Satellite photos of phytoplankton blossoms on the surface of the ocean often dazzle with their different colors, shades and shapes. But phytoplankton is more than just nature’s watercolors: They play a key role in the Earth’s climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
But a detailed account of what’s going on with that carbon ̵
1; how much is it going on in the field and how long – has occupied scientists for decades. So while NASA’s Earth observation satellites can detect the spread and location of these organisms, the exact consequences of their life and death cycles in the climate are not yet known.
To answer these questions this week, a major multidisciplinary research group sails 200 miles west from Seattle to the northeastern Pacific with advanced underwater robots and other instruments on a month-long campaign to investigate the secret lives of these plants and the animals that eat them.
NASA and the National Science Foundation are financing the export processes in the ocean from remote sensing (EXPORTS) oceanographic campaign. With over 100 researchers and crews from nearly 30 research institutes, EXPORTS is the first coordinated multidisciplinary science campaign of its kind to study the roads, fate and carbon cycle impact of microscopic and other plankton with two research vessels, a number of underwater robot platforms and satellite imagery. The team will work from the research ships Roger Revelle and Sally Ride operated by Scripp’s Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. 19659003] “The continued ocean survey, its ecosystems and their carbon cycle controls as observed with advanced technology at EXPORTS will provide unparalleled views of the invisible world of the world,” said Paula Bontempi, EXPORTS Program Scientist at NASA’s Washington headquarters. “The scientific issues the team really tackle is the limit of what NASA can do in both remote and in situ optical marine research. NASA’s goal is to link the biological and biogeochemical ocean processes to information from planned ocean observers of satellite missions, which extrapolates the results of this mission to global scales. “
The challenge that EXPORTS addresses requires an extremely interdisciplinary expert group. “I am in pity that we have been able to gather a team of true leaders in their individual areas with the sole goal of understanding the interaction between marine life and the ocean’s carbon dioxide cycle,” said David Siegel, marine science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara , and EXPORTS science lead. “The team has an unrivaled diversity of skills, including physicists, ecologists, geochemists, numerical modellers and genomics, robotics and remote sensing researchers.”
The word “phytoplankton” comes from Greek for “Plant Operations” phytoplankton utilizes solar energy to convert dissolved inorganic carbon into the ocean to organic carbon that creates carbohydrates and cellular materials for nutrition and reproduction – and their movement is largely dictated by the ocean’s physics, including currents. These organisms are microscopic, mostly single-celled and multiply exponentially and double their number on average each day.
Their abundant and high productivity makes phytoplankton an ideal food source for small animals called zooplankton, which means “animal farms” in Greek. “If you have a million phytoplankton and zooplankton, eating 500,000 of them, phytoplankton can quickly bounce back to one million within one day,” said Tatiana Rynearson, an oceanographer from Oceanographic Graduate School at the University of Rhode Island and a member of the Export Warehouse. “Phytoplankton gives energy to the entire ecosystem because they can fill their populations quickly.”
Like phytoplankton, zooplankton is different in species. Some are single-celled and microscopic (microzoplankton), while others, such as shrimp-like krill and jellyfish, are clearly visible to the naked eye. Different species live near the sea’s surface all their lives, while others spend their days in the dusk zone from 200 meters to 1000 meters below, where there is little or no sunlight. But in the evening, some zooplankton species, like copepods, which are small crustaceans, make a lot of migration to the surface – the largest journey with the number of organisms on earth – to feed on phytoplankton and microzoplankton and then retreat to the depths at
Further up the food chain, a variety of larger animals, such as fish – including the giant of the sea, the whale and bale valleys like the blue whale – the largest animal on earth – feed on zooplankton, containing the organic carbon in their bodies.
Much of the organic carbon consumed by phytoplankton, zooplankton and larger marine predators returns to the atmosphere on short schedules. This happens when they decompose and through breathing along this food chain, from the larger animals and zooplankton to the bacteria feeding on the faeces and decomposing bodies of these animals. However, a portion of the organic material from stools and disintegrated bodies drops into the dusk zone and sequestrates on a longer scale.
“It’s a small fraction, a fraction of one percent of the biomass that makes it deeper into the ocean where the water stays away from the atmosphere for a long time, from decades to thousands of years,” says Heidi Sosik, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a member of the export group. “We have quite good information telling us that these processes are happening, but we have much less information to help us quantitatively assess their impact on things like carbon bikes and ultimately the climate of the earth.”
A goal of the campaign is to improve the understanding of plankton through genetics. Rynearson and others will be involved in identifying different phytoplankton and zooplankton species through their DNA and determine which species lie at the surface that sink and live in the deep sea. Studying their genetic makeup will provide insights into their metabolism, which will be analyzed together with in situ measurements of photosynthesis and respiration.
“In essence, we try to figure out who’s there and what they are doing and how much carbon cycles through these different species,” said Rynearson. The genetic data will be linked to optical measurements, performed as part of in situ work to help build optical proxys of critical marine ecosystems and biogeochemical properties. Once these optical ocean proxies have been created, researchers will further define and refine approaches to measure marine ecosystem variables remotely, ultimately linking carbon process processes to satellite measurements.
Deborah Steinberg, professor of marine science at Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is co-chief researcher at R / V Revelle and studies zooplankton populations. Using a finely ground, electronically controlled plankton network, Steinberg and her team to try water at different depths, from the surface to 1,000 meters. They will count over fate of different zooplankton populations at different depths and bring samples back on the ship to observe how much stool they produce. Probes on the ship will also measure the amount of oxygen they use. “It will give us a good idea of their metabolism and how much each species is recycling or exporting the organic substance they eat,” she said.
At the same time, Sosik and her team will be among the export members who look at the effects of phytoplankton species on the optical properties of the ocean’s surface – how they absorb and spread sunlight – which is essential for requiring the signals that satellites retrieve from space. “In combination with data from EXPORTS and other in situ seaborne campaigns fed into models,” she says, “satellite data helps us make more sophisticated and refined conclusions about what can happen deeper in the ocean and what impact on the bicycle cycle may be. “