Guest Post – Louise Cornwall

Plankton are critical components of the marine ecosystem. There are two groups of plankton, the “phyto” (plant) and “zoo” (animal)-plankton. Both phyto- and zooplankton transfer energy through the food web to larger animals, such as penguins, seals, dolphins and whales. This means it is important we understand how marine plankton respond to future climate change scenarios, as this could have major impact on the whole marine ecosystem. My work concentrates on two components of climate change. The first is the rapid increase in ocean temperature. The second is a process called Ocean Acidification. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are causing the ocean to become more acidic. These two components, both separately or combined, are proven to be harmful to various marine life.

I study a certain type of zooplanktonic animal called a copepod. Copepods are very small crustaceans, generally less than 2 mm in length. They are the most abundant type of zooplankton in the world’s oceans. My aim is to increase our knowledge of how these tiny, but very important, animals cope under climate change.

o. similis copepodite 4_1

Copepod seen through a microscope… not easy when the floor, desk and everything else are moving in a rough sea!

During the Discovery cruise, I am collecting copepods from plankton net hauls. Once caught, they are stored for at least 12 hours in order to acclimatise. I then exposed them  to different environmental conditions:

  • “normal” – seawater matches natural environment.
  • “high temperature” – seawater temperature is increased.
  • “acidification” – seawater acidity is increased.
  • “high temperature + acidification” – both seawater temperature and acidity are increased.

How copepods, and plankton as a whole, respond to climate change will impact entire marine ecosystems. A better understanding of these responses will increase our ability to predict the future of our oceans.

Louise Cornwall is a Phd Student at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. For more information on her work, email loco@pml.ac.uk

A voyage of (RRS) Discovery

Krill and whale counting in the Southern Ocean

This winter (or summer at this end of the world), the RRS Discovery sets off from the Falkland Islands to conduct a 6-week research cruise in the waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

There are multiple aims for this research cruise. Firstly, this will be the 2018-19 contribution to a 20 year data-set that British Antarctic Survey has been collecting on the abundance of krill in the waters around South Georgia, in an area known as the Western Core Box.

Secondly, we will be extending the survey out to the waters around the South Sandwich Islands. This work is being done in collaboration with scientists from the UK, the US, Norway, China, Germany, Ukraine and Japan to provide an update to the baseline data collected in 2000 – data on the abundance and distribution of krill.

Thirdly, the 2000 krill survey also gathered data on the distribution of cetaceans – whales and dolphins – in the same area, at the same time as the krill surveys were taking place. The 2019 survey will do the same. This is where I come in – I’m one of a team of four whale researchers on the Discovery, and the other survey vessels will also have scientists collecting whale data.

The ship has a wide range of scientists on board. As well as these three core aims, we’ll be collecting data for a wide variety of different research projects. Over the next few weeks, we’ll give you a blog update from as many of the different scientists as we can – stand by to find out more about some really fascinating projects!

Claire Lacey is a marine mammal researcher at the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews.

Guest Post – Alysa Hulbert

Growing up in London I never imagined that I’d be spending 40 days living and working in the Southern Ocean on the Royal Research Ship Discovery. And yet I’m typing this ten days into my voyage; swaying side-to-side, hearing waves crashing, and looking out my porthole at fog hanging over the water. So how on earth did I end up here? And if that sounds exciting, how can you end up doing something just as adventurous?

I’ve always loved nature, and so Science and Geography were my favourite subjects at school. I decided to study Biology at University, doing a very cool course involving field trips to coastal Wales, the volcanic island of Tenerife, the forests of Canada, and the Bornean jungle. It was both difficult and fascinating, but I survived and graduated. After a bit of volunteering at a local nature reserve, and an exciting job working in the labs in the Veterinary Department at London Zoo, last year I achieved my dream of working for the British Antarctic Survey. I took a chance and applied for something a little different; working in Information Services. This was a career choice I was never told about at school, but as someone who likes everything in order, it suits me very well. And it’s resulted in me ending up on this amazing trip!

On board there’s 24 scientists and 24 crew, and then there’s me – the Data Manager. Every scientist has their own research project, and at the end of the voyage all the data that’s been collected is saved in the Data Centre where I work back at British Antarctic Survey. This is held for ever, and is open for anyone around the world to come and use for their own research. My job is to make sure the data is organised in a logical way, and is labelled in detail so it can be searched for easily and has all the explanatory information needed for someone else to re-use it in future. This information is called ‘Metadata’, and tells you what the dataset holds, when, where and how it was collected, and who collected it. To do this properly I need to know what’s going on, so one advantage of my job is that I get to talk to all the scientists to find out what they’re working on, and hopefully get involved!

So far I’ve helped unload all the cargo onto the ship, and tied lab equipment down so it doesn’t move and get damaged in rough seas. I’ve sorted through strange sea creatures freshly caught from the water, and looked at them under the microscope. And then there’s the added bonus of ocean travel in this part of the world; I’ve seen icebergs and glaciers, albatrosses, seals, whales and penguins. I’ve been to places most people will never visit in their lives, and seen sights that only tourists spending thousands of pounds might get to see.

But the best bit is that my hard work supports the science that underpins the fight against climate change. I’m supporting studies into what plastic waste is doing to sea life and the research that ensures that people don’t fish so much that it damages the ocean ecosystem. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Alysa Hulbert is Data Manager at British Antarctic Survey. This is her first research cruise.  For more information on BAS, see  https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/uk-pdc/