Studying Microscopic Bugs Require, Well…More Than a Microscope!

November 3rd, 2015 by Françoise Morison

Plankton are microscopic yet they play a big role in the cycle of elements fundamental to life on earth. The NAAMES project is a testimony to their importance in our ability to predict how the oceans may mediate the Earth’s future climate.

I’ll be joining the cruise to measure rates of phytoplankton growth and mortality, the latter induced by a community of largely unicellular organisms best known as microzooplankton. These include <200 µm ciliates and flagellates, which in the past 50 years or so have been discovered to be quite fond of the microscopic plants that grow in the sea, or phytoplankton. The NAAMES project is particularly interested in the role microscopic grazers play in the yearly cycle of phytoplankton biomass. One idea we are exploring is whether winter creates conditions favorable for phytoplankton growth to outpace the rate at which grazers can eat them, setting things up for the explosion of phytoplankton biomass that occurs every spring in the North Atlantic.

The work we’ll be conducting on the ship to make such measurements requires our lab to bring a battery of equipment. We are fortunate that Woods Hole, where the ship will depart from, is only 1-1/2 hour away from our campus at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and last week we loaded the 2 trucks pictured here and brought all our “stuff” to the dock.

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Essential to our work will be daily incubation experiments in specially crafted incubators like the ones shown in the picture below.  And bottles, lots of bottles!!!

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Once we were done unloading, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Quick Holes Taqueria.  I’m glad the R/V Atlantis we’ll be boarding soon does not quite resemble this earlier version of the Atlantis, a picture of which hangs in the restaurant!

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Although we’ve been planning this first research cruise for several months now, it’s last week at the dock that I really started getting excited  about going to sea! Tomorrow members from our lab will meet me in Falmouth to move the equipment aboard. Can’t wait to get started!!

 

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Notes from the Field