Frances Hopkins, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Today saw the start of our third bioassay experiment, at a station somewhere in an area known as the Greenland Gyre. Once again, a valiant team rose from their cabins at 2am to collect the gallons of experimental water. Although we are in featureless ocean right now, the 24 hour daylight, near freezing temperatures, and odd snow shower remind us of our high latitude.
The start of a new experiment means a busy day of analysis for most, as we begin to assess how the communities of these polar waters may respond to ocean acidification (OA). Myself and John are interested in the effects of OA on a gas called dimethyl sulphide, or more catchily, DMS. DMS is one ingredient in the cocktail of gases produced in the surface ocean by biological processes that contribute to the familiar “smell of the sea”. DMS is also important in that it can encourage the formation of clouds in the atmosphere, and as such, has an influence on our climate. This is why we are interested to see how the production of DMS by phytoplankton communities may change with increasing CO2.
To do our science requires some serious shifting of gear. We essentially pack our entire lab in Plymouth up into boxes, every instrument, pipette, syringe and vial, and unpack it all again on board the ship, along with 20 gas cylinders, about 400ft of copper tubing and a serious plumbing job… It is always a relief when you switch everything on for the first time once you have set it all up on board, and find everything to be working well.
We are now steadily making our way towards the sea ice off the coast of Greenland, and everyone is feeling pretty excited about our impending arrival. Fingers are crossed for polar bear sightings! Right now the wildlife is still mainly of the feathered variety – fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes, black guillemots, and even a lonely puffin. We also have a stowaway whimbrel which we picked up in the gales off Iceland, and which Robert the Chief Officer has been diligently feeding mussels and prawns. We hope to return the lost creature, intact, to Iceland when we reach Reykjavik in 3 weeks time….