Science ’til it Hurts; Tweeting Science

We’re off and running for field season 2011, and things are … going. It seems I’ve been blogging about oceanography cruises for two years, and the bulk of my talk has been about equipment problems.  I’m not sure why, but it seems to pervade my work these past couple of years. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that much of our equipment is getting up in years. We try to keep it in good shape, but it gets a lot of use, and as I’ve said before – dragging electronics through saltwater tends to cause problems. Fortunately we’ve got a great team that can keep us in business under all but the most dire of circumstances, and so we’re at it still.

I haven’t had a chance to get data up, but I will try to do that tonight or tomorrow. Take my word on it though, this year things look awfully different from 2010. Starting with the water properties, it is fresher at the surface and dissolved oxygen is much lower in large portions of the Bay. Temperature is a bit cooler too, though the difference is not as great for the salinity and oxygen. But the biggest difference so far is in the smallest critters we look at. Our resident phytoplankton/ microzooplankton has said that the composition of those organisms is vastly different from last year. This time last year the algae (phytoplankton) was dominated by diatoms. These are photosynthetic, single-celled organisms that make a silica covering called a frustule. If you’ve every bought or heard of “diatomaceous” earth, it is the product of millions of these organism sinking out and dying over millennia, which creates an organic and silica rich dirt that lots of plants love. Instead of diatoms there is a mixed bag of other things, including dinoflagellates and cryptophytes. These are other single-celled organism that can often photosynthesize AND eat other organisms. We call this lifestyle “mixotrophy”, and it is likely much more prevalent in the plankton than we had thought a few years ago. As for the copepods, my favorite multi-cellular animals, the species composition is mostly what we expected, but there are more freshwater species this year than last. That’s not at all surprising, considering the salinity differences, but the interesting thing is that the ones we’re seeing that like lower salinities are usually found in the deepwater in the tributaries of the Chesapeake, but here they appear to be in the surface. It is likely that they are getting washed out into the Bay where we are sampling, but that has yet to be confirmed.

It’s important to note that all of these findings are preliminary, and the final results could change a little when we get back and really pour through the samples and data. Note I didn’t put any numbers on the preliminary findings. That is simply because when you are spending all your energy collecting data in a responsible and consistent manner, it sometimes precludes the analysis. I would bet that many of our shipboard, anecdotal findings will hold up with the more thorough lab based analyses, but you never know until you do it. As my highschool calculus teacher used to tell us, “I’m from Missouri, ‘SHOW ME’!”. So we let the data do the talking, but you can’t rush it because you want it to make sure it gets all the parts of the story right. Think of that picture of FDR holding the newspaper saying “Dewey Wins!”…

In other news, I’m trying something new on this trip – twitter. My handle is @planktoneer, and I’m neither consistent nor terribly witty with it.  I think I will likely use it more for ‘twitpics’ to show some of life on the ship, with the occasional commentary. I’m not going to link it to my Facebook profile yet or anything like that, but at the bottom of the blog posts you will see some recent tweets. We’ll see how this goes, and any useful feedback is welcomed…

’Til next time, dear readers, ’Til next time.


About planktoneer

I'm a zooplankton ecologist who studies how individual behaviors and variability affect populations of copepods in marine and estuarine systems.
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1 Response to Science ’til it Hurts; Tweeting Science

  1. Ed C says:

    Very interesting. I run into diatomaceous earth filters on commercial pools all the time. Now I know what they are.

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