Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the lush woods surrounding Boothbay harbor, one will find a utopian and state of the art facility: Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. The laboratory overlooks the sea, whose inviting but frigid waters are just a few meters away. Upon arriving in the parking lot of Bigelow, a smile drew across my face at the sight of a miniature solar farm and the glass building, which is home to ground-breaking scientists. I couldn’t be more excited to spend a few months working here alongside Dr. Archer. My research is focused on how ocean acidification driven by climate change affects the marine microbial catabolism of dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP) into dimethylsulfide (DMS). DMSP is an osmolyte produced in many phytoplankton, meaning it plays a role in maintaining cell volume and fluid balance. When DMSP is dissolved into the sea by phytoplankton, many marine microbes metabolize it via enzymatic cleavage (catabolism), which releases DMS. Once DMS emissions reach the atmosphere, they are oxidized to sulfate partilces, which can alter the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth. DMS emissions have the potential to increase the earth’s albedo (reflective properties), and this results in an overall cooling effect. However, ocean acidification has been found to decrease the amount of DMSP that is converted to DMS, which would have an opposite effect on the earth’s albedo, and potentially exacerbate climate warming. Therefore, my research aims to determine why and how ocean acidification affects marine microbes’ ability to convert DMSP into DMS, in hopes that it will help scientists model how DMS emissions may be altered in response to future marine conditions. Let the science begin !
Alicia Oberholzer works in Dr. Steve Archer’s lab.