Poulton on NASA ocean carbon cruise

07-18-2014

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Research Scientist Dr. Nicole Poulton is participating in a NASA project to advance space-based capabilities for monitoring microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food chain. She joins University of Maine colleagues, Dr Ivona Cetinic, and PhD student Alison Chase, and Dr. Wayne Slade of Sequoia Scientific, aboard the RV Endeavor that will be at sea for three weeks beginning July 18.

NASA's Ship-Aircraft Bio-Optical Research (SABOR) mission is bringing together marine and atmospheric scientists to tackle optical issues associated with satellite observations of phytoplankton.

The goal is to better understand marine ecology and phytoplankton's major role in the global cycling of atmospheric carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere. Bigelow Laboratory's Poulton will be doing onboard analysis of carbon in phytoplankton using flow cytometry, a tool originally used to count cancer cells, which Bigelow Laboratory pioneered for use in ocean research.

"Teams involved in this project are working together to develop next-generation tools that will change forever how we study oceans," says Cetinic, cruise chief scientist and a Research Associate at UMaine's Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole, Maine.

"Methods that will be developed during this experiment are something like 3-D glasses. They will allow us to see more details on the surface of the ocean and to see deeper into the ocean, helping us learn more about carbon in the ocean -- carbon that is fueling oceanic ecosystems, as well as the fisheries and aquaculture."

Cetinic's scientific team will analyze water samples for carbon, as well as pump seawater continuously through on-board instruments to measure how ocean particles, including phytoplankton, interact with light.

Other scientists onboard will measure phytoplankton biomass and photosynthesis, while others will operate an array of instruments, including an underwater video camera equipped with polarization vision. It will accurately and continuously measure key characteristics of the sky and the water.

The measurements taken from aboard the ship will provide an up-close perspective and validate measurements taken simultaneously by scientists in aircraft.

Phytoplankton -- tiny ocean plants that absorb carbon dioxide and deliver oxygen to Earth's atmosphere -- are key to the planet's health. And NASA wants a clear, global view of them.

Phytoplankton largely drive the functioning of ocean ecosystems and knowledge of their vertical distribution is needed to understand their productivity. This knowledge will allow NASA scientists to improve satellite-based estimates of how much atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean.

SABOR is funded by the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

University of Maine PhD student, Alison Chase, will be blogging about the expedition at [140]http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/fromthefield/.

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