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Ocean Life from the View of a Microscope

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Education | Scientific Research

Thursday, April 26, 2018

James S.

RV Ronald H. Brown research ship in the ocean - popup
RV Ronald H. Brown research ship in the ocean NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

There is a lot going on in the ocean when you look beyond the waves and the whales (and other animals) in the ocean. Microscopic life flourishes underneath the surface—all their seemingly invisible actions play a major role in ocean chemistry there. Oceanographers study what ocean chemistry is like in different places all around the world and how that interacts with biology and physics in the ocean. Over the next few weeks, the Aquarium of the Pacific will be talking with researchers working on the NOAA ship, Ronald H. Brown. These scientists are participating in ongoing research to measure and monitor changes in the world oceans over time. Traveling from Durban, South Africa to Goa, India, they will be collecting samples of the water so that they can describe the ocean chemistry and biology that they are observing. The Ronald H Brown is traveling along a research transect where scientists have collected samples in the past. This can help us understand how things have change over longer periods of time.

Measuring the nutrients in the water over time will help us learn about rising carbon levels in our atmosphere and how that can affect the ocean’s chemistry and its effects on the wildlife living there. By examining the temperatures at the surface and depths of the ocean we can learn more about the rising average temperatures of the world’s oceans and the secondary effects the surface and deep sea currents will have on the movement of, not only temperature control but plankton and nutrient flow in the water. Our colleagues on the ship are also collecting DNA in the ocean to understand what kinds of living things are out there, too.

We’ll be keeping you updated on their work and what they are doing, but first let’s introduce you to our team of researchers on board the Ronald H. Brown. First, meet Jenna:

I am a 4th year Earth System Science undergraduate student at the University of California, Irvine. I started doing research in the Martiny Lab in the fall of 2017, but I first became interested in marine science long before that when I took a marine biology course in high school. I am currently analyzing latitudinal variation in Pacific Ocean phytoplankton stoichiometry, and on the cruise, I will be collecting samples to run similar tests for the Indian Ocean. This will be my first ever research cruise and I am very excited to get real field experience. My goal is to attend graduate school and get my Ph.D. I want to continue doing research, and hopefully one day I’ll even be a professor.

Cathy is another scientist who is working alongside Jenna:

I am currently a PhD candidate in Earth System Science at UC Irvine. I am conducting research on phytoplankton bioegeochemistry in Dr. Adam Martiny’s lab. This means I am studying how different phytoplankton groups contribute to the chemical cycles in the ocean, but their lifestyles depend on environmental conditions. I am interested how nutrient supply, temperature, and iron limitation determine which phytoplankton group is present and how they specialize to their environment. To accomplish this, I have been going on research cruises to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. By collecting phytoplankton samples from many ocean biomes, I can analyze the patterns across warm to cold ocean basins, and nutrient-rich to nutrient-poor waters. I hope that by understanding why the elemental composition of phytoplankton changes, we can improve our understanding of ocean biogeochemistry.

If you want to learn more about the ship or the research efforts click on the links to explore on your own! Also take a look at the photos from this blog of the ship and Jenna. In our upcoming entries we’ll be discovering more about the research and procedures Jenna is doing, as well as learning more about what Jenna and the other scientists are testing for.