Unknown Plankton from the Mid-Atlantic

Latest update May 16, 2019 Started on October 20, 2015

Formally characterize a previously unknown plankton from the coastline of North Carolina.

October 20, 2015
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This week I found out that I will be receiving a ROV to use when I go into the field for sampling! The National Geographic S.E.E. Initiative will be sending (actually, it is already en route) a ROV called the Trident! As a SCUBA diver it is often difficult to translate what I am seeing in turbulent systems. With the Trident I hope it will be a valuable to demonstrate the variation in water visibility and in research. Why does visibility matter? If you think about what phytoplankton need to survive, sunlight is a major part of that photosynthetic equation: 6CO2 + 6H2O + Light Energy —> C6H12O6 + 6O2

I will be bringing the Trident to the coastline of North Carolina for a few weeks starting on Tuesday. I aim to test it first off of the sampling dock to get a feel for the movements and capabilities. Below is the company website with the amazing video of it in action with footage. Take a look and let me know what you hope I spot with the ROV! Fingers-crossed for some amazing marine snow videos.



Springtime Rain!

It has been raining quite a bit in North Carolina, so the ocean samples are pretty sparse with the desired plankton for my research. The influx of the freshwater can impact the ocean's surface waters enough to temporally and spatially change the plankton community. When this happens, it requires me to slow down and very carefully hunt for new diatoms (phytoplankton) to isolate.

While under the microscope, I found a beautiful copepod that I watched graze for 7-8 minutes. Copepods are a type of small crustacean that eats other plankton- this is known as a zooplankton. This particular copepod was eating all of the phytoplankton that I was trying to isolate!

Take a look at the picture of the copepod's "tail" or furca. Besides adjusting the contrast, all of the videos and pictures I post are not altered. If you have any questions about plankton or marine science, do not hesitate to reach out!


A super quick follow up to yesterday's post:

One of my awesome friends actually contacted me to ask a few follow up questions about the movement of plankton in the water. He asked if plankton are actually moving in the water column or if it was the currents that were moving the plankton. What a great question!

The short answer is: it is both the movement of the individual plankton and water turbidity are responsible! Phytoplankton AND zooplankton are able to move on their own in varying degrees. The daily migration of plankton is commonly known as Diel Vertical Migration or DVM. This occurs in marine and freshwater systems. This is why it is important to keep sampling times consistent. If you sample at 8:00am and again at 3:00pm on the same day, you may be sampling a different plankton community!

Want to know more (I know you do, everyone loves plankton)? Check out these resources!

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dielverticalmigration

> What Makes Plankton Migrate? https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/saltwater-science/whatmakesplanktonmigrate

> Paper: Particle size distributions in the upper 100 m water column and their implications for animal feeding in the plankton, 2011

Do you have any questions?! Please feel free to reach out or leave a message below!

In The Field

Last week I went out to the coastline of North Carolina to sample. It is about a 2.5/3 hour drive (~6 hours round trip), but it is well worth it for a fresh plankton tow! Each time I sample both with a zooplankton net (150um mesh) and a phytoplankton net (30um mesh) I am amazed at how the plankton community shifts. These community shifts can occur in several ways, but the two most common are 1. Daily migration: Plankton have the ability to migrate up/down the water column throughout the day and 2. Season change in the species composition: As the nutrients, light and temperature change in the water, it impacts which species are most abundant.

Below are a few images that I was able to capture of the prevalent plankton! The phytoplankton is a diatom (anyone want to take a guess to the ID?!) and the zooplankton is a mollusk! Be sure to check out @MarchofthePlankton on Instagram to see even more pictures from the tows!

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Taking a look at the plankton!

Each time we collect samples, we use plankton tow nets. These are made to carefully size-select the plankton from the water column. The different mesh sizes can range from 400um or smaller: to include larger meroplankton and zooplankton (the animal-like plankton) or 150um or smaller: to collect the smaller zooplankton and phytoplankton (plant-like plankton). For my research, I will often use a 150um mesh and then further filter the sample with a 20um mesh to target nanoflagellates (more on that to come!).

As the water filters into the net, the organisms are pushed off of the mesh and into a cod-end (bottle). Then we are able to bring this back into the lab. I primarily use a microscope and try to quantify the species I collected and begin to survey which species are in the area!

Take a look at the picture and you can see the cod-end with a fresh sample ready to be analyzed!

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Expedition Background

Plankton are the underestimated heroes of the marine environment. My expedition started in 2015 and is still going! I am working to characterize and sample plankton from the Mid-Atlantic off of the coastline of North Carolina.

Stay tuned for updates on the plankton that I isolate and a few new surprises along the way!

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