Dr Ruth Airs

Organic Chemist

Contact Details

+44 (0)1752 633100 (switchboard)
Dr Ruth Airs is a Senior Analytical Chemist at PML. Her research is focussed around developing and using improved detection and characterisation of biogeochemically relevant compounds including nitrogenous osmolytes, antioxidants, UV protectants, and chlorophylls.  Ruth is recognised internationally for her work on characterisation of photosynthetic pigments and their alteration products in sediments and photosynthetic bacteria and was part of the working group that updated the widely acclaimed pigment book Phytoplankton Pigments in Oceanography.  Since 2012, Ruth has taken over management and quality assurance responsibility for routine phytoplankton pigments analysis at PML and achieved excellent results for accuracy and precision in an international intercomparison exercise.

Ruth’s work on improving the detection of the osmolyte glycine betaine has directly enabled seawater measurements of this compound, permitting assessment of the seasonality of this important component of the marine organic nitrogen pool for the first time, as well as its potential role as a marine source of atmospheric methyl amines.

Ruth has a BSc and PhD in Chemistry from the University of York. She is currently supervising 2 PhD students and has supervised one PhD to completion. Ruth reviews papers for a range of high impact journals including Biogeosciences, and is a member of the local organising committee for Challenger 2014.

Key Projects

Biogeochemical cycling of N-osmolytes in the surface ocean. 2014-2017. NE/M003361/1. Collaborating with the Universities of Warwick (Chen, Scanlan) and Sheffield (Huang).

Anaerobic quaternary amine degradation: from single bacterium to salt marsh ecosystem. 2012-2015. Collaboration with Yin Chen and Kevin Purdy (University of Warwick), and Colin Murrell (UEA).

Pigment distributions linking the benthic and pelagic realms within NERC’s Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry Benthic Consortium, 2013-2016.

Cell viability and chlorophyll alteration in microeukaryote phytoplankton: exploring the relationship between pigments and cell death. PhD project, 2010-2014.

Analytical developments and seasonal distributions of glycine betaine and methyl amines in the Western English Channel. PhD project, 2010-2014.


Bale NJ, Airs RL, Kimmance SA, Llewellyn, CA. 2013. Transforamtion of chlorophyll a during viral infection of Emiliania huxleyi. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 69 (3): 205-210.

Franklin DJ, Airs RL, Fernandes M, Bell TG, Bongaerts RJ, Berges JA, Malin G. 2012. Identification of senescence and death in Emiliania huxleyi and Thalassiosira pseudonana: Cell staining, chlorophyll alterations and dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) metabolism. Limnol. Oceanogr. 57(1), 305-317.

Bale NJ, Airs RL, Llewellyn CA. 2011. Type I and Type II chlorophyll-a transformation products associated with algal senescence. Organic Geochemistry 42(5), 451-464.

Garrido JL, Airs RL, van Heukelem L, Zapata M. 2011. New HPLC Separation Techniques. In: Phytoplankton pigments: Characterization, Chemotaxonomy and Applications in Oceanography. Cambridge University Press. pp165-179

Airs RL; Garrido JL. 2011. Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry for pigment analysis. In: Phytoplankton pigments: Characterization, Chemotaxonomy and Applications in Oceanography. Cambridge University Press. pp314-320.

Llewellyn CA, Airs RL. 2010. Distribution and abundance of MAAs in 33 species of microalgae, across 13 classes. Marine Drugs 8, 1273-1291; doi:10.3390/md8041273.

Archer SD, Ragni M, Webster R, Airs RL, Geider RJ. 2010. Dimethyl sulfoniopropionate and dimethyl sulfide production in response to photoinhibition in Emiliania huxleyi. Limnol. Oceanogr.55(4): 1579-1589.

 Airs RL, and Archer SD. 2010. Analysis of glycine betaine and choline in seawater particulates by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization/mass spectrometry. Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 8: 499-506.

Bale N, Llewellyn CA, Airs RL. 2010. Atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry of type II chlorophyll-a alteration products: Diagnostic fragmentation patterns. Organic Geochemistry 41: 473-481.

Ragni M, Airs RL, Hennige SJ, Suggett DJ, Warner ME and Geider RJ. 2010. PSII photoinhibition and photorepair of Symbiodinium (Pyrrhophyta) differs between thermally tolerant and sensitive phylotypes. MEPS 406: 57-70.

Tilstone GH, Airs RL, Moore G, Martinez-Vicente V, Widdicombe C and Llewellyn CA. 2010. High concentrations of mycosporine-like amino acids and colored dissolved organic matter in the sea surface microlayer off the Iberian Peninsula: Implications for ultraviolet radiation. Limnology and Oceanography 55(5): 1835-1850.

Ragni M, Airs RL, Leonardos N and Geider RJ. 2008. Photoinhibition of PSII in Emiliania huxleyi (Haptophyta) under high light stress: The roles of photoacclimation, photoprotection, and photorepair. Journal of Phycology 44 (3): 670-683.

Llewellyn CA, Evans C, Airs RL, Cook I, Bale, N, Wilson WH. 2007. The response of carotenoids and chlorophylls during virus infection of Emiliania huxleyi (Prymnesiophyceae). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 344: 101-112.

 Airs RL. and Llewellyn C.A. (2006) Improved Detection and Characterisation of fucoxanthin-type carotenoids: Novel Pigments in Emiliania huxleyi. (Prymnesiophyceae). Journal of Phycology 42: 391-399.

Squier AH, Airs RL, Hodgson DA and Keely BJ (2004) Atmospheric pressure chemical ionization liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry of the ultraviolet screening pigment scytonemin: characteristic fragmentations. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 18: 2934-2938.

Masse A, Airs RL, Keely BJ, de Wit R (2004) The impact of different intensities of green light on the bacteriochlorophyll homologue composition of the Chlorobiaceae Prosthecochloris aestuarii and Chlorobium phaeobacteroides. Microbiology-SGM 150: 2555-2564, Part 8.

Gich F, Borrego CM, Airs RL, Danielsen M, Keely BJ, Garcia-Gil LJ and Miller M (2003) Characterisation of the chlorosome antenna of the filamentous anoxygenic phototrophic bacterium Chloronema sp. Strain UdG9001. Archives of Microbiology, 180: 417-426.

Wilson MA, Airs RL, Atkinson JE and Keely BJ (2004) Bacterioviridins: novel sedimentary chlorins providing evidence for oxidative processes affecting palaeobacterial communities. Organic Geochemistry, 35: 199-202.

Airs RL and Keely BJ (2003) A high resolution study of the chlorophyll and bacteriochlorophyll  distributions in a calcite/gypsum microbial mat. Organic Geochemistry 34: 539-551.

 Airs RL and Keely BJ (2002) Atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation liquid chromatography mass spectrometry of bacteriochlorophylls from Chlorobiaceae: characteristic fragmentations. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 16: 453-461.

 Airs RL, Borrego CM, Garcia-Gil J and Keely BJ (2001) Identification of the bacteriochlorophyll homologues of Chlorobium phaeobacteroides strain UdG6053 grown at low light intensity. Photosynthesis Research 70: 221-230.

 Airs RL, Atkinson JE and Keely BJ (2001) Development and application of a high resolution liquid chromatographic method for the analysis of complex pigment distributions. Journal of Chromatography A 917: 169-179.

 Airs RL, Chi J and Keely BJ (2000) A novel sedimentary chlorin: structural evidence for a chlorophyll origin for aetioporphyrins. Organic Geochemistry 31: 1253-1256.

Airs RL and Keely BJ (2000) A novel approach for sensitivity enhancement in atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry of chlorophylls. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 14:125-128.


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