By Eliza Goodell
Climate change is rapidly warming our oceans and our atmosphere. One of the fastest warming places on the planet is the Arctic Ocean. In the Arctic Ocean, mini plants called phytoplankton are making their living from carbon dioxide and the sun, and releasing different molecules into their environment, such as the oxygen that we all breather. Another compound that some phytoplankton produce is called dimethylsulfoniopropionate, or DMSP. This compound can help protect phytoplankton and keep them alive at very cold temperatures. When DMSP is released into the water, it can turn into DMS, which can stimulate cloud formation. Clouds not only influence our weather, but can also block sunlight and heat from reaching the earth.
Because of the widespread influence of these marine organisms, it is important to be able to predict how warmer temperatures will impact all of their functions: such as the production of DMSP. Just like us, the metabolisms of phytoplankton and the molecules they release into their environment will likely change as temperatures increase, but we just don’t know how yet. To address this problem, we are growing phytoplankton in the laboratory at several different temperatures, and measuring how they grow, and how much DMSP they produce, with the hope of better understanding how the ocean and our planet will change as temperatures continue to rise.
Eliza Goodell is an Oberlin College student in the 2020 Sea Change Semester Program at Bigelow Laboratory. This intensive experience provides an immersion in ocean research with an emphasis on hands-on, state-of-the-art methods and technologies.