Team investigating how phytoplankton help balance planet


Wednesday September 19, five scientists from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay boarded the R/V New Horizon, where they will spend the next three weeks working round the clock to learn how phytoplankton affect major nutrient cycles in the ocean. Led by Senior Research Scientist Mike Lomas, the team will leave Honolulu and head toward the Equator to gain a better understanding of the complex relationships between ocean chemistry and phytoplankton biology in this dynamic ocean region. They will return to Honolulu on October 8 and be back in Maine shortly thereafter.

The scientific team will be measuring phytoplankton to determine how much carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus they contain, and conducting a range of experiments to better understand the role of phytoplankton in controlling the cycling of these nutrients in ocean water.

"Like the trees on land, marine phytoplankton produce half the oxygen we breathe," explained Lomas. "We are also discovering that they play important roles in balancing the chemistry of ocean water in ways not previously appreciated, which is increasingly important as ocean pH decreases and the temperature increases. This type of hands-on research work helps us better understand and predict how phytoplankton communities may change and help to change water conditions now and in the future."

The Bigelow Laboratory scientific team includes Lomas and Dr. Nicole Poulton, Dr. Steven Baer, Kristina Terpis, and former Colby College student Katherine Moore. The rest of the scientific team aboard the R/V New Horizon is from University of California at Irvine, University of Maine, University of Hawaii, and Sequoia Scientific Inc. The expedition is funded by the National Science Foundation under its Dimensions in Biodiversity/Climate Research Investigations Program. The expedition's progress will be reported on Twitter at @BigelowLaboratory.