As I talked about in my last blog, this week Iâ€™m attending the Ocean Optics XXII Conference in Portland, Maine in the USA. I arrived last Thursday and spent the weekend at a two day pre-conference meeting entitled â€˜Phytoplankton Composition From Spaceâ€™; where we discussed techniques for mapping phytoplankton – the microscopic plants in the ocean.
The smallest phytoplankton taxa (group) are the single celled cyanobacteria known as blue-green algae, they are an ancient life form with a fossil remains of over 3.5 billion years old. They can be mapped from space using ocean colour satellites which measure a signal based on the scattering and absorption of light within the ocean. This enablesÂ Earth observationÂ to map the total biomass, via the concentration of the main pigment thatâ€™s normally Chlorophyll, and also get a glimpse into which taxa are present.
Understanding the concentration, and diversity, of phytoplankton is valuable as they play a key role in climate processes by absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In addition, they are the very essence of the bottom of the food chain, as they are eaten by zooplankton, who in turn are eaten by small fish and so on. Therefore, significant changes in the concentration or diversity of phytoplankton may have ripple effects through the aquatic food chain. The film Ocean Drifters provides an overview of the role of plankton in the ocean.
The conference itself began on Monday and weâ€™ve had a number of interesting and varied presentations, but Iâ€™ve particularly enjoyed two plenary sessions. The first was by Don Perovich, of the Thayer School of Engineering looking at the impact of sunlight on sea ice in the artic. The brightness of sea ice determines the amount of light reflected back to space. If the ice is older, and hence snow covered, then itâ€™s bright white whilst ice thatâ€™s melting is much darker due to the pools of water and so absorbs more sunlight. Therefore, there is a positive link between melting ice causing ice to melt quicker. In the Artic, sea ice reaches a minimum in September and causes an increase in melting. There is a scientific analysis on Arctic sea ice conditions here.
The second plenary was given by Johnathan Hair from NASA Langley Research Centre, presenting a paper co-authored with his colleague Yongziang Hu and Michael Behrenfeld from Oregon State University. It focussed on using lasers for mapping vertical profiles throughout the water column from space and applications for inland waters, and how this might be used in global ocean plankton research. Regular readers of the blog will know this is topic is something that particularly interests me, and I have previously written about the subject.
Tuesday morning was eventful, as the conference venue was evacuated just as the first session was starting, due to a strong smell of gas. I took the unexpected networking opportunity, andÂ to catch upÂ with one of my former colleagues over a coffee. Thankfully, we were let back into the venue a couple of hours later, and everything went ahead with a bit of rescheduling. My plenary session on Crowdfunding Ocean Optics went ahead in the afternoon, and seemed to generate a good level of interest. I had lot of questions within the session, and a number of people sought me out during the rest of the day to discuss the idea and the project.
Iâ€™ve really enjoyed my time in Portland, and have found a fantastic coffee shop and bakery – Bam Bam Bakery on Commercial Street â€“ which I highly recommend! Iâ€™m looking forward to the rest of the week.