NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: June 4, 2016

June 8th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Waking to a dry morning, I sluggishly dawdled to the water dispenser where my housemate was staring at a strong column of ants.

“They’re back in force. We should do something about them.”

It was a predictable biological event pattern – one that happens whenever there is a long spell of dry heat.

I thought about it for a moment, “We could get some powdered diatomaceous earth and spread that around.”

“What is that?”

“Fossilized shells of diatoms, so it’s mostly silica. I think it absorbs lipids from an ant’s exoskeleton, causing it to dehydrate and die.”

“That’s kind of brutal – aren’t diatoms the phytoplankton you’re growing?”

In fact, they were. Inside our laboratory at UC Santa Barbara, I had been cultivating marine diatoms, photosynthetic microscopic plankton found throughout the temperate oceans. Some estimates project that they produce up to 20% of the oxygen we breathe. They also often contribute to one of the most striking and predictable biological events in the oceans, the annual North Atlantic spring bloom – an event so striking that it can be seen from satellite images!

As primary producers, marine diatoms transform carbon dioxide and inorganic nutrients into the organic matter they need to build their cellular mass and fuel their activity. Through a few processes, that organic matter is released into the water as a dissolved source of food and carbon, DOM (dissolved organic matter), to marine bacteria.
Professor Craig Carlson and I study DOM because it supports the activity of marine bacteria, prevalent and important members of the oceanic food web, and because it represents a fraction of carbon that can sway the balance of carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere.

A chain of marine diatoms imaged by the onboard Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB).

A chain of marine diatoms imaged by the onboard Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB).

In the months prior to this NAAMES mission, we were working hard to tag DOM produced by our diatoms with a non-radioactive isotope. Our intent was to concentrate the tagged DOM and feed it to natural populations of marine bacteria that we collect and incubate in bottles. If successful, our use of the material would allow us to observe and compare the specific types, or taxa, of marine bacteria that use DOM produced by blooming phytoplankton.

Left: Sampling some of our growth experiments to quantify DOM, cell numbers, cell carbon content, DNA, and enzyme activity. Right: Microscopic view of marine bacteria from our growth experiments, fluorescing with a nuclear counterstain.

Left: Sampling some of our growth experiments to quantify DOM, cell numbers, cell carbon content, DNA, and enzyme activity. Right: Microscopic view of marine bacteria from our growth experiments, fluorescing with a nuclear counterstain.

The North Atlantic is notorious for being unforgiving and furious, often making it difficult for scientists to gather samples and perform experiments. Though it has upheld its reputation by slamming our vessel with up to 50-foot waves, it also graced us with its gentle nature, providing us with a unique opportunity to witness and study the spring phytoplankton bloom. Thanks to both calm conditions and the more than capable help from all the Atlantis crewmembers, Craig and I were able to not only collect more than all of the samples we needed, but were also able to spin up every bacterial growth experiment we hoped to conduct – including our DOM feeding experiment.

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Although it will take many months of processing and analyzing our samples before we can procure firm results and conclusions, we expect to generate a dataset that will be informative to our understanding of ocean chemistry and ecology.

We’ll be back to do it all again – but first, I’d like to test how diatomaceous earth might inhibit the predictable summer ant invasion into our house.

Representatives from UCSB’s ocean optics and microbial oceanography groups. Front, left to right: Stuart Halewood, Associate Development Engineer, and Craig Carlson. Back, left to right: James Allen and Nick Huynh, Graduate Student Researchers.  PC: Pete Gaube

Representatives from UCSB’s ocean optics and microbial oceanography groups. Front, left to right: Stuart Halewood, Associate Development Engineer, and Craig Carlson. Back, left to right: James Allen and Nick Huynh, Graduate Student Researchers. Photo: Pete Gaube

Written by Nick Huynh

Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE): ABoVE: Burned boreal forests – the “little moments”

June 8th, 2016 by Catherine Dieleman

One of the best parts of a field campaign are the ‘little moments’ that sneak in while you work. They can really make your day. On that front this field campaign has been no slouch. Yesterday for example, we saw a juvenile black bear while we were traveling to a new field site. We also enjoyed a great sunset over Lake La Ronge here in Saskatchewan, and had a beaver sighting later that evening.

The great sunset the team enjoyed over Lake La Ronge on June 5. (Credit: Dieleman)

The great sunset the team enjoyed over Lake La Ronge on June 5. (Credit: Dieleman)

However, for me one of the best ‘little moments’ happened the day before… Our team is split into a number of different groups that measure different ecosystem characteristics: fire severity, tree density, species and age, as well as soil horizons and depth of burn in the soil. Liz Wiggins and myself work together to collect the soil measurements. As we measure and collect samples from every organic soil horizon, this task can take some time — often causing the soils group to finish up well after the rest of the team. Saturday though, everything came together for us soil diggers, and for the first time on this campaign our little group finished up first. We thought it was worth a victory photo. Sometimes it is the little things.

That Saturday was a particularly eventful day for the whole team. We had a great opportunity to participate in the filming of CBC’s The Nature of Things. Everyone was a pleasant combination of excited with a touch of nerves to be filmed, but generally thrilled to be sharing our science in this medium. The whole filming crew was wonderful, and eased us through the whole process. The sneak peek of the drone footage they shot seemed pretty promising to us, but we will all have to wait till 2017 to see the final footage. I guess some days in the field it is the big things too.

Catherine Dieleman is a post-doctoral researcher in Ecosystem Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada

 

Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE): ABoVE: Burned boreal forest – from detailed field measurements to satellite pixels

June 6th, 2016 by Sander Veraverbeke

The recent megafire around Fort McMurray drew worldwide attention. Not only did this fire devastate a community, the fire also grew exceptionally large and started very early in the fire season. Northern forests are rapidly changing, and fire plays a crucial role in this transition.

A recently burned forest in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sander Veraverbeke)

A recently burned forest in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sander Veraverbeke)

Fires in the boreal forest emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. Exactly how much they emit is a difficult question to answer. Over many decades these forest have piled up thick layers of downed needles and other organic material, resulting in thick carbon-rich soils. When a fire spreads through the forest, the carbon it emits comes mostly from these soil layers, and not so much from the actual live trees.

The real question is: how deep do these fires burn into the soils? There is a lot a variability depending on which forest type is burning and how hot it burns.

Some members of our team just excavated a deep organic soil. They will carefully measure this soil pie and cut out some samples for lab analysis. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Some members of our team just excavated a deep organic soil. They will carefully measure this soil pie and cut out some samples for lab analysis. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

As part of the ABoVE field campaign, our field crew flew into Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on May 28th from Massachusetts, California, Ontario, and the Netherlands. We joined up with another field team from the University of Saskatchewan. After stocking up on supplies, we drove about four hours north to enter vast swaths of boreal forest.

Our goal in Saskatchewan is to quantify how much carbon fires emit in forest types that currently burn infrequently, but may become more sensitive to fire in the near future. For example, we are interested in reburns in forests that last burned only a couple of years ago, or burns in forests where people previously cut down trees. With all the changes that are underway it is important to understand how fires impact these forest types and how much carbon they emit.

Our maneuvers in challenging terrain are rewarded by gorgeous vistas of landscapes that are untouched - except by fire. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Our maneuvers in challenging terrain are rewarded by gorgeous vistas of landscapes that are untouched – except by fire. (Credit: Veraverbeke)

Since we arrived, we have been hitting up quite a few field plots. Getting to these field plots requires off-trail hiking in often-rough terrain, with soggy bogs and steep rocky hills. We have to scramble through piles of wood that fell down after the fire. Once we get to our desired site, we measure for several hours. We take samples of soils that will be analyzed in the lab and measure lots of trees (as many as several hundred). By doing so, we are able to assess the amount carbon of that was emitted by the fire.

We can link up our field measurements with data from NASA satellites to better characterize all fires within Canada and Alaska. During the day we get rewarded for our hard work with lunches-with-views, mosquitoes, and some thunderstorms that hopefully rain out somewhere far on the horizon…

Sander Veraverbeke is a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and an assistant professor in Remote Sensing at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam

NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: June 3, 2016 BONUS

June 4th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Charismatic megafauna

The oceanographers amongst us are often hard pressed to distinguish ourselves from marine biologists. Whilst many in the general public like to imagine our work surrounded by dolphins and resembling something out of a Caribbean vacation, the reality of tracing global biogeochemical cycles and deciphering complex bio-physical interactions in a dynamic and rapidly changing ocean for some reason is less inspiring – though of course much more important. Oceanographers study the ocean as a system and the ocean has critters in them, more numerous than the stars in the heavens, so yes, we also study critters. Rarely the charismatic megafauna though. While some oceanographers do study mammals, on this NASA NAAMES mission the largest animals under consideration are fish. Nonetheless, when the call goes out that dolphins are in sight – most frequently spotted by Luis Bolanos (OSU) – many briefly drop their important atmospheric or oceanographic research and run out to see the dolphins playing with the waves generated by the ship or riding seemingly effortlessly on the bow wave. The other day 2 sprinted by the side of the ship, as the R/V Atlantis made almost 14 knots (16 miles/hr; 26 km/hr). It was cool to hear them exhale, really seemed like they were doing a sprint. A sprint that lasted over 20 minutes and delighted those of us fortunate enough to see. So while most of the time aboard is focused on our research, sometimes we can’t escape the charisma of the megafauna to distract us from microscopic particles or plankton. It adds to the wonder of it all.

Atlantic common dolphins. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Atlantic common dolphins. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

3 musketeer dolphins playing in front of the bow of the RV Atlantis.  Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

3 musketeer dolphins playing in front of the bow of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Written by Susanne Menden-Deuer

NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: June 3, 2016

June 4th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

One more day to go!!

NAAMES 2016 field campaign is almost reaching its end. We are going to reach WHOI on Sunday (Jun 5, 2016). A very relaxing summer atmosphere is prevalent on board R/V Atlantis. Having toiled day and night for nearly 3 weeks, scientists are enjoying their well-deserved break on our transit back. Galley transforms into a social club where most of the scientists hang out after dinner, while, few enjoy the evening with their guitars and well almost every one gather on deck to witness some of the beautiful sunsets. Unfortunately, due to heavy mist and fog like conditions we could not see the sun going down the horizon today.

Scientists relaxing on their way back to WHOI.

Scientists relaxing on their way back to WHOI.

For me, this day began with photo shoot. All the scientists and crewmembers gathered on the bow to mark the ending of the field campaign with a group picture.

Group picture comprising of scientists and crew.  Photo: Christian Laber

Group picture comprising of scientists and crew. Photo: Christian Laber

While most of the researchers are busy packing their instruments and wrapping up things, our instruments are still running and collecting data on marine aerosols. Marine aerosols affect the Earth’s radiation balance triggering a variety of global climate effects. Physicochemical properties of these aerosols is quintessential for the quantification of climate effects, solar radiation transfer and cloud processes. Changes in ecosystems due to warmer climates could alter the marine aerosol burden in the atmosphere, which in turn affects the global climate. The main focus of our group is to understand the impact of the biological cycles of phytoplankton on marine aerosol particle composition and in turn their impact on climate. The information from this study may be used to improve climate model predictions of current and future climate changes. To achieve this goal, we measure physicochemical properties of ambient marine aerosols in real-time throughout the cruise using a suite of real time instruments.

Our group consists of four researchers taking care of variety of instruments. Our daily routine includes loading filters to collect marine aerosol particles, changing desiccants, data acquisition, and data consolidation and processing. In addition, we take turns to monitor our instruments. Although, our routine is simple enough on a sunny day (when all our instruments behave properly), it gets quite exciting and stressful when the instruments misbehave (which is what we often encounter). Some of our instruments are highly sensitive and needs extreme special care and we had our own little adventures with these instruments. I can safely say that against all odds, our team (Derek Price, Chia-Li Chen, Maryam A. Lamjiri) managed to successfully complete the campaign and are looking forward to return and analyze the data in detail.

Written by Raghu Betha

Notes from the Field