Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Zooplankton - From Lecture to Lab!

1:45 pm
October 7, 2015
Somewhere between Greenland and Ellesmere Island.
The days have begun to slide together. I am settling into a routine of sampling, lectures, meals and sleep, as well as long periods of transit time, where activity on the ship slows. Once we reach a sampling station, however, everyone whirs into action. Sleep is abandoned, and then snatched up again in periods of a few hours.
The other night, at 11:00 pm, pajama clad and sleepy eyed, I went to get a glass of water. On my way through the halls, I bumped into some scientists carrying coolers samples from the midzone, collected with nets. They opened the cooler so I could see what they had collected:
  • Some small fish with rounded heads and transparent bodies.
  • Small jellyfish with red middle (type of zooplankton).
  • Lots of tiny shrimp.
  • Silvery fish.
They would be up very late, the cooler carriers told me, sorting, counting, and freezing the samples, which will be brought back to a university for analysis.
The next morning, Tibo, a graduate student working on Zooplankton, gave us a lecture. Zooplankton are animals that drift, rather than swim in the ocean. They are important ecological players as both secondary producers and a biological pump (bringing CO2 to the bottom). Tibo collects samples using sediment traps stationed for a year, with different bottles open at different times. The traps are like a time machine, preserving the plankton (using formaldehyde) as well as recording the physical conditions in which they were collected: sea ice concentration, water temperature, and salinity. Will a decrease in sea ice result in greater concentration in phytoplankton, therefore resulting in more zooplankton?
Later… (8:50pm)
In a few minutes, Gabriel (student – Quebec City) and I will join Tibo in his lab to process the Zooplankton samples brought up by the Monster and Hydrobios nets.
A fantastic element of the Schools on Board program is this: listening to a lecture from a passionate scientist, working in the field, and then, a few hours later, seeing the data itself. Even counting and sorting the tinniest organisms is showing me a larger picture of science.

Picture update: Unfortunately, I am unable to upload pictures on the ships bandwidth. I will share a digital album when I get home.

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