Posts Tagged ‘microbiology’

Ocean Sampling Day 2015

July 2, 2015

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A Day in the Life of a Citizen Scientist

June 21, 2012

Skidaway Institute volunteer scientist Nancy Tenenbaum recently travelled to Norway, to work with fellow Skidaway scientist Dr. Stella Berger. She described her experience in the form of a letter to her mentor, retired Savannah business leader and Skidaway Institute supporter,  Howard Morrison.       

Dear Howard,

Having had a few days to settle in here and wishing I could have packed you in my suitcase as well.  I am going to let you share the day with me through this letter.  I am in Espegrend, Norway, with a phytoplankton research project called Phytostress.  The word “stress” takes on a new meaning with this project. There are only a hand full of students and professors here to manage twelve mesocosms and three experiments.  In the course of the next two weeks I know I will need your encouragement and advise.

Rule #1 is “NEVER give up”. Howard Morrison

So, let the day begin.

7:00 AM

Taped to the window in my dorm room is a thick, black garbage bag to keep out the midnight sun.  Light at any hour after 10 pm is your worst enemy! Block it out at all costs. You might find it a bit challenging to navigate in my tiny dorm room. Most certainly it is not the spacious Civil War home, Lebanon Plantation, that you reside in. Through an open window in the kitchen field station birds sing incessantly. Fresh coffee waits patiently for the early riser made by Maria Segovia, the principal investigator of Phytostress. Norway has no version of half and half cream. Flotte,, heavy cream., is it. Putting a small amount in my coffee cup I think about the potential threat for artery clogging. Will I survive the day? On the wooden counter top a Norwegian breakfast of various cheese, lox, fruit muesli and a hardy multi-seed rye bread await.

View from the field station kitchen window.

 

Another view from the kitchen window

7:30 AM

You will need a jacket this morning as it is cool, about 11 degrees C (52 degrees F).  The fiord water sparkles in the sunlight.  On the hillside edelweiss, purple clover and yellow buttercups dance with the morning breeze. Compared to the weather when I was here in March, this is heaven.

Let me explain this project to you using an abstract provided by Maria Segovia, the principal investigator, for Phytostress:

Under the global change scenario around 40-50% of the CO2 emitted by anthropogenic activities is accumulated in the oceans causing acidification and increasing the availability of dissolved CO2 to primary producers (phytoplankton, algae, etc.). To understand the regulation of the carbon cycle it is basic to determine the interaction of the main factors controlling primary production in the ocean. The increase of UV radiation due to ozone loss can reduce the oceanic phytoplankton CO2 sinking capacity up to 2%. Concomitantly, the scarcity of micronutrients, such as iron, can affect the composition, functioning and growth of phytoplankton. However, although up to date there are several studies about the effect of UV on iron ocean speciation, there is none about the interaction between CO2, Fe (iron) and UV in phytoplankton, and the underlying mechanisms has not been elucidated yet. Equally, there is evidence of massive cell death phenomena in phytoplankton communities that can account for a great loss of biomass amount, altering diversity and hence affecting the carbon cycle. The proposed experiments, will lead us to a better understanding about the functions of marine phytoplankton as well as to determine how changes in CO2, UV and Fe availability control the fate of primary production in the ocean, regarding biomass and diversity loss.

In an introductory email before the research in May, Maria wrote that this mesocosm project is a dream come true for her.

8:45 AM

Howard, we are now at the dock.  I know how much you love to ride in boats.  Even though the ride to the raft will be quick it could be chilly. The swans that graced the fjord in March are gone.  Truthfully they were noisy, mean and not very white, like their counterparts in fairy tales.

Scientists and Ph.D. students, who are scheduled to sample water today, gather at the dock with sixteen, 25-liter carboys. Clothed in Healy Hansen immersion suits or only a life jacket they board small motorboats for the mesocosms.

You are now at the mesocosm raft.  Be careful on exiting the boat as the concrete raft moves with the current making its surface slippery. There are twelve covered mesocosms that are tethered to this raft.  A decoy hawk is mounted on a pole to scare off birds. It does absolutely no good! Birds actually seem attracted to it. Water is sampled by pumping H2O though a plastic meticulously washed tube into carboys. Full carboys of 25 liters are then loaded onto the boats, delivered to land and hauled up a hill using a flat wagon and human strength.

The mesocosm raft

THE MESOCOSMS

We are about to enter the lab when I spy a single wild yellow rose in full bloom. Immediately I am reminded of Antoine de Saint-Euprey’s story, The Little Prince. In this children’s book the rose is essential to the novel’s drama. Carefully tended by the prince, she is his motivation for leaving and returning to his planet. The rose in this book represents love, an invisible but essential emotion. If no passion exists to nourish life then the question presented is: can life survive? My passion extends to the invisible life of phytoplankton. They are in fact the unseen art forms. Simple, yet complex their balance in the food web is essential for life.

Howard, you often sign your emails with the quote: “Only those who can see the INVISIBLE can accomplish the IMPOSSIBLE!” Patrick Snow, Author, Creating Your Own Destiny

Armed with those words, I will take you into the lab hoping to have a productive day.

Actually the lab rooms are right out of Dr. Seuss!  Wacky and wonderful the equipment is dormant waiting for creative direction.  Machines hum and filtering systems wait expectantly. Life in the lab is a clandestine life unto itself.

We will need to double glove for this next task.  An elaborate washing protocol is the first order of duty.  Each sampling bottle must be washed with Deacon water, then immersed and soaked in HCl and finally rinsed five times with Milliq. H2O. As this involves a Fe (Iron) limitation experiment it becomes imperative to remove all possible traces of containment iron. This is a very time consuming process.

 

Ph.D students Charo, Armandoand and Candlera

The Espegrend Lab

10:30 AM

Dr. Stella Berger and I are on the microzooplankton team.  Microzooplankton can be defined as greater that 0.2-20 micrometers in size, which includes ciliates, dinoflagellates and diatoms. She is also working on a dilution experiment that she designed.

Dr. Stella Berger in command of the motorboat

Stella Berger with her dilution experiment

We return to the boat with Dr. Jose Fernandez from Malaga, to sample mesocosms numbers 1-6 and the fjord. Our samples are brought to our cold room. Part of every sample is then labeled and stored in covered boxes. Some are viewed as live slides in the inverted microscope. This is my favorite part of the day. Seeing the phytoplankton move and interact is just amazing. When I was here in March, I had the rare opportunity to meet and work with Andrei Sazchin. Dr. Sazchin is a Russian phytoplankton taxonomist.

Stella begins running her samples through a Flow Cam. Every cell is photographed and organized into libraries for later study. Each mesocosm sample involves a thirty-minute run process.

Flow Cam display of samples cell by cell

1:20 PM

I have a brief SKYPE conversation with my mentor and close friend, Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, Director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute at Bolton Landing, Lake George, New York.

It does fact take a village of mentors to maintain the privilege of representing Skidaway Institute as a citizen scientist. Dr. Marc Frischer and Dr. Stella Berger are also instrumental in guiding me on scientific path.

2:30 PM

Lunch.  I am the only American here.  The Spanish lunch have a late, protracted lunch experience.  This long, heavy lunch is followed by lengthy scientific discussions in Spanish.

3:00 PM

Hope you are ready for a quick refreshing walk. The path by the fjord is a perfect place to reflect and regenerate. Bergen is a dichotomy. Look beneath the perfect postcard landscape and you will discover an ugly history of Nazi infiltration, which happened during WWII.

On the hillside adjoining the field station is the “castle.”  A Nazi once owned and lived in this forbidding residence. Inside, according to the locals, are memorabilia including swastikas that cover the walls.  Just looking upon it reminds me that six million Jews died as a result of Hitler.

Turning back to the water we are accosted by the smell of wild roses and rhododendron.  Seagulls cry. The sound of the water is soothing as it covers rocks and sand on a small beach.  Tiny islands with houses dot the fjord.  You can feel the ancient pulse of the land.  It emanates from the soil. Life despite its brief encounter with chaos and death has moved forward in a beautiful, peaceful way.

3:45 PM

Back in the lab we are ready to take the sample water for chlorophyll a (Chl a) is filtering in duplicate.  The lights are turned off and sunlight blocked by a makeshift shade as it excites the chlorophyll. A reading skewed by light will not be accurate. Once the water is filtered, the filter is put in a falcon tube, extracted with 90% acetone and then put in a covered box in a refrigerator where they stored for 6-24 hours.  The next day samples are measured by a fluorometer. This device measures parameters of fluorescence determining the amount of Chl a in the sample.

Filtering for chlorophyll a

 

Fluorometer

5:00 PM

We are back at a hood with an exhaust fan. After we have double gloved, each bottle will be immersed in hydrochloric acid for two hours.

6:00 PM

At some point every day it is good protocol update a lab notebook with general thoughts and data for the day.

7:00 PM

Stella has just finished running the last sample in the Flow Cam.  Slides from the inverted microscope used during the day are carefully washed.

7:30 PM

Dr. Jose’ Fernandez, Armando Olmo and I are on cooking duty tonight for 16 hungry people. You can pour the wine Howard to keep us happy while we cook. Tonight we will prepare paella. a traditional Spanish dish. This is a secret recipe of Jose’s grandmother.  I am chopping vegetables and hoping to learn the recipe for this famous meal. What I did manage to get from Jose’ is that the rice must absorb the flavors of the meat and vegetables. Timing apparently is everything.  So thanks to Jose the paella was delicious and a great success.

10:00 PM

The scientist and students sit down for dinner at a long narrow wooden table which seats at least 25. Most of the conversation is in Spanish.  Some students go back to the lab after dinner to finish up.

11:30 PM

Howard, there is something about the Norwegian blue hour that is pure magic.

The blue hour, not quite at sunset, floods the landscape with a purplish blue hue.  Maria’s two children are still running around with abundant energy. Laughing, and singing they are so undeterred by the hour.  I on the other hand am jet lagged and exhausted.  From my room I hear Maria’s husband calling his son Rodrigo to come inside.

Midnight sun

 

Sunset at the mesocosm raft. Photo by Maria Segovia.

Thanks for sharing the day with me!

Good night from the land of the midnight sun.

With love,

Nancy Tenenbaum –Citizen Scientist, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography

Barrow — Jan 16

January 19, 2012

16 Jan 2012

Ice conditions are still unstable.  Our UMIAQ support team spent the morning doing reconnaissance of our intended sampling sites. After yesterday’s efforts they suggested that since it might be dangerous, it wasn’t a good idea for anyone on the science team to accompany them. Because the ice is still forming and the ocean is a powerful force, the ice can break-up pretty quickly. The team first scouted out our near shore site, but it was inaccessible due to a major crack between it and our ice trail. We use a trail cut through the ice to guide us on a safe snow machine run over it. They continued on to our second site located further out into the ocean and to the north. The ice in that area seems to be more stable. They liked what they saw and decided that it would be safe for us to set up camp there.

Brower Frantz, UMIAQ logistics leader proudly stands by the ice camp.

After making this decision the team came back, loaded up the camp gear (tents, generators, heaters, ice augers, etc) and went back out. This time Steven Baer from the Bronk group went with them to help orient the tents and make some basic measurements. Before starting we need to know the ice thickness, water depth, and usually how far light penetrates. In this case there basically isn’t any light but hey, we’re scientists. Measuring zero’s (or close to zero) can be just as important. Its data!

Meanwhile, back on the NARL campus where our labs are, there was a flurry of activity as we all checked and prepped our gear. Finally, around 3pm the camp was set-up and we were ready to go. I was pretty worried about how late it was getting, but because we have such a short time up here and the ice was deemed safe now we needed to push a little bit. Who knows if we’ll even get another chance given the dynamic condition of the ice.

The ride out was relatively uneventful. The ice was remarkably smooth compared to our previous trips.  As was explained to me, when the ice first forms it is relatively flat and it only gets jumbled up later as storms, wind, currents, and tides push it around. Flat ice generally means that it is new ice.  That is what was worrying everybody. We know the ice is still forming and moving a lot. Hopefully it won’t move while we’re on it! After about 30 min of driving we made it to our camp. Having well established sampling routines by now, this is our 6th expedition, we all got to work unloading our gear and starting to sample. The Yager group occupies their own tent (the smaller one) while the Frischer and Bronk group occupy the larger one.

Ice Camp 16 January 2012

In the Frischer tent I got started right away making measurements of the water column. We are using a new instrument that lets us measure depth, temperature, salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll, pH, and turbidity. It’s a pretty nice instrument but a bit delicate and the computer software is not straightforward. We transported it as if it was a delicate infant wrapped in blankets with warm water bottles and hand warmers to make sure it didn’t freeze on the way out. I think we overdid it! When I unwrapped it in the tent it was positively hot. The instrument worked well and we got a good look at the water conditions. As expected the water temperatures was -1.8 deg C, salinity was around 33 PSU (normal for the Arctic coastal ocean), there was almost no chlorophyll in the water (no light no algae in the water). Most importantly the water column was well mixed which means that we could sample at one depth and be reasonably assured that it would be representative of the whole water column. We decided to sample at 2 meters below the bottom of the ice.

Graph of water data from the MANTA, Eureka Environmental

After I was finished measuring the water the Bronk group got rolling. They rinse and fill what seem like a million small bottles to which they add a very small amount of nutrients enriched in their stable isotope concentrations. Stable isotopes are non-radioactive form of elements (atoms) that are slightly heavier than the normal form. For example, the normal atomic weight of Carbon is 12 (meaning it has 12 protons) while the stable isotopic form has a weight of 13. We refer to it as 13C.  Because 13C  is slightly heavier than 12C, it can be measured on a mass spectrometer. By measuring how much of it goes into cells during an incubation, the rate of uptake can be calculated. The Bronk group is making some of the first ever measurements of nutrient uptake rates by microbes in this region of the Arctic coastal ocean.

The process went pretty smoothly but since it was so cold, even in the tent, the pipettes which they were using to inject the stable isotope into the samples were freezing and slowing the process.

Dr. Debbie Bronk injects stable isotope labeled nutrients into seawater.

Meanwhile in the other tent the Yager group were having even more problems with freezing. They are collecting water samples to make measurements of the carbon chemistry and general activity of the microbes, so it is especially important that their samples do not freeze and are not exposed to the atmosphere which can contaminate the dissolved gas content of the seawater. Unfortunately, their samples were freezing.  However, after getting them off the ice floor of the tent and placing them into a seawater bath (a cooler filled with seawater) they seem to have solved the problem and were able to collect most of the samples they needed.

Dr Tish Yager and Colin Willams collecting water.

When the Bronk group was finished it was our turn.  Our sampling is probably the most straightforward, but we need to collect a lot of water.  We’re collecting enough water so that we can extract DNA and RNA from the bacteria in it.  We collect about 140 liters (about 40 gal or 310 lbs). Using a specially designed submersible pump we collected water in seven 20 liter carboys wrapped in neoprene and then place them in a cooler of snow. Believe it or not, the snow actually keeps the water from freezing. But, as simple as it sounds, we had our problems too. The generator that was running our pump ran out of gas.  Actually, the generator had a gas leak so it’s lucky it just ran out of gas and didn’t explode. But, because of excellent planning on the part of the UMIAQ team we had two generators on site. However, that meant the Yager group was without lights in their tent. We solved that problem by moving two snow machines so they pointed at the tent and the headlights provided enough light.

Finally we were all done and got all our gear and samples loaded back onto the sleds.  It was unbelievably cold and windy and we were all tired and ready to get back. The trip started off smoothly until I managed to get my sled stuck. It’s really tricky pulling a very heavily loaded sled. I had to slow down over a series of small ridges because the person in front of me slowed, and that was all it took for the snow machine to sink a little too much into some soft snow and lose traction. With all of us helping we disconnected the sled and managed to lift the back end of the snow machine out of snow, enough to get it moving. Then we were able to push the sled back to some more level ice and reconnect it to the snow machine. It was exhausting! But the fun wasn’t quite over. As we started moving again Debbie, in an effort to make it over the hole I had dug with the snow machine, went a little too fast over the area and bumped into Rachel and Jenna who were on the snow machine in front of them. No real harm though. Jenna fell off the snow machine but it was into soft snow and she wasn’t hurt. The brand new snow machine Deb was driving suffered a cosmetic crack in its fairing. Without further incident we all made it back safely to campus and quickly rushed our samples to our respective labs for processing.

Victoria and I spent the next 5 hours in our cold room filtering all that water we had collected. We had hoped to start another humic addition bioassay that is a component of Zac Tait’s thesis research, but it was just too late so we decided we’d do that first thing in the morning. After all the filtering was done, our samples put away safely, and all our gear cleaned-up it was time for some well deserved rest. I felt weary and frozen to the bone but pleased with the progress we had made.

Even though the sun won’t shine, tomorrow is a new day.

Arriving in Barrow, Alaska

January 18, 2012

Marc Frischer continues his account of his research trip to Barrow, Alaska.

14 January 2012

This morning, we again caught a 6am flight. This time the flights took us to Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, and then into Barrow. As usual the scenery from the air was spectacular!

Alaska Mountain Range near Fairbanks

After another 5 hours of flying we landed in Barrow.  It was 11 am but it could have been 11 pm. Barrow is still experiencing 24 hours without the sun though we expect to see the sun for a few minutes when it rises for the first time since November 18 on January 23rd. We should see the sun for about 30 min that day.

Arriving in Barrow

Although the sun isn’t above the horizon, for several hours a day there is some light as the curvature of the Earth creates a long twig light period. Because there is so much white ice and snow which is highly reflective, it’s actually quite bright given that the sun isn’t even up.

After a brief meeting with the rest of the science and logistics support team to get re-oriented and check in, we immediately set out re-locating all our gear and setting-up our various laboratory and field staging spaces. We spent the rest of the day doing that but managed to find all our stuff and get it re-distributed into the right places. Tomorrow we’ll set it all up and make sure that it is all working. One surprise was that the facility where we do most of our water filtration (The Beach Freezer) was practically snowed in with a big drift of snow. The door was accessible though, so no problem.

Marc by the Beach Freezer

[Marc  in front of a snowdrift by the Beach Freezer]

This trip our team consists of:

Tish Yager and Colin Williams from the University of Georgia (UGA), Debbie Bronk, Rachel Sipler, Steven Baer, and Jenna Spackeen from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), and myself and Victoria Baylor from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO). Next week are also expecting to be joined by one more member of the UGA group.

We are being assisted by a very competent and can do attitude logistics group from UMIAQ and CH2MHILL Polar Services (CPS).  Without this support we absolutely couldn’t accomplish anything here.

Around 5 pm we called it quits for the day and headed out to our favorite Barrow restaurant Arctic pizza for dinner, more planning and to catch-up with each other.

Global warming may mean big changes to marine ecosystems

July 20, 2011

As the Earth’s climate continues to warm, what kind of effects will we see in the ocean and the world in general? Seeking the answer to that broad question is one of the reasons scientists from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are working with an international team of scientists on an experiment in Bergen, Norway.

“There is really no doubt that our planet is changing,” said Skidaway Institute scientist Marc Frischer. “Levels of carbon dioxide are increasing, and we are seeing changes in climate. There is very little controversy about that anymore.”

According to Frischer, scientists need to investigate what those changes will mean to life in the ocean — from the tiniest bacteria up to fish and larger organisms.

“Those are the kinds of questions that are important to us humans, because we are dependent on the life in the oceans for our existence here on Earth,” added fellow Skidaway Institute scientist Jens Nejstgaard.

Frischer, Nejstgaard, Skidaway Institute research coordinator Stella Berger, and graduate student Zachary Tait are part of a team of 37 scientists who have come together from 13 countries to join their individual expertise in an effort to solve some of these very complicated questions.

Skidaway Institute mesocosm research team (l-r) Zac Tait, Jens Nejstgaard, Marc Frischer and Stella Berger

“What’s happening with climate warming is not only are we increasing temperature, we are also increasing the carbon dioxide (CO2)which has the effect of acidifying the ocean – just like a can of cola,” said Frischer. “In this experiment we are studying not just temperature or acidity individually, but their combined synergistic effects”.

What makes it so complicated to study is that there are many different organisms interacting with each other, and at the same time reacting differently to the climate change.

“So instead of just picking out a few organisms to look at in the laboratory, we have to investigate large representative pieces of the ecosystems to tell what effect the climate changes will have on the environment,” said Nejstgaard.

The experiment was conducted at a mesocosm facility of the University of Bergen. There, the scientists could enclose two and a half cubic meters of natural seawater in each of 14 tanks, recreating an ecosystem with all the biological and chemical components that exist in the natural water column. They are called mesocosms because they represent intermediate systems that are bigger than a laboratory test tube but smaller than the ocean. The researchers changed the temperature and CO2concentrations in the mesocosms, and then observed how the various parts of the ecosystem reacted.

The Bergen mesocosm facility

“Mesocosms provide the opportunity to conduct controlled experiments that are impossible to do either directly in the ocean or in the laboratory,” said Nejstgaard.

The team also added a third factor to the experiment. Gelatinous organisms are an important part of the oceanic ecosystem, but typically they are fragile and do not survive the process of pumping seawater into the mesocosm tanks. In order to more closely mimic the natural marine environment, the researchers added tiny gelatinous organisms called appendicularians as representative “jellyfish” to the tanks after they were filled.

The Bergen mesocosm facility is the longest continuously operating mesocosm facility in the world. It has run for 33 years and Nejstgaard has led international experiments there for the two last decades.

Since 2009, Nejstgaard has directed the first European coordination of mesocosm facilities, MESOAQUA (http://mesoaqua.eu/), together with Berger as a scientific coordinator. Although Nejstgaard relinquished his position in Bergen in order to join the faculty of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in January 2011, Berger maintains a part time position in the MESOAQUA program. Frischer and other Skidaway Institute scientists have been collaborating with the Bergen facility for more than a decade. This was their fifth experiment there.

The funding for this experiment was complicated. Both American and European scientists applied for research grants. The Europeans got their funding; the Americans did not. The funding came from the Norwegian Research Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers (NordForsk) and MESOAQUA. Luckily two of the three European grants provided some travel support for non-Europeans, making it possible for the Skidaway team to participate.

Although the team was international, the original design for the project came from a small group including Frischer, Nejstgaard and Norwegian colleagues. Their primary focus was on the effect ongoing changes would have on oceanic bacteria. Very preliminary results look good for bacteria, but not so much for the rest of the marine ecosystem.

“Our preliminary data suggests that rising acidity increases bacterial activity, which has some profound implications on how the ocean is going to change,” Frischer said. “If conditions favor the growth of more bacteria, they will benefit at the expense of other types of microscopic marine life, particularly marine algae like phytoplankton.”

Phytoplankton are a major part of the bottom of the food web. Their productivity has a direct effect on the food supply for microscopic animals (zooplankton) and all larger marine animals. On the other hand, energy that goes into the bacteria is believed to just cycle among very small organisms that are hard for the larger organisms to eat. If that is so, the global warming spell even more problems for the ocean’s already troubled fisheries.

“When you start looking at how all the little pieces are connected, those insights we gain will help us understand how our planet will change and what that will mean,” Frischer concluded. “That is what we are trying to learn and it is important to every aspect of our society.”

Since it is important to investigate the effect of environmental changes on different natural communities, the Skidaway Institute team hopes to be able to obtain funding to continue experiments in Bergen, and elsewhere, including in our own backyard.

“We hope to develop a world-class mesocosm research center at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography where we believe the potential exists for the Institute to become a leading facility for the region,” said Nejstgaard. “Such a center would contribute to future studies of the many environmental challenges that face our region.”

Spring In Barrow April 23 – May 4, 2011

April 25, 2011

23 April 2011

Dr. Marc Frischer

Hi All, it’s back to Barrow Alaska for another sampling adventure.  As I’ve discussed before in this blog, the intent of our project is to reach a new and quantitative understanding concerning how microbes (bacteria and phytoplankton) may respond to climate induced changes in the Arctic.

Although there is a very strong consensus among scientists that the world’s climate is changing (For more information, see the footnote at the bottom of this posting.), particularly in the Polar Regions, our understanding of how the organisms will respond is quite limited.  At the base of the food web are the microbes and these are the primary focus of our investigations. These tiny organisms are responsible for at least half of the oxygen production (and consumption) on the planet, almost all of the nutrient regeneration, and are the food that support the diet of everything including, to name a few,  fish, seals, whales, and humans.  In other words, it’s very important that we understand how these microscopic organisms will respond to ongoing climate change, especially here in the Arctic.

To answer these questions we are visiting the Arctic three times a year in the winter, spring, and summer, to make measurements of a large number of microbial parameters and to conduct experiments that will help us understand how the microbes may be affected by climate change.  We are sampling at different seasons to account for the astounding amount of seasonal variation that occurs naturally during a year.  We can’t sample in the fall because that would interfere with whaling activities that are an important cultural component of the community in Barrow Alaska where our studies are being conducted.

Our team includes scientists from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the University of Georgia, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.  In addition, on this trip a middle school teacher (Lolli Garay) from the Red School in Houston, Texas and an artist (Adriane Colburn) from the University of Georgia are joining us in an effort to help communicate and share information about our efforts and results outside of the science community.

This springtime trip will be the fourth in our 3-year project and the second (and last) time during this project that we will sample during the spring.

The Trip – Saturday 23 April, 2011

Although this is our fourth trip to Barrow Alaska and so a lot of what we are doing is starting to become routine, it still took a lot of planning to get ready for this trip.  Since our return in February from our last trip, in addition to processing the winter samples, we’ve been busy planning and organizing the logistics for this trip.  Victoria Baylor took charge of most of this effort.

My graduate student from Savannah State University, Zac Tait, is also planning to start some new experiments related to his thesis research, so that took some additional planning efforts.

Finally we were ready.  This time we took a different route through Chicago to travel the 6,000 plus miles to Barrow.

Map of route from Savannah GA to Barrow, AK.

This route gets us to Barrow in a single day, but what a day!  The way back will be worse though, with a 10-hour layover in Anchorage and another 5-hour layover in Chicago.  But the route wasn’t without benefits as we were able to get a Chicago Hotdog for lunch.

Lunch at Gold Coast Hot Dogs in Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Unfortunately, Zac lost his luggage along the way.  Besides his clothes, Zac packed a number of important pieces of equipment in his bag so we’re really hoping it’s not lost forever.  We made it to Barrow’s Will Rogers airport after a spectacular flight over Alaska’s Northslope passing over the frozen Yukon River and following the pipeline into Prudhoe Bay.

Alaska’s North Slope from the air.

Alaska pipeline from the air.

We arrived in Barrow in the early evening on Saturday but as we stepped off the plane it was immediately apparent how different it was compared to the winter.  First of all, it was sunny!  Last time we were here the sun was just appearing after 3 months of being absent.  Although there was light, it was perpetual twilight time.  Today there was 18 hours of sun and its light from about 2 am to 11:30 pm and on May 11, a week after we depart the sun will be up for 24 hours a day until the next sunset on August 1st.  Its also considerably warmer though still well below freezing.  Right now its -4°F (-20°C).  There are also other very visible changes.  The sea ice is beginning to break-up and is piled-up on the beach as a result of past storms.  The snow on the streets is also beginning to melt (because of all the sunlight) and the roads are dusty rather than snowy.

Other evidence of the long winter are several ice and snow carvings that have appeared around town, some rivaling Mount Rushmore but with a more Arctic theme.

Ice carvings in downtown Barrow.

Polar bear ice carving along the coastal road.

But, despite the change of season returning to Barrow was a bit like coming home.  We were picked-up at the airport by Tony Kaleak and Frantz Brower who are members of our logistic support group, UMIAQ.  Tony and Brower (no one calls him Frantz) updated us on the recent gossip and many organizational changes that have occurred since we were last in town and got us checked in to our living and working quarters.  The rest of the group won’t arrive until tomorrow evening so we set about surveying our equipment and space and planning for the next day.

Around 8pm we called it quits got some dinner at our favorite Barrow restaurant “Arctic Pizza” and tried to sleep.  It was tough though since the sun didn’t set until 11:30 and rose again around 2am.

More new grant $$$$

September 8, 2008

Marc Frischer (left) and Gustav Paffenhöfer (below right), along with Deidre Gibson from Hampton University, recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study doliolds on the South Atlantic Bight continental shelf.

Doliolids are a species of gelatinous zooplankton and are one of the most poorly understood inhabitants of our continental shelf waters. However, observations of their global abundance on the continental shelves suggest that they have the potential to greatly influence the biology of our oceans, particularly on the world’s continental shelves. The research will focus on determining what doliolids eat: who eats doliolids: and the processes that control their populations.

The research will combine novel state-of-the art molecular methods with proven oceanographic techniques and will provide research training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, particularly students from underrepresented groups from Savannah State University and Hampton University.

The project will rely heavily on the use of the UNOLS research vessel the R/V Savannah and involve active partnerships with colleagues in Scandinavia. The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography will receive $608,820 to conduct the three-year research project starting in January 2009.