Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Cruise Track for GEOTRACES cruise 2011
I'm getting ready to embark on my next "cruise", though not to type where you play shuffle board and sip fancy drinks with little umbrellas. This "cruise", or perhaps more properly named a "voyage", is an oceanographic research cruise with the purpose of studying the chemistry of the ocean. Specifically, the scientists on board this research vessel (the R/V Knorr) will be studying different metals in ocean. Most of the time we think of metals as the stuff that makes up things we see everyday: aluminum cans, steel or iron ore beams for buildings, or gold in jewelry. All of these metals come from rocks in the Earth, and these rocks also influence what types of metals, and minerals that are in our oceans. These metals are important to study because some of them are important nutrients for organisms in the oceans (just like we need iron, they need iron too!), some are toxic (animals don't want to eat some arsenic either...), and some help oceanographers to understand how the currents and different water masses move around the globe. I am studying iron and copper, and both are important metals that effect the growth of tiny plant-like animals that live in the sea, called phytoplankton. These little plants (I do mean little, you can't see them with the naked eye) have a BIG impact on our climate, even though they are so small. Just like trees on land, phytoplankton do photosynthesis in the ocean, which means they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. This is essential not only for the other sea creatures living in the ocean, but also for us. Phytoplankton in the ocean produce half of the oxygen that exists in the air that we breathe! They also take up carbon dioxide in the process, and therefore help to reduce the amount of this greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Important little guys!

Our cruise will cross the North Atlantic Ocean, deploying instruments and collecting samples to study the metals that effect the growth of phytoplankton. This cruise is important because it is just one cruise out of many, in a project called GEOTRACES, that is seeking to measure these metals in every ocean of the world. This is the first time EVER that this has been done. Pretty remarkable considering how much we know about the moon, and how relatively little we know about the oceans.