Posts Tagged ‘scientific research’

VIDEO – The climate change issue you probably haven’t heard about

July 6, 2016

The soil in the Arctic holds a massive store of carbon. These remnants of plants and animals that lived tens of thousands of years ago have been locked in permafost, soil that is always frozen…until now.

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Aron Stubbins is part of a team that travelled to Siberia to discover what happens to that carbon when the permafrost thaws.

 

Evening @ Skidaway examines black gill in shrimp May 12

April 29, 2015
A Georgia shrimp with the evidence of Black Gill clearly visible.

A Georgia shrimp with the evidence of Black Gill clearly visible.

In recent years, Georgia shrimpers have been very concerned about black gill, a mysterious condition affecting the coastal shrimp population, and one many shrimpers believe may be largely responsible for reduced shrimp harvests. University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor Marc Frischer is leading a research project involving scientists, regulators and shrimpers from three states in an effort to determine the cause, effects and possible solutions to the black gill problem.

Frischer will discuss his ongoing research into black gill in shrimp in an Evening @ Skidaway program on Tuesday, May 12. The program will be in the McGowan Library at the UGA Skidaway Institute, beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m. and followed by the lecture at 7:15 p.m.

An “Evening @ Skidaway” is sponsored by the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the Associates of Skidaway Institute. The free program is open to the public.

Note: This program was originally scheduled for  March 12, but had to be rescheduled due to an unexpected family emergency.

For additional information, call 912-598-2325.

More cruisin’ across the South Pacific

November 11, 2013

Skidaway Institute scientist Clifton Buck is on a lengthy research cruise in the South Pacific and is blogging about his experience.

Ahoy There!

Current Position: S 12 0.1067’ W 93 27.6890’

We are now a quarter of the way through our trip and the sun has finally begun to shine. The first two weeks were rather gloomy and downright chilly. While we are in the tropics, and you might expect hot and humid temperatures, the temperature near the South American coast is moderated by the cold water being brought to the surface by the upwelling action I described in a previous post. This is the same process that brings cold water to the California coast. Our cruise track has now brought us to the transition zone between the cold, coastal waters and the warmer waters of the subtropical gyre. Sea surface temperatures will now rise from about 17oC to a bath-like 28oC.gt13-cruisetrack 11082013

Days at sea are busy! With 32 scientists on board there is always someone working somewhere, 24 hours a day. And with an operating cost of $30,000 per day there can be no idle time for the ship. When we arrive on station work must begin whether it is 3:00AM or 3:00PM. That goes for Saturdays and Sundays as well; there are no weekends at sea. Some groups are fortunate to have enough personnel on board that they are able to split their work into 12 hour watches. However, most groups require everyone to be involved when conducting operations. And some groups are only one person, like me, and must be available at all times. This can lead to some very long days and nights.

With that said, a typical day starts at 7:00AM. Breakfast is served each day from 7:15 to 8:00. The cook staff, of which there are three, does an excellent job of providing a variety of foods at each meal and breakfast is no exception. Today there were huevos rancheros, blueberry pancakes, oatmeal, bacon, sausage, and pineapple coffeecake. And there are always self-service items like dry cereal, yogurt, and toast available. Most importantly, there are two coffee pots that must be full. On a ship, you live by the edict “You kill the Joe, you fill the Joe!”

Lunch and dinner are at 11:30 and 17:00. Both of these meals feature a salad bar which might be the best indicator for the length of time the ship has been at sea; let’s call it the vegetable index factor (VIF). At the start of the trip we are blessed with fresh veggies including green, leafy lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, spinach, mushrooms, and all the other produce you can imagine. As time goes by these items slowly disappear to be replaced by more hardy varieties. There are no markets in the middle of the Pacific and no resupply stops for us! In the last week we have seen the lettuce turn to Romaine, the spinach and avocados vanish, and the tomatoes change from plump cherries to larger (and less tasty) slicing types. Slowly but surely we will move from fresh fruits and vegetables to all canned and preserved. Yesterday we had the first appearance of the very sad canned mushroom. I’m not sure as to what the intended use of canned mushrooms could possibly be but they are without question a poor salad topping. Eventually we will be left with cabbage and all canned vegetables but that is in the future and like with any sad, inevitable reality I prefer not to dwell on it. In any case, both lunch and dinner are finished with dessert. Whether ice cream, cake, cookies, or pie there are always treats to challenge the waistline.

 We are now coming up on our eleventh station and will occupy this point for the next three days. We won’t have Internet because our antenna will not be able to “see” the satellite that keeps us connected to the outside world. It can be refreshing to go unplugged from all the noise on the web but I know that it does not just disappear. My Inbox will be flooded when we reconnect on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading!

Deepwater Horizon oil spill prompts Skidaway Institute research

December 11, 2012

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the impetus behind a research project at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography to study the effects of spilled oil on blue crabs and grass shrimp.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill as viewed from space./ NASA Photo

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill as viewed from space./ NASA Photo

The project is looking at two forms of oil. The first, emulsified oil, is an oil-water mixture produced by wave turbulence.  The oil doesn’t change chemically, but the emulsification produces a thicker, more viscous mixture.

“Because the emulsified oil is so much thicker, it becomes a much more difficult clean-up issue, especially if it is washed ashore,” said Skidaway Institute professor Richard Lee, the chief scientist on the project.

Lee and his team are exposing blue crabs and grass shrimp to emulsified oil in sediment and then watching to see how this affects their molting, which is the way the shrimp and crabs grow.

The second focus is on oil that has been treated with dispersants. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, millions of gallons of chemical dispersants were sprayed over the surface of the Gulf to disperse the oil slick. These break the oil down into micro-droplets. Dispersed oil forms a underwater plume that can extend for many miles.

Richard Lee works with the tanks containing crabs and grass shrimp in his laboratory at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

Richard Lee works with the tanks containing crabs and grass shrimp in his laboratory at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

In the laboratory, the researchers are adding emulsified oil into the tanks containing the crabs and also feeding the crabs squid that has been contaminated by the emulsified oil. Dispersed oil droplets are added to tanks containing embryos of crabs and shrimp.

“What we are trying to determine here is just how the exposure to dispersed or emulsified oil affects the growth and molting crabs and shrimp,” said Lee.

The scientists selected grass shrimp and blue crabs for the study because of the important places they occupy in the marine food web. Although grass shrimp are not typically harvested as a commercial product, they are abundant in salt marshes and estuaries, and are an important food source for many fish. Blue crabs are also a food source for many fish in addition to having value as a commercial catch.

The study is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lee is working with research associate Karrie Bulski at Skidaway Institute. The team also includes Sook Chung from the institute of Marine and Environmental Technology at the University of Maryland, and Harriet Perry and Christopher Snyder from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

Sook is looking at the crab and shrimp at a molecular level. “We believe that the genes that regulate molting will be affected, and the crab and shrimp will not molt properly,” said Lee. “Hormone regulation and its relationship to contaminant exposure is something we need to learn more about, and Dr. Sook carries out that kind of research.”

The researchers will also send tissue samples, primarily from the shrimp and crab’s endocrine organs, to another researcher, Anna Walker, at Mercer University School of Medicine to look for physiological or pathological changes.

Another major part of the project will be to explain the results of the study to the public, especially the fishermen whose livelihood depends on a healthy marine ecosystem.  A significant part of the grant, $80,000, is designated for the establishment and implementation of a Community Outreach for Accurate Science Translation teams in four communities along the north central Gulf of Mexico coast.

“This is primary role for the team from the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Lee. “They will develop public presentations on the project and the results to educate them on what this all means to them.”

The project will run through 2013.

Stubbins joins Arctic cruise

June 19, 2012

Skidaway Institute scientist Aron Stubbins has spent the last couple of months working in Germany. He reports in on a cruise he is about to join.

I’m off to the Arctic on Germany research vessel Polarstern.

I will be collecting samples to determine the export of dissolved black carbon from the Arctic to the Atlantic Ocean. The cruise will transect Fram Strait, the major gateway for the exchange of water and dissolved material between the two ocean basins. Today we will leave Bremerhaven in Germany, site of the Alfred Wegener Institute which houses the R/V Polarstern.

In a few days we will reach Svalbard and begin a transect from there towards Greenland following 78.5 degrees north. During this transect we will first cross the West Spitsbergen Current (WSC) which carries warm Atlantic waters north into the Arctic Ocean. This is the northernmost extent of the Gulf Stream that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and travels past Georgia and Savannah at the edge of the Georgia shelf.

We will then transit west towards Greenland, breaking ice as we go. In this part of the cruise we will collect water samples from the East Greenland Current (EGC). This carries cold, polar water south into the Atlantic Ocean. A figure of the currents is shown at http://www.whoi.edu/science/PO/people/pwinsor/project_ao02.html.

My work will look at the amount and type of dissolved organic carbon that these two massive currents carry north (WSC) and south (EGC). Our progress can be followed in real time at http://www.awi.de/en/infrastructure/ships/polarstern/where_is_polarstern/. This site will also post weekly updates about life and science aboard R/V Polarstern.

The cruise will end in Longyearbyen on Svalbard where I will collect some samples to continue ongoing investigations into the sources and nature of glacier carbon (http://www.skio.usg.edu/?p=research/chem/biogeochem/glaciers).

Skidaway scientist working on international research team

June 8, 2012

Skidaway Institute scientist Stella Berger is spending time in Norway, as part of an interesting project involving an international team of researchers. They are looking at the relationship among carbon dioxide, iron and ultra violet radiation as they relate to the production of phytoplankton in the ocean.  You can read more about it at the team’s blog http://phytostress.wordpress.com/.

Fossil fuels fire glacier carbon cycle according to Skidaway Institute scientist

February 20, 2012

New clues as to how the Earth’s remote ecosystems have been influenced by the industrial revolution are locked, frozen in the ice of glaciers. That is the finding of a group of scientists, including Aron Stubbins of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

The research is published in the March 2012 issue of Nature Geoscience.

The key to the process is carbon-containing dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the glacial ice. Glaciers provide a great deal of carbon to downstream ecosystems. Many scientists believe the source of this carbon is the ancient forests and peatlands overrun by the glaciers. However, Stubbins and his colleagues believe the carbon comes mainly from contemporary biomass and fossil fuel burning that gets deposited on the glacier surfaces. Once deposited on the glacier surface by snow and rain, the DOM moves with the glacier and is eventually delivered downstream where it provides food for microorganisms at the base of the marine food web.

Aron Stubbins

“In vibrant ecosystems like in the temperate or tropical zones, once this atmospheric organic material makes landfall it is quickly consumed by the plants, animals and microbial populations,” said Stubbins. “However in frigid glacier environments, these carbon signals are preserved and standout.”

“Remote regions are often perceived as being pristine and devoid of human influence”, Stubbins continued. “Glaciers show us that nowhere goes untouched by industry. Instead, burning fuels has an impact upon the natural functioning of ecosystems far removed from industrial activity.”

Glaciers and ice sheets together represent the second largest reservoir of water on earth, and glacier ecosystems cover ten percent of the Earth, yet the carbon dynamics underpinning those ecosystems remain poorly understood.

“Increased understanding of glacier biogeochemistry is a priority, as glacier environments are among the most sensitive to climate warming and the effects of industrial emissions” said Stubbins.

Globally, glacier ice loss is accelerating, driven in part by the deposition of carbon in the form of soot or “black carbon”, which darkens glacier surfaces and increases their absorption of light and heat. Biomass and fossil fuel burning by people around the globe are the major sources of that black carbon.

Stubbins and his fellow scientists have conducted much of their research at the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska. Mendenhall and other glaciers that end their journey in the Gulf of Alaska receive a high rate of precipitation. High levels of rain and snow acts to strip the atmosphere clean of organics, dumping it on the glacier. Consequently, these glaciers are among the most sensitive to global emissions of soot.

The researchers’ findings also reveal how the ocean may have changed over past centuries. The microbes that form the very bottom of the food web are particularly sensitive to changes in the quantity and quality of the carbon entering the marine system. Since the study found that the organic matter in glacier outflows stems largely from human activities, it means that the supply of glacier carbon to the coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska is a modern, post-industrial phenomenon. “When we look at the marine food webs today, we may be seeing a picture that is significantly different from what existed before the late-18th century,” said Stubbins. “It is unknown how this manmade carbon has influenced the coastal food webs of Alaska and the fisheries they support.”

A warming climate will increase the outflow of the glaciers and the accompanying input of dissolved organic material into the coastal ocean. This will be most keenly felt in glacially dominated coastal regions, such as those off of the Gulf of Alaska, Greenland and Patagonia. These are the areas that are experiencing the highest levels of glacier ice loss.

“Although it is not known to what extent organic material deposition has changed and will continue to alter glacially-dominated coastal ecosystems or the open ocean, it is clear that glaciers will continue to provide a valuable and unique window into the role that the deposition of organic material plays in our changing environment,” Stubbins said.

Stubbins collaborators on the project included Eran Hood and Andrew Vermilyea from the University of Alaska Southeast; Peter Raymond and David Butman from Yale University; George Aiken, Robert Striegl and Paul Schuster from the U.S. Geological Survey; Patrick Hatcher, Rachel Sleighter  and Hussain Abdulla from Old Dominion University; Peter Hernes from the University of California-Davis; Durelle Scott from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; and Robert Spencer from Woods Hole Research Center.

The paper can be viewed on-line at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NGEO1403

Further details are available at http://www.skio.usg.edu/?p=research/chem/biogeochem/glaciers. This work is being continued with support from the National Science Foundation: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1146161

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is an autonomous research unit of the University System of Georgia located on Skidaway Island in Savannah, Ga. The mission of the Institute is to provide the State of Georgia with a nationally and internationally recognized center of excellence in marine science through research and education.

Back to Alaska, a final trip…for now

January 18, 2012

Note: Marc Frischer and Victoria Baylor are back in Barrow, Alaska for their final research trip on their climate change project .  They will be blogging about their “adventures.” In this post, March Frischer writes.

13 January 2012

It’s back to Barrow again!  This will be our last trip of this project so it’s a bit bitter sweet for us.  We are very excited about collecting the last of our field data and proceeding to the next phase of the project.  It’s exciting to, after 3 years of hard work collecting samples and data, to finally be in a position to analyze it.  We should have enough data now to address our main questions about microbial processes and the potential change that may occur in the Arctic as the permafrost melts and releases all of the organic material that has been stored there for thousands of years.  On the other hand we’re going to miss the excitement of the trips and the raw beauty and drama of the high Arctic that we have had the opportunity to experience.

As with our previous trips we have been hard at work arranging the logistics for this trip.  Making sure we have all our equipment and supplies in place and organizing our sampling logistics and team.   A good piece of advice for anyone conducting field work in remote locations: never get ahead of your gear. Because it is the winter (again) the challenges of working in Barrow are at their highest.  We are expecting temperatures to again be well below zero ranging from -20 to -40 degrees below zero with significant wind chill.  Last time we were in Barrow we experienced temperatures of -47 deg F and wind-chill approaching -70 degrees.  So far the weather forecasts are a bit better than that for this trip.

Another major logistic challenge for us during this trip will be organizing ourselves so that we can retrieve all our gear that has accumulated in Barrow.  We are not allowed to leave anything on the NARL campus once the project is completed. Victoria and the rest of our team have been working very hard to figure out how we’re going to get all our stuff home or give away what might be useful for people in Barrow to take ownership of.  We are planning on leaving  a lot of basic supplies (test tubes, bottles, graduate cylinders, etc) to a local middle school science teacher, Debby Green, who’ve we’ve been working with, but that still leaves us with a lot to get home.  We’re expecting to ship home on the order of a ton of gear.

Travelling across the country in the winter is always a bit risky, but our trip was smooth and thankfully uneventful.

Zac who regularly participates on these trips couldn’t come this time because he is about to be a father. His daughter Iris is due on 4 Feb, but he volunteered to take Victoria Baylor and me to the airport for our 6 am flight. It was still dark when we got to the airport. We flew to Chicago and had plenty of time to get something to eat and check in for our next flight to Anchorage.

”]We arrived 7 hours later in Anchorage, collected our bags and took the airport shuttle to the hotel where we spent the night. We’ve stayed there several times over the past years so the place is familiar and comfortable. We’ve found that it is really helpful to get a good night of sleep before starting one of these trips.

This picture is for my son David. One of his favorite superheroes is Wolverine from X-Men. This is a real Wolverine David.

After checking in and getting settled (Victoria had to run an errand.), we went to a nearby restaurant Gwinnee’s for dinner. Gwinnee’s is a kind of an Alaskan Cracker Barrel, but it’s not a chain.  Victoria doesn’t drink but she took the opportunity to serve the bear a beer. I guess she figured that it must be thirsty.

Victoria at Gwinee’s restaurant

Back to Alaska!

August 19, 2011

Hello from Barrow, Alaska! This is Victoria Baylor and Zac Tait, members of the Frischer lab at Skidaway Institute. We are here to collect our final summer season samples and perform some experiments. We arrived safely in Barrow on August 11th after spending most of the 10th traveling and spending a night in Anchorage. The trip is so long, that we had to spend the night in Anchorage AK. We stayed at our usual place, the Holiday Inn Express in Anchorage and enjoyed fine dining at Simon & Seaforts. We have to admit the food was exactly spectacular and with a good nights rest we were ready to head off to Barrow on the 11th.

We made it safely to Barrow and were met by Dylan and Glenn Roy, two of the UMIAQ  Logistics personnel, and Rachel Sipler from the Bronk lab at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS.) The first thing we noticed as we walked off the plane in Barrow, Alaska was all of the snow and ice was gone. The ice was just beginning to melt on the roads at the end of the last trip in May but now the landscape was transformed into a gravelly, boggy mud-puddle. We left with Rachel, then checked into our hut and were surprised that our entire group plus Karl Newyear , Chief Scientist of UMIAQ, would be occupying the same space. That’s 8 people in one hut…..and only one bathroom.  It was our first group housing experience.

Victoria and the "welcome sign"

After getting settled in, we decided to set-up our labs. We pulled all of our supplies down from storage and distributed them to the Barrow Alaska Research Center (BARC ) lab and the Beach freezer cold room. After setting-up, with no more work to do, we did our grocery shopping and returned home to await the arrival of our other team members. That’s when we received the news that Barrow was out of fuel and we were being asked to reserve our fuel as best as possible. We also received the news that due to high winds we would possibly delay our first sampling trip which was scheduled for Thursday morning.  There were two barges on the way to deliver gas but it was uncertain when the gas would be available.  Not having gas was certainly going to put a damper on our sampling plans by boat so we began to think about other options.

Winds were blowing as high as 25-30kts. Winds like those made usually simple tasks like opening and shutting car doors quite the task. So in light of the weather, all we could do at that point was wait and hope for the best. Part of our summer sample collection involves going 30-40 miles from Barrow to collect water from tundral melt pools that haven’t been influenced by civilization. These melt pools contain organic carbon compounds which we hypothesize will stimulate bacterial activity when released into the coastal ocean.  We usually collect this water by travelling away from town by boat but because of the fuel and weather issues, that wasn’t possible.

On Friday & Saturday, we concentrated our efforts on setting up both our BARC lab for RNA extraction and gear cleaning and the Beach freezer cold room where we’d be filtering water for DNA & RNA collection and Zac’s tundra melt-water incubation studies.  As part of his thesis project, Zac is trying to find out if bacteria will be able to “eat” this material and if they do if it would increase their usage of nitrate. Because nitrate is what limits the productivity of the Arctic Ocean (i.e. how much of the green things at the base of the food web can grow) if bacteria start using more of it this could profoundly affect the food web in the Arctic. If the permafrost (frozen tundra) melts with a warming climate it could mean less fish, seals, bears, birds, and whales.

Things went pretty smoothly with setup. We washed all of our supplies and organized our work spaces.  Then, our group met to discuss sampling options in light of the rough weather. We worked closely to try to create some feasible scenarios that would allow for Zac & Rachel to collect tundra melt-water.  After a meeting with the logistics personnel, the option of using ATV’s to collect the tundra water was presented, but we had to wait to see how things would work out with the weather. So to lift our spirits the group went out to eat delicious Chinese food at Sam and Lee’s and caught a few minutes of the first football game of the season. This also happens to be the highest latitude football game played in the world.  The score at half time was Barrow 35 – Away team 0.

Zac caught chugging down his 3rd bowl of chicken egg drop soup.

 

The Barrow Whalers “Thunder on the Tundra”

By Sunday we got a break in the weather and we were given the green light to go ahead and use the ATV’s to gather tundra water. Rachel, Zac, Lynne, & Marta (Lynn and Marta are also from the Bronk lab at VIMS) all suited up and headed off with Brower to go find some tundra melt-pools.

Our guides for the trip

The  ATV trip was an incredibly a bumpy, yet fun ride. The guide’s idea of a ‘trail’ was simply a general direction across the tundra.   It was hard to compare the terrain on this trip to anything we have encountered. The closest comparison we could think of is: the tundra is like a very rough, frozen ocean, turned to mud. We then rode across this rough landscape at high speeds on ATVs; it was both scary and exhilarating. Needless to say, some ibuprofen and bed-rest were welcomed at the end of that trip. Fortunately, the trip was successful and we were able to get plenty of tundra water containing the high concentration of humic acids that we needed to get our experiments started.

The winds decreased further by Monday so it was decided that we could go on our first sampling trip on the ocean.  At 10 in the morning, we loaded our gear and everyone, with the exception of Victoria  and Marta, headed out. Within 2 hours, the group returned and unfortunately couldn’t go out due to the low tide.  A second attempt was made at 1pm and the boat was launched. While the group was out, the winds picked up again. The decision was made that is was too treacherous to return to the same boat ramp that we left from, so we had to continue around Point Barrow, directly into very high winds and seas to a more sheltered ramp. Several times the boat was airborne after being launched over a 5 or 6 foot swell. We did eventually make it back, but it was a punishing ride. We came back at around 5pm with water samples and told Victoria and Marta about a huge polar bear we’d seen just up on the way back from the boat ramp.

The sampling team (l-r) Rachel, Tara, Lynne, Karie, & Zac

While the group unloaded the boat, Marta and Victoria went to check get some pictures of the Polar Bear. We were later told that there was a serious storm and somehow the polar bear ended up stranded in the ocean and swimming 100nmi to shore. It was huge and completely out of energy after the long swim. We watched the bear, feeling at ease since a bear guide who was armed with a rifle was nearby.  Later, several people from our group witnessed the bear get shot by a local hunter. Rest in peace Polar Bear.

Polar Bear

Back in the Beach freezer cold room, we worked for several hours filtering our waters samples to collect DNA & RNA samples. Zac finally had both humic and seawater to set up his incubations. We worked pretty late but we were quite excited that we were finally able to get samples.

Tuesday was primarily a lab day and we extracted RNA and prepared for the Wednesday’s boat trip.  The other groups worked to process their water samples. We were able to get out again on Wednesday for sampling. So far weather predictions are in our favor and we look forward to having a couple of more sampling trips before the weeks end.

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.”