Rutgers University
  • Phytoplankton, Lords of The Sea!

    Posted on December 8th, 2021 Oscar Schofield No comments

    Wednesday, December 1st

    CURRENT PROGRESS: Happy Antarctica Day!

    Hey everyone, Quintin here! I’m a biological oceanographer with the LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) project here on the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP). It’s another day of exciting Antarctic scenery here looking through the portholes on the NBP, since a large storm is hitting the Western Antarctic Peninsula! While that gives us a lot of high winds and cool waves to look at, it also means we have to shut down science until the weather is safe enough to drop our instruments over the side. This is definitely unfortunate, but it gives us all a great chance to make plans for the rest of the expedition and process data!

    So far we have made significant progress down the peninsula and have reached Adelaide Island, one of the major islands on the coast (and home to Rothera Station, an Antarctic research base owned by the British!). Now that we have come so far south and have completed nearly 60% of our expedition, we are making plans to do process studies at a couple locations along the coast. Unlike our previous sampling sights, we will stay at these process study locations for 2-3 days and sample every 12 hours or more! We do this so we can understand the differences in our respective focus areas (e.g., phytoplankton, bacteria, zooplankton, physics, etc.) over time and run experiments that require us to be in one location for an extended period. It should be an exciting time, and marks one of the final stretches of science before we start packing up and heading back to the US!


    PHYTOPLANKTON: The Grass Of The Sea

    For biological oceanographers, part of being out in the field on research trips like this one is to collect samples of the plants and animals that live in the ocean so we can gather data from them later. I and others in my lab are focused on collecting and studying the phytoplankton (microscopic plants) in the ocean, and that means lots of filtering water! Much like the grasses that cows graze on in farms or the grass in your front lawn, phytoplankton are essentially the grass of the sea. They are super tiny bits of plant, made up of a single cell, that are everywhere in the surface ocean. The only difference between the grass on your lawn and the algae (phytoplankton) in the ocean is that the algae are too small to see! Despite being so small, the phytoplankton are super important to the ecosystem, since they are the ones that harvest energy from the sun and make it available to all the larger critters like zooplankton that are eaten by whales, seals, and penguins. Because the phytoplankton are so important, we want to understand how much there is, how they grow over time, and what different kinds of phytoplankton exist in the water. This information can tell us a lot about the base of the food web and how we might expect it to change over time to impact all of the larger critters that thrive in the unique Antarctic areas!

    A picture of a diatom taken by a special camera called an Imaging Flow CytoBot. Diatoms are a type of phytoplankton that live all over the world, and there are many diatoms in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.

    About the author: Quintin Diou-Cass is a graduate student at Rutgers University. This is his fifth research cruise.

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