I study biomineralisation and the chemistry of biogenic carbonates. I maintain a sophisticated aquarium facility for the culture of tropical corals and other organisms over variable seawater pCO2, alkalinity and temperature scenarios. My current research interests include:

Biomineralisation and climate change: I study biomineralisation in tropical reef building corals and the impact of climate change e.g. rising seawater temperatures and ocean acidification, on coral calcification and metabolic processes.

The geochemistry of biogenic carbonates: The skeletal chemistry of marine organisms may record information on the local environmental conditions prevailing at the time of their deposition and the analysis of fossil specimens can be used to estimate past climate. My research focuses on understanding the environmental and biological processes which affect the skeletal geochemistry of corals, foraminifera and sclerosponges.

Reconstruction of tropical and sub-tropical Pacific seawater temperatures: I am using measurements of Sr/Ca, δ11B and δ18O in fossil corals from Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef to reconstruct records of sea surface temperature, ice volume and regional salinity in the Pacific Ocean at key times in the Quaternary and beyond.

Current funding:
The Leverhulme Trust: The control of coral biomineralisation

Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland: Identifying the source of skeletal carbon for tropical reef building corals

source: symbiosis


Research Overview:

My research focuses on biomineralisation. In particular I study how organisms form CaCO3 biominerals, what the chemistry of these minerals can tell us about past environments and how biomineral formation will be affected by climate and environmental change.

Calcium carbonates are formed by a range of important marine organisms including corals, molluscs and foraminifera. These calcareous structures provide tissue support and protection and serve to provide habitat spaces for other organisms e.g. coral reefs. I maintain an aquaria system to culture marine organisms under tightly controlled conditions to study the effects of rising seawater temperatures and atmospheric CO2 (ocean acidification) on biomineralisation processes. I also research how CaCO3 chemistry is affected by the environment conditions at the time of deposition and investigate how the chemistry of fossil carbonates e.g. ancient reefs, may record climatic information. These accurate records of past seawater temperatures are key to understanding past global climates and for validating models predicting 21st century climate change. 

Biominerals are composite materials of both CaCO3 and organic matrices. I have built an apparatus to precipitate biominerals under the conditions analogous to those predicted to occur in organisms and my group is researching how  organic materials e.g. amino acids and proteins affect biomineral formation.




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Contact Details:

Dr Nicky Allison
Irvine Building
University of St Andrews
North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9AL

tel: +44 01334 463952
fax: +44 01334 463949


Scottish Oceans Institute
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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The Secretary
Scottish Oceans Institute
Institiud Chuantan na h-Alba
Gatty Marine Laboratory
East Sands St Andrews
KY16 8LB

tel: +44 (0) 1334 463472
fax: +44 (0) 1334 463443