Professor Steven Rowland
Faculty of Science and Engineering
After over 35 years in organic geochemistry research, at 66, and having being made voluntarily redundant in April 2019, Steve Rowland is currently Professor emeritus of Organic Geochemistry. He is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter. Steve was previously a Visiting Professor and Blaustein Fellow at Stanford University, USA and a Visiting Professor at the CSIRO in Australia. Steve is a co Editor in Chief of the Elsevier journal, Organic Geochemistry (2017-present). He has published over 200 papers, including in the leading journals Science and Nature, has supervised more than 35 Ph.D students and won research grants worth millions of pounds. In 2008 Steve was awarded a prestigious European Research Council Advanced Research Grant of 2 million euros, one of only 100 awards in science & engineering in the EU, one of 19 in the UK. Whilst Steve taught chemistry and environmental chemistry at BSc level at the university for over 30 years he now mainly conducts editorial work, analytical consultancy (including for the University subsidiary UoPEL) and 'hobby' research on ambergris -in collaboration with colleagues at Cambridge, Copenhagen, Curtin (Australia), Liverpool, Bristol and Leicester universities.
BSc (Hons) Bristol
Steve Rowland was educated at Okehampton Grammar School, Devon and following 2 years scientific 'apprenticeship' and a Higher National Certificate in Chemistry in the laboratories of Kodak Ltd, he was an undergraduate (BSc Joint Hons Chemistry & Geology 1977) at the University of Bristol. He returned to the University of Bristol as a postgraduate following 2 years in a small mass spectrometry consultancy firm. After completing a Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor James Maxwell FRS, he undertook postdoctoral research with Professor Bob Alexander at Curtin University, Western Australia and then as a British Petroleum fellow at the University of Newcastle UK with the late Dr Archie Douglas. Steve was appointed to a lectureship at Plymouth Polytechnic in 1984, a Readership in 1989 and awarded a Personal Chair at the University of Plymouth in 1993.He was a Visiting Professor at the CSIRO Marine Laboratory in Hobart, Tasmania in 1997/8 working with Dr John Volkman, sponsored by The Royal Society and British Council and an Associate Editor of the international journal, Organic Geochemistry 1996-2004. From 1993-2001 he was a full board member and Membership Officer of the European Association of Organic Geochemists. Steve is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, former committee member and a past Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry (Peninsula Section). He was a member of the international judging panel of the Kuwait Science Prize ($100,000) in December 2002 and an organiser of the 4th International Meeting on Environmental Chemistry in Plymouth held in Dec 2003. In 2005 Steve was an advisor on environmental science education to Kuwait University and he was a consultant to the Norwegian Research Council 2004-2006. In 2005 Steve was made a Visiting Professor and Blaustein Fellow in the Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University USA and was awarded a Royal Society travel grant to support a short study visit to the University of Calgary (Prof Steve Larter), Canada in August 2005. Steve has acted as an external examiner of numerous PhD candidates in the UK and overseas. He has been a consultant to oilfield specialists Oil Plus Ltd, Newbury UK, on an industry -funded project on naphthenic acid chemistry and was a consultant to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office on forensic oil identification and other methods. He was a member of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Peer Review College until May 2008, a member of the NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Committee 2005-2009 and of NERC Services Review Group and of Science Foundation Ireland Geosciences Review Panels 2008. Steve delivered the opening plenary lecture at the 23rd International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry 2007 and gave a keynote lecture at the Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference in Adelaide in 2008. Steve won the 'Making Plymouth Great' Business Ideas Challenge in 2007 and was a finalist with industry sponsors Oil Plus Ltd in 'The Engineer' Technology & Innovation awards Oct 3rd 2008 held at the Royal Society, London. One his papers was one of the most cited American Chemical Society papers in Environmental Science & Technology in 2007. In July 2008 Steve was awarded a European Research Council Advanced Investigators award of 2 million euros, one of only 105 awards in Europe for science and engineering (1 of only 19 in the UK ) from 997 applicants. Steve was co-Director of the Biogeochemistry Research Centre 2010-2018. The Centre was awarded the University of Plymouth Vice-Chancellors Award for Best Research Team in 2010. He was a finalist for the Most Innovative Researcher award in 2011 and shortlisted in 2013. Steve delivered the Scott Simpson lecture to the 49th Annual Meeting of the Ussher Society in January 2011, a plenary lecture at the 25th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry in Switzerland in September 2011 and an opening lecture to Separation Science Europe at the Royal Institution, London in October 2011. He gave an invited lecture at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry conference in Montreal, Canada in June 2012 and a plenary lecture at the Kuwait Chemistry Conference in 2014. He gave a plenary lecture at the 27th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry in Prague in September 2015 and invited or plenary lectures in Norway, Denmark, Italy and Australia in 2016. Steve travelled to Australia to advise on oil pollution research at Curtin University, funded by the Australian Research Council in February 2019. He has been a co Editor-in-Chief of the Elsevier journal, Organic Geochemistry, since October 2017.
Fellow Royal Society of Chemistry
Fellow Geological Society of London (lapsed)
Chair Royal Society of Chemistry Peninsula Section 2003-2004
Committee Member Royal Society of Chemistry Peninsula Section 2004-2007
Editor 'Organic Geochemistry' (Elsevier) 1996-2004
Membership Officer & Board Member European Association of Organic Geochemistry 8 years
Member of the Geochemical Society
Member of the European Association of Organic Geochemistry
Member of the Association for Chemistry & the Environment
Professional Member American Association for the Advancement of Science
Visiting Professor CSIRO Australia 1997-98
Visiting Professor & Blaustein Fellow Stanford University, USA 2005-2006
Honorary Professor University of Exeter 2008-present
Professor emeritus University of Plymouth 2019-present
Roles on external bodies
NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Steering Committee 2005-2009
NERC Services Review Committee 2007
NERC Peer Review College 2005-2008
Lord Chancellor's Committee for Appointment of Magistrates 2007-2011
Elected Member RSC Peninsula Section 2005-2008
Course Advisor Faculty of Science Kuwait University 2005
Chair Royal Society of Chemistry Peninsula Section 2003-2004
University representative South West Regional Development Agency (Physical Sciences) 2003
External Examiner MSc Newcastle University 2000-2003Vice Chair Governors Lewannick C P School 2000-2003
Chair Finance Lewannick C P School 2000-2003
Parent Governor Launceston College 2004-2008
Steve was Head of the Centre for Chemical Sciences from 2006-2008 (CCS; webpage http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/chemistry). Much of his teaching covered aspects of environmental organic chemistry including a Masters (MSc) course on Oil Pollution. In addition he was involved in the production of new teaching material. In collaboration with Prof Simon Belt (2003 RSC Higher education Award winner) he devised a series of case studies on organic chemistry (1st year undergraduate level) for the RSC published in 2006 and prepared similar material funded by the Chemistry For Our Future fund administered by the RSC. Steve acted as External Examiner to the University of Newcastle taught course MSc in Environmental Biogeochemistry for 3 years (2000-2003) and as an External Examiner for Kuwait University proposed BSc in Environmental Science (2005). Steve complete his >31 years of teaching duties on June 1st 2015 when he began a mainly research-only contract at the University. He was made voluntarily redundant in April 2019 aged 65.
Staff serving as external examiners
External Examiner for MSc in Environmental Biogeochemistry at University of Newcastle (taught course) 2001-2003
PhD External Examiner:
(Latest) University of Newcastle,
University of Liverpool,
University of Strathclyde,
University of Bristol,
University of York,
University of Exeter.
University of Oldenburg (Germany)
External Advisor BSc Environmental Science Kuwait University 2005
Steve's major interests were in the areas of organic and environmental organic geochemistry, with particular emphasis in these areas:
Origin and significance of highly branched acyclic isoprenoids (e.g. use as climate proxies, calibrants for molecular evolution etc).
Nature of unresolved complex mixtures of hydrocarbons and naphthenic acids (e.g. effects as pollutants, corrosive chemicals, pipeline blockages etc)
Fate and effects of organic pollutants especially oil pollution (e.g. effects of dispersants on toxicity and longevity of oil pollution)
Fate and effects of plastics and other hydrophobic pollutants (e.g. transport of toxic pollutants into marine organisms).
Origin and Significance of Highly Branched Acyclic Isoprenoids
The structural and stereochemical specificity conferred on many organic molecules during biosynthesis is preserved when the compounds are incorporated into sediments. Proof of the structures of such molecules (biological markers) has had such a dramatic impact on petroleum geochemistry that laboratories worldwide are now equipped with the analytical instrumentation necessary for monitoring changes in such compounds. Amongst the most valuable and widely used are a number of acyclic isoprenoid hydrocarbons. Steve's group have made significant contributions to this area including the pioneering syntheses and identifications of crocetane (methanotrophic bacteria) and haslane and rhizane(diatoms) chemical fossils.
The first synthesis and complete spectral characterisation (MS, 13C NMR) of a novel C25 isoprenoid alkane (haslane) and related haslenes was reported by Steve and John Robson in Nature (60 citations)and allowed the compounds reported, but not identified, in over fifty other studies to be assigned. Subsequently, C20 and C30 (rhizane) analogues were also synthesised and the synthetic compounds were used to afford a possible explanation of their sedimentary abundance and worldwide distribution. The research area increased further in importance to industry with the discovery of the diatom (algal) source of the compounds by Australian workers and the occurrence of haslane in crude oils. Subsequent reports resulted in continued funding which on completion, led to a postdoctoral NERC ROPA award in collaboration with Professor Jean-Michel Robert at the University of Nantes, France (report rated Scientifically Excellent by NERC reviewers 1999). Invited lectures in the U.S.A., Spain and Australia, followed by a sabbatical year at the CSIRO Marine Laboratories in Australia were accompanied by filing of two provisional patents and numerous publications, describing the uses of the alkenes as biomarkers and as potential anti-tumour agents and we recently identified all of the common sedimentary compounds (Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta) and determined the method by which they are biosynthesised (Proceeedings of National Academy of Sciences, USA with Prof Michel Rohmer of Louis Pasteur University Strasbourg). We worked with colleagues at Royal NIOZ in the Netherlands and Stanford University USA, to calibrate the pace of the evolution of haslene and rhizene-producing diatoms since the Cretaceous period (Science, 2004). Our most recent work has shown that algae (diatoms) living under sea -ice produce a unique biomarker which can be used as a chemical fossil to track the past variations in sea ice in the Arctic (Earth & Planetary Science Letters 2008) at least for the last 10,000 years and now we have shown (published in 'Antarctic Science')a related chemical can be used in the Antarctic. This is crucial to the accurate calibration of computerised climate prediction models.
Nature of Unresolved Complex Mixtures of Hydrocarbons
It is astounding, but nonetheless true, that even with sophisticated analytical tools currently available, the hydrocarbon composition of the world's major energy source, namely crude oil is, still largely unknown. Steve's report with Mark Gough in Nature 1990 (>100 citations to date, cited 1990-2005) that a considerable proportion of these previously unresolved and hence unidentified hydrocarbons could be characterised by oxidative degradation was therefore met with widespread interest. Synthesis, spectral characterisation and oxidation of some of the proposed hydrocarbons supported the conclusions of the initial studies, as did biological oxidation. Development of the methodology to include a quantitative, chemometrics-based analysis of the oxidation products also allowed the 'fingerprinting' of a variety of oils from oil spills and the method has also been applied to several unpublished oil spill incidents. The work attracted funding from British Petroleum and from the Natural Environment Research Council. The unravelling of crude oil composition has important consequences for both upstream and downstream petroleum industrial activities as well as for pollution studies. Significant in the latter respect is the increased toxicity of the UCM once oxidised. This realisation led to the funding of two further Ph.D. studentships and a postdoctoral fellow by NERC, from which numerous publications resulted including a paper delivered to the World Congress of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) which won the Procter & Gamble Eurocor prize for the best lecture by a young scientist for former Ph.D. student, and post-doctoral fellow, Emma Smith who now works at the University of Toronto, Canada. Three further papers were published in Environmental Science and Technology, (see publications).The impacts of UCM pollutants on marine ecosystems were established in a preliminary study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and we have used comprehensive gas chromatography mass spectrometry to identify thousands of overlooked toxicants in health-impacted mussels from around the UK (Environmental Science & Technology, 2007; a Most-Cited paper in 2007) and to demonstrate the toxicity of the pollutants to mussels. With an Advanced Investigators Grant from the ERC 2009-2014 we pioneered methods to identify the polar (e.g. acidic) pollutants of petroleum, often using the acids of oil sands process waters as a 'supercomplex' example (numerous papers in Environ Sci Technol 2009-14).
Studies of Organic Pollutants
Oil pollution remains a widespread environmental problem. Application of the analytical and biological marker chemistry expertise developed in the foregoing studies to the identification of crude oils spilled in the environment has proved an extremely environmentally valuable exercise over many years and has led to both published and consultancy studies. Differentiation of petroleum-derived and biogenic hydrocarbons in Mussels (Mytilus edulis) from North Sea oil platforms required a revision of previous estimates of pollutant burdens and one of the first identifications of a specific algal source for the biogenic compounds was made. Extension of this careful, compound-specific analytical approach proved valuable for the identification of Nigerian crude oil spilled into the Humber Estuary and of hydrocarbons from the Sullom Voe oil terminal. A fully funded studentship from Kuwait provided instrumentation necessary for a realistic appraisal of the role of solar radiation in the degradation of spilled oil. It is apparent that this process has not been adequately modelled by previous studies and our results indicate that if suitable attention is paid to experimental design, major differences in the degradation rates of oil-derived water-soluble aromatics are observed. The results of these initial studies were presented at an invited lecture to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Mason lecture). Successive studies were supported by the University, NERC and Plymouth Marine Laboratory including two further studentshipsboth now completed. An important development has been extension of this approach to an examination of the toxicological importance of the compounds from crude oil. Indeed this has revealed that previous research has under estimated a significant environmental burden. This work represents one of the few U.K. studies of molecular changes in spilled oil composition despite the regular occurrence of oil spills of headline proportions (e.g. Braer, Sea Empress). Our studies of the latter have resulted in numerous publications and both research council and industry funds.
With funding from DEFRA, DTI, MMS (USA) and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency we completed a 4 year study of the toxicity effects of biodegraded and dispersed crude oils.
Please check out our more extensive webpages at http://www.pegg.org.uk
Starting as a 'hobby' science project, Steve's interest in the enigmatic natural product of sperm whales known as ambergris, has led to a number of publications and collaborations with leading UK, European and Australian universities. He has appeared on BBC radio and TV as an ambergris 'expert'.
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
Selected PhD Studentships (35 PhDs supervised in career)
2014-2017 W.Robson UoP and KAT studentship. The polar constituents of petroleum. PhD awarded 2018.
2012-2105 M. J. Wilde ERC and UoP studentship. On the bicyclic acids of petroleum. PhD awarded 2016.
2009-2012 D. Jones UoP Studentship Polar unresolved pollutants: Characterisation & Toxicity. PhD awarded 2013.
2008-2011 N. Downes-Tettmar NERC CASE with PML. Algal toxins. PhD awarded 2013.
2006-2010 R. Johnston NERC CASE studentship with Oil Plus Ltd. Bioremediation of aromatic naphthenic acids.With Dr C Whitby, University of Essex. PhD awarded Jan 2011.
2005-2007 A.Scarlett HEIF2 Studentship with Dr T. Galloway. Potential ecological effects of biodegraded and dispersed oils. PhD awarded 2008.
2004-2007 M.Frenzel NERC Industrial CASE studentship with University of Exeter (EMERGE , Prof H Lappin-Scott) and Schlumberger Cambridge Research. PhD awarded 2008.
2003-2007 C.H. Redshaw BBSRC CASE Studentship/Astrazeneca Brixham Environmental Laboratory PhD awarded 2007 Biotic fate of pharmaceuticals and personal care products
2003-2007 C.E. West University of Plymouth Scholarhip/Astrazeneca Brixham Environmental Laboratory PhD awarded 2007.Abiotic fate of pharmaceuticals and personal care products. With Dr C.A. Lewis
2002-2005 B.E. Smith University of Plymouth Studentship PhD awarded 2005
Characterisation of unresolved oxidised complex mixtures ('humps') of chemicals in the environment. With Dr C.A. Lewis
2002-2005 P. Curtis-Jackson NERC Studentship PhD awarded 2005
Characterisation and availability of algal-derived organic N in the marine environment
With Dr M.F. Fitzsimons (Director of Studies) and Dr M. Gledhill.
2000-2004 A.M. Booth NERC Studentship.Characterisation and toxicity of petroleum-derived unresolved complex mixtures of hydrocarbons in mussels (M. edulis). PhD awarded 2004. With Dr C.A. Lewis (Director of Studies)
2000-2003 G. Masse University of Plymouth Studentship Ph.D. awarded.
2003 University of Plymouth. Biological controls on the production of cytostatic lipids of diatoms. With Dr S.T. Belt (Director of Studies)
1998-2001 W.G. Allard University of Plymouth Studentship Ph.D. Awarded.
2002 Tripos, Inc., Cornwall, U.K.Sources and structures of commonly occurring highly branched isoprenoid alkenes. With Dr S.T. Belt (Director of Studies)
1998-2001 P. McCormack University of Plymouth Studentship/astraZeneca Environmental Laboratory Ph.D. Awarded. University of Plymouth, U.K.The separation and identification of small highly polar or ionisable organic molecules in water. With Dr P. Jones (Director of Studies)
Grants & contracts
(Running total > £5M):
2019-2021 Australian Research Council 13,600 GBP Fish fingerprints (oil pollution).
2019-2022 NERC; 266,000 GBP Current and Future Effects of Microplastics on Marine Shelf Ecosystems (MINIMISE) co-Investigator with Prof R C Thompson (Principal Investigator).
2018-2019 Saudi Aramco; 70,000 GBP Geotracers.2014-8 Norwegian Research Council. Two awards. 830,000NOK (~£78,000) to UoP with NIVA, OSlO, Bergen, SINTEF, Trondheim, Norway. Impacts of petroleum on haddock eggs and characterisation of UCM pollutants in offshore produced waters in the environment.2011-2014 DEFRA. Investigating whether microplastics can cause harm in the marine environment. £391,000. With P.I. Prof R Thompson and Co-I Prof T Galloway (Univ of Exeter).
2010-2014 EU Initial Training Network:The Changing Arctic and Sub-arctic Environment: a research and training programme on marine biotic indicators of recent climate changes in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic. With Dr G Masse and Prof S Belt. Euro 429,435.
2008-2010 Oil Plus Ltd (on behalf of consortium: BP, Nalco, Total, BG Group, Chevron) 215,000 GBP Characterisation of naphthenic acids.
2009-2014 European Research Council Advanced Grant Euro 2,000,000 'Outreach': unresolved pollutants.
2008 NERC Isotopic signatures of Arctic Sea-ice biomarkers, £39,040 in kind. With Prof S Belt and Dr G Masse.
2007 UoP 10,000 GBP Proof of Concept fund (Lipoil)
2007-2010 HEFCE 256,000 GBP Laboratory & Vulnerable Subjects Initiative
2007 FCO 300,000 GBP Crude oil analysis.With Dr C A Lewis.
2006 NERC 38,000 GBP Use of sea ice proxy to study fluctuations in Arctic sea ice over the Holocene. With Prof S Belt & Dr G Masse.
2006 NERC 13,950 GBP. Novel proxy for sea -ice determination (in-kind funding). With Prof S Belt & Dr G Masse.
2006 Datalog Ltd 100,000 GBP Knowledge Transfer Partnership. GC Tracer with C A Lewis.
2006 BG Group & Oil Plus Ltd 43,500 GBP Studies of naphthenic acids.
2006 Royal Society 9204 GBP A novel proxy for determining palaeo-temperatures of Arctic sea waters with S Belt, G Masse (PI).
2006 NERC/Oil Plus Ltd Case PhD studentship
Biodegradation of naphthenates (with University of Essex, Dr C Whitby)
2005-6 Norwegian Research Council 1,500,000 NOK (150000 to UoP) with SINTEF, Trondheim, Norway. Impacts of UCMs in the environment.
2005 European Science Foundation & HanseWissenschaftKolleg 400 euros to attend ESF sea-ice workshop, Germany.
Potential ecological effects of chemically-dispersed and biodegraded oils (£60,590 extension: total £317,590)
2005 Blaustein Fellowship $5000 Visiting Scholar Stanford University, California, USA.
2005 Royal Society International Outgoing Short Visit University of Calgary, Canada. £800
2004 Leverhulme Trust Travel Grant £11,200 Unravelling extremely complex toxic mixtures; with Prof P Nesterenko Moscow State University.
2004 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science:
£5500 with Prof Jim Readman Plymouth Marine Lab plus £25,400 travel and living expenses to Visiting Postdoctoral Scientist (Dr K Aranami).An isotopic study of persistent biogenic organics in Atlantic and Pacific Ocean sediments. July 2004-March 2005.
2004 NERC Life sciences Mass Spectrometry research grant:
Dynamic aspects of terpenoid biosynthesis in diatoms. Instrument use award. £5250
With Dr G Masse & Dr S Belt
2004 NERC/Schlumberger Industrial Case PhD studentship
Biodegradation of drill cuttings from oil platforms
(with EMERGE University of Exeter, Prof H Lappin-Scott)
2004 UP Enterprises
Cytostatic activity of marennine £10,192
(with Drs S Belt & G Masse)
Hydrocarbon hump profiling £171,187 plus PhD studentship stipend (3 years).
(with Dr A C Lewis)
2003-2006 University Scholarship/Astrazeneca
Abiotic fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment £42,000
2003 BBSRC/Astrazeneca Industrial Case studentship
Biotic fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment
Diversity of novel, technologically usdeful, pigment-producing diatoms in estuaries of South Devon, U.K. £24,340
2003 The Leverhulme Trust
Lost at sea: Where do all the plastics go?
(with Dr R. Thompson and Dr T. Galloway) £181,610
Hydrocarbon humps £3,600
Potential ecological effects of chemically-dispersed and biodegraded oils £257,000
MIMOS: Towards a sea-truthing of environmental discharge models £68,347
2001 Strategic Research Infrastucture Fund (SRIF) HEFCE
Compound specific isotope ratio mass spectrometer and associated equipment £200,000
Controls on diatom HBI distributions (in-kind funding) £3,600
Hydrocarbon humps £150,400
2000-2001 Environment Agency
Organic micropollutants in the River Thames (2 grants) £34,500
- Biogeochemistry Research Centre (BGC)
- Chemical Sciences
- Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry
Key publications are highlightedJournals
Rowland SJ, Sutton PA & Knowles TDJ 2018 'The age of ambergris' Natural Product Research 33 3134-3142.
Rowland SJ, Sutton PA, Belt ST, Fitzsimmons-Thoss V & Scarlett AG 2018 'Further spectral and chromatographic studies of ambergris' Natural Product Research 32 2603-2609.
Reports & invited lectures
Steve has given many invited and plenary lectures. For instance, he delivered the opening plenary lecture at the 23rd International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry 2007 and gave a keynote lecture at the Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference in Adelaide in 2008. He delivered the Scott Simpson lecture to the 49th Annual Meeting of the Ussher Society in January 2011, a plenary lecture at the 25th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry in Switzerland in September 2011 and an opening lecture to Separation Science Europe at the Royal Institution, London in October 2011. He gave an invited lecture at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry conference in Montreal, Canada in June 2012 and a plenary lecture at the Kuwait Chemistry Conference in 2014. He also gave a plenary lecture at the 27th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry in Prague in September 2015 and invited or plenary lectures in Norway, Denmark, Italy and Australia in 2016.