Posts Tagged ‘phytoplankton’

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.


Day 2 in Barrow

January 18, 2012

Marc Frischer continues his account of his and Victoria Baylor’s research trip to Barrow, Alaska.

15 January 2012

Today we again woke up early and began setting up our labs. Actually day and night are surprisingly similar around here.

Good morning, Barrrow!

Victoria spent most of the day setting up our molecular lab in the BARC building. It is in this lab that we will extract RNA, DNA, and preserve other samples from the bacteria we collect from the Arctic Ocean. One of the questions we are addressing in this project is whether Arctic bacteria are competing with Arctic phytoplankton for nutrients (specifically nitrogen) and whether when more organic carbon from melting permafrost reaches the Arctic coastal ocean if this competition is intensified. We suspect that an intensified competition between bacteria and phytoplankton (algae) for nitrogen will lead to a less productive Arctic food web in a future warmer Arctic ocean. One way to address this question is to measure how actively bacteria are using the most prevalent form of nitrogen in these waters, nitrate (NO3). By looking for this gene and measuring how active it is, we are learning about how this critical nutrient cycling function is controlled.

Victoria setting up lab in BARC.

While  Victoria was setting up the lab I was setting-up the lab (walk in freezer) where we will be filtering water and conducting a bioassay experiment (more on that later). I also spent some time making sure our sampling gear was organized and functional. The pump we use to collect the water from under the ice had seized but luckily with the help of Lance Bennett (part of the CPS team) we got it running. We also brought with us a relatively new instrument to measure water conditions that I am not too familiar with. Initially I couldn’t manage to get the instrument to communicate with its hand held computer, but after a long struggle I finally got it to work. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember everything when we are actually out on the ice.  It’s a cool instrument though, it measures water depth, temperature, salinity, pH, turbidity and the concentrations of chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen all in real time.

Eureka Manta water quality instrument

While we were setting-up, our logistics team accompanied by Steven Baer (VIMS) as a representative of the science team was scouting our sampling sites. For those of you who may not be familiar with our sampling plans, when the ocean is frozen the way we sample is to set-up a camp on the ice, drill holes, and collect water through them. To safely do this we need to be on well secured and thick ice. This time of year the ice is pretty dynamic as it is still forming and major storms can move it around quite a lot. In advance of our trip this year we had identified several possible sampling locations that were consistent with our science needs, but they need to be checked every day. So this morning the UMIAQ team checked. Unfortunately its seems as our original site developed a major crack in the ice and is moving so we had to switch to a different site a few miles northward where the ice appears to be thicker and is more securely grounded (frozen to land). However, even there the ice seems to be moving a lot. So the camp didn’t get set-up and the plan is to revaluate tomorrow morning. That means we wait, but it’s much better to be safe than to risk everything. If there is one thing I have learned during this project it is to be patient and to trust the support we are getting from our local logistic support team.

We’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings. The weather is predicted to be pretty mild.

[Picture- weather forecast for 16 January 2012]


December 19, 2011

We had a real nice story on the front page of this morning’s Savannah Morning News. A big thanks to Mary Landers and her editors!

A road less travelled

November 22, 2011

Note: Skidaway Institute volunteer Nancy Tennenbaum wrote this account of her recent trip to Lake George, NY with Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, l stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Seasons descend.  New friends are made.  Life as I know it

becomes a new path not well previously traveled.

Rensselaer Institute, home to the Darrin Fresh Water Institute (DFWI), rests peacefully on a wooded hill top overlooking, the cold, sparkling waters of Lake George.  Fall has worked its secret magic here on the aging leaves dwelling in a silent woods. 

Intense yellows and reds paint the landscape.

A nature concert, a continual sound of bubbling water, rushes past.  Footsteps to the main lodge on an inclined leaf scattered path measure time well spent.

I breathe in slowly so poetry of the moment can seep in by osmosis. The importance of why I have traveled here is

clear and uncluttered. This is the road less taken.  

I am just its fortunate visitor.

Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, the director of DFWI, is an individual pulled in a thousand different directions.  She is in fact the embodiment of this institution. 

Who she is can be summed up by the motto, I will not take no for an answer.  And of course she would be naked without her three adorable pugs who follow her around as if she were their super hero.

Paradise is at her doorstep, yet there is with not enough time in the day to enjoy it.

A shadow hangs ominously over her life. Her treasured friend, Sharon, who is battling cancer, has consumed the existence of Sandra. There are endless phone calls to her doctors and relatives. Sharon’s horses must now be watered and fed twice a day. The incomprehensible fact is that there is nothing fair about life.

Five undergraduate students are doing a semester here. As most 20 something’s, they are fun and crazy, filling the lodge with a fresh perspective on life.

Marc Frischer, is here to collaborate with Sandra on papers needing to be published.

Steve Resler and Dan Marelli are scientific SCUBA divers here studying Asian Clams that recently invaded the Lake and threaten its fragile ecology.

Yet, despite the time stress, Sandra carves out time for me every day as if nothing could be important than poring over the phytoplankton photos from an August 2009 mesocosm study that we are analyzing.

You might wonder what we have accomplished here and what we leave behind.

At the beginning of the week I spent the days gathering information on the phytoplankton of Lake George that SKIO did not have. The library was searched for reference books and manuscripts. The brains of many patient staff people here were cross-examined in an attempt to uncover additional reference material.

The most important source of expertise is Sharon who is receiving chemotherapy and was unavailable.

On Wednesday, I was drafted quite by surprise to participate in the DFWI Asian Clam eradication project. I found myself in a kayak on Lake George collecting water samples from SCUBA divers, Steve (aka Captain Seaweed) and Dan (aka Diver Dan).

The best part of the day was dinner when Marc was the chief cook.  As the lodge has an enormous industrial kitchen having several assistants was the norm.  Being a rather picky eater I am happy to say that everything Marc made was delicious. 

Saturday, as I sat in the library, writing this blog, I had to remind myself that were leaving that afternoon.  It is easy to fall in love with this place, therefore I leave reluctantly. 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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 (, 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.”

Skidaway Institute, Georgia Tech-Savannah partner on phytoplankton research

April 18, 2011

Sometimes scientific advances provide answers, and sometimes, they simply present more questions. That is what happened when scientists began using satellite imagery to study the ocean.

When Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Jim Nelson and Catherine Edwards looked at satellite imagery of the ocean off the Carolinas, they noticed persistent blooms of phytoplankton, an important part of the marine food web. These mysterious blooms occurred during the winter along edge of the continental shelf off Long Bay — located between Cape Romain, South Carolina and Cape Fear, North Carolina. Phytoplankton blooms like those observed off Long Bay can provide a considerable boost to the bottom of the food chain, with significant implications for fisheries.

“The immediate cause of the blooms is an input of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, associated with transport and mixing of deep, cold onto the continental shelf,” said Edwards. “The Long Bay blooms persist for weeks or even months during the winter, suggesting multiple modes of nutrient input.”

Two of the guiding questions are why this feature is so persistent over the winter, and what are the dynamics that sustain this bloom?

Edwards and Nelson are teaming with Harvey Seim from the University of North Carolina and Fumin Zhang from Georgia Tech-Savannah on a project to answer those questions. The project is funded by a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation supporting a team of scientists from all three institutions. With the help of Skidaway Institute research coordinators Trent Moore, Julie Amft and Charles Robertson, the project team will deploy moored and mobile instrument packages and conduct shipboard surveys to test hypotheses of how the winter blooms are formed and sustained.

The team will use some cutting-edge technology that will enhance its ability develop a clear picture of what is happening. This includes instrument packages mounted on moorings; mobile, autonomous “gliders”; underway ship surveys; standard ship-based station sampling; and satellite measurements of sea surface temperature and ocean color.

Skidaway Institute researchers (l-r) Catherine Edwards, Trent Moore, Julie Amft and Jim Nelson examine a glider.

Three moored packages will be deployed to provide continuous measurements of water properties and currents through the winter months. One mooring will be placed at 35 meters of depth, the approximate position of the shoreward edge of the winter bloom.

Two more packages will be placed in approximately 75 and 150 meters of water, with the 75 meter mooring equipped with an instrument package called a SeaHorse. Powered by wave motion, the Seahorse moves up and down its mooring wire, taking measurements throughout the water column. A telemetry system in the surface mooring periodically reports its observations.

The research team will also use another high-tech tool, autonomous underwater vehicles, also called gliders.

Skidaway Institute researchers lower a glider into a tank of water to adjust buoyancy and trim. (l-r) Trent Moore, Dongsik Chang, Charles Robertson and Julie Amft

Two of these torpedo-shaped vehicles, equipped with sensors and recorders, will provide the ability to collect observations under all conditions, including during winter storms when ship operations are not possible. The gliders will survey across the study area, taking and recording measurements as they go. From time to time over the four to five week missions, they will surface, report their data by satellite phone and receive instructions as needed.

The gliders will be controlled from shore with an autonomous glider control system co-developed by Fumin Zhang at Georgia Tech Savannah. Two Georgia Tech-Savannah graduate students, Klimka Szwaykowska and Dongsik Chang, are developing algorithms to optimize the glider sampling given real-time data collected by satellite, the SeaHorse profiler and the gliders themselves.

Catherine Edwards (r) and Dongsik Chang work on the tail of a glider while Klimka Szwaykowska looks on.

Members of the research team will spend much of the winter of 2012 aboard the Skidaway Institute research vessel R/V Savannah, conducting experiments and collecting data.

Armed with a better understanding of the physical processes that “fertilize” the outer shelf and how phytoplankton take advantage of the nutrient input, the research team will be able to answer larger questions about how biology and physics interact in Long Bay.

The project will run for three years.

Ice Camp! – January 25, 2011

January 26, 2011

We’re getting there!  With our team mostly in place (Debbie Bronk and Karrie Sines arrived today), we’re now only missing our fearless leader Tish Yager. Tish, due to family obligations, couldn’t arrive until Thursday.

Today, after a brief meeting with our logistical support team, it was decided that we would set-up our ice camp in the early afternoon. The crack in the ice is still a concern because it indicates that the ice is still moving, but the experts think that the risk of the fast ice breaking-up is small. We’re watching it carefully, but moving forward with our plans.

The logistics team took care of most of the work setting up camp, but Zac and Tara went along to lend a hand and to advise the team on the specific location of the tents, the ice holes, and the placement of the heaters and generators. It is important that any potential contamination of our samples is minimized and so that our sampling can be conducted as efficiently as possible. The trip went smoothly, our camp was established, and I heard that the camaraderie was good.

Tony’s joke; told while drilling an ice hole.

How do you catch a polar bear?

Put some frozen peas around an ice hole, wait for a bear to come take a pea and kick him in the ice hole.

Say it out loud and you’ll get it.  I know…., you had to be there, but Zac took videos.

Sunset from our ice camp.

Imagine the situation, out on the ice in the extreme cold and surrounded by the beauty of an Arctic winter day, its enough to drive anyone a little cold crazy.

After several hours on the ice, Zac is cold crazy.

Meanwhile, the rest of us remained on the station setting-up our labs and making sure that we would be ready for tomorrow’s planned first sampling. Not so exciting, but it really is satisfying to finally see the results of the months of planning realized.  And we’re even more excited to generate the results from our winter experiments.

We are guessing that we’ll see major differences in microbial activities and communities in the winter compared to the spring and summer. We are especially eager to observe how the bacteria are using various forms of nitrogen. Nitrogen is a limiting nutrient for phytoplankton and phytoplankton form the base of the food web that ultimately feed all the larger organisms including whales and humans.

One of the central hypotheses of our project is that if the permafrost melts and releases large amounts of nitrogen-poor humic materials that are stored there, this will increase the use of dissolved inorganic nitrogen by bacteria.  If this occurs, potentially there will be less nitrogen available for the phytoplankton in the spring when the lights come back on and consequently less food for all the larger organisms. Our experiments this week should tell us whether the logic of this idea is correct.

With the ice camp established and our labs set-up, we’re ready to start collecting samples tomorrow. Wish us luck!


Notes from the Arctic – A day on the water August 25th, 2010

August 26, 2010

This is the second post by Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer, chronicling his research trip to Barrow,  Alaska,  for his study of the effect of a warming climate on the coastal ecology there.

Just completing day 3 of the expedition.  After staying-up half the night to get ready for an 8:00 am sampling trip, the weather delayed us.  We were fogged in.  But what can you do?  That is the nature of fieldwork.

After waiting around until nearly noon, the fog had finally dissipated sufficiently so that our native whaling captain, Captain Quinik (pronounced something like “Cone – Nick”), gave the long-awaited ok.

Captain Quinik

We followed captain Quinik and his first mate to the launch ramp located several miles east of the research station and launched on the Chukchi Sea side of Point Barrow. For about an hour we motored our way around Point Barrow, into the Beaufort Sea, and to our sampling station about 3 miles north of the station.  It was a choppy ride but the boat, a sturdy 27’ aluminum hulled boat with two brand new 175 four stroke Suzuki engines, handled it well.

The sampling team

Once on station we began our collections.  Since there are three teams of us collecting different types of water samples and data, we had to carefully choreograph our activities.  First on the agenda was to determine the basic characteristics of the water. Its depth, 12M (about 40 ft); its temperature, 6°C (around 43°F); its salinity, 31.4 o/o; and the oxygen content (fully saturated with the atmosphere).

We also measured light penetration which was the most important parameter for determining our sampling depth since we are conducting experimental incubation studies and need to match the light levels in the lab.

All this data told us that we had a very well mixed water column typical of the region for this time of year.  Just what we were hoping for!

After these measurements were completed, the Yager team ( for Patricia Yager, UGA) began collecting water for their studies to characterize the carbon chemistry of the water and the activity and abundance of the bacteria and phytoplankton.  After they were nearly finished, we deployed a special submersible pump to 4M, our optimal sampling depth, and the Bronk team (for Deborah Bronk, Virginia Institute for Marine Science) began collecting water and filling up what seems like hundreds of sample jars for their experiments.

The Bronk group is interested in understanding the effects of different nutrient additions on Arctic microbial populations. They are especially interested in humic materials, since those are expected to be released in high concentrations as the permafrost melts into the coastal Arctic ocean. Humics are the left over organic matter from plants that make the water in our neck of the woods tea colored.

As the Bronk team completed their sampling it was our turn.  We collected 120 liters (a little more that 30 gallons) of water for our genetic studies that we are conducting to provide insight in how microbial communities may adapt to future changes. Once all the samples were safely on board and our gear stowed safely, we returned to the lab.

Approaching Barrow

Luckily, since the water was relatively calm, we were able to head south and offload our samples onto the beach which we were then able to easily transport to our various laboratories.

After the sampling expedition, the rest of the day was a blur, with each of us rushing around trying to get everything done. But it was a pleasure since this is what we had been planning for so long.  Victoria and I spent about six hours in a walk-in cold room set at ambient water temperature filtering all the water we collected. As I’m typing now (nearly midnight) the Yager group is still at it though the Bronk group has already called it quits for the day.

Tomorrow is a lab day and should present a lighter workload for all of us. I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit the whaling camp (think ice fishing camp) and soak it all in.

Point Barrow whale boneyard

The native Iñupiat Eskimos, who make up over 60% of the 4,000+ residents, authentically practice their culture and seem to be eager to share it with interested visitors.

Skidaway Institute awarded NSF grants

August 26, 2009

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has received two research grants from the National Science Foundation totaling more than $761,000. The awards are being funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Dr. Marc Frischer

Dr. Marc Frischer

The first grant for $356,139 was awarded to Skidaway Institute scientist Marc Frischer to investigate how a warming climate will affect the food web dynamics in the Arctic Ocean.

“We are most appreciative to the National Science Foundation for funding this significant research,” said Skidaway Institute Director James Sanders. “A warming climate is causing significant changes in the Arctic marine environment, including reduced sea ice and increased terrestrial discharge from rivers of nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen. It is very important that we understand the way these changes will affect food web dynamics and, ultimately, the entire Arctic marine ecosystem.”

Frischer will work with collaborators Deborah Bronk from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Patricia Yager from the University of Georgia Research Foundation on the project.

Dr. Elizabeth Mann

Dr. Elizabeth Mann

The second grant for $404,833 was awarded to Elizabeth Mann of Skidaway Institute, along with collaborators Eric Stabb of the University of Georgia and Hongwei Wu of Georgia Tech. They will investigate the way some marine bacteria obtain and utilize the key nutrient iron in environments where this metal is scarce.

According to Mann, it is important to understand how organisms produce the compounds that help keep iron in solution in the surface ocean. Iron is a key nutrient for the growth of microscopic algae, known as phytoplankton, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“In many areas of the world’s ocean, iron concentrations are so low that phytoplankton growth is reduced,” Mann said. “An increase in iron availability will lead to the removal of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.”