In a forest when something dies--a leaf, a plant, an animal-- it likely settles onto the ground where it begins a process of decay and integration into the layers of earth beneath. Unless it's carried far away by a scavenger, it mostly stays local after it dies, becoming a part of soil nutrient and mineral cycles at most a meter deep.
I'm happy to share that we've had a total of 13 students students defend their theses in 2019! Please join me in congratulating the students, and read below to learn a little more about their research.
This week's post comes to us from grad student Sierra Helmann. When not studying phytoplankton for her thesis research, she works in guest experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and takes great pride in exposing young audiences to marine science. After starring in our Open House play for the last two years, she took the lead role of Julia Platt in the aquarium's summer production of "Turning the Tides: The Story of Monterey Bay."
Acting is a very unique branch of science communication that taps into the power of imagination. Here, she speaks to its importance in engaging the public and acknowledging the historical contributions of women (HERstory).
Not all heroes wear capes, some wear dresses and their secret power is using a microscope. Women are often under acknowledged and under appreciated in the scientific field. There are many women who made discoveries that were vital to the advancement of science. These were women of impact who were seldom acknowledged for their heroic acts. One of these women of impact is Julia Platt. She was first and foremost a scientist. As a woman of her time, she couldn’t study and practice marine science as much as she would have liked; instead, she turned to policy to make an impact.
Julia Platt is celebrated in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s summer deck show “Turning the Tide: The Story of Monterey Bay.” This summer I had the opportunity to portray Julia Platt. “Turning the Tide” brings the cultural history of Monterey to life with historical reenactments set against the backdrop of beautiful Monterey Bay.
An important message of the show is conservation. One part of the show discusses the rise and fall of the sardine population and consequently the sardine canning businesses. The show addresses how the advancement of fishing and canning technologies allowed people to fish and can fish faster than the fish were able to replenish their populations. Julia Platt, the mayor of Pacific Grove at the time, decided to set aside Marine Protected Areas of Monterey Bay so that the ecosystem could be protected and revived. Even people without a science background can appreciate marine conservation when the ideas are presented in an entertaining format. When people understand, they can be inspired, and inspiration can lead to action.
Not every child is going to grow up to be a marine biologist, but every child can be inspired to conserve the ocean and to protect natural resources. “Turning the Tide: The Story of Monterey Bay” is unique because it provides the perfect opportunity to share important information in an informal way. The secret lies with how the information is presented. Theater and storytelling are ways to connect with people and can be a way to share important messages of conservation and sustainability. People are more able to remember information that they connect with or when they are entertained. If you have a topic you are very interested and passionate about, consider theater as a way to share it.
As a young girl, women scientists were heroes to me as they solved some of the largest problems that our world faced. I am so pleased that we will have more than 100 women joining Congress this term. I can’t wait to hear the stories they bring to the table. I just want today’s young people to know that a woman’s place is in the lab, contributing to the field of science, a woman’s place is on the stage, a woman’s place is in Congress, and a woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be.
One thing is for certain -- women play an important part in the sciences and history. Portraying a woman scientist (Julia Platt) of the past while a graduate student of Moss Landing Marine Labs was very special. “Turning the Tide: The Story of Monterey Bay” combined my passions for science, policy, storytelling, and the theater arts in a seamless show. I was able to connect with young people who had their own stories to tell. Perhaps a little girl sitting in the audience of “Turning the Tide" this summer will have been inspired and will grow up to make HERstory!
Congratulations are in order for the eight students who successfully defended their research theses this past semester (Fall 2016)! Student research spanned from California to French Polynesia, from plankton to marine mammals. Read below to learn about the main points of their research, and if you have any questions or want to get in touch with the recent graduates, please leave a comment!
Those of us working on the ballast project in the Biological Oceanography lab are closely tied with the Cal Maritime Academy and their training ship, the Golden Bear. So, wherever the ship goes, we go! This summer’s training cruise for the cadets took the Golden Bear across the Pacific from San Francisco, California to Busan, South Korea, then throughout the South Pacific and eventually to the island of Saipan. One of our team members, Marilyn Cruickshank, volunteered on the trans-Pacific crossing, gathering surface water samples along the way and conducting a variety of assays to get an idea of the biomass out in the open ocean.
Once in Busan, the rest of our team joined Marilyn to test the ballast water treatments systems currently onboard the Golden Bear. In order to determine if the treatment systems are truly effective, it is important to test in environments that are challenging enough and have a high number of organisms. We were able to conduct a few tests in the productive waters near South Korea and once again when the ship took a quick detour to Manila Bay in the Philippines.
When we weren’t testing ballast treatment systems, the team continued surface water sampling and analysis of biomass in the waters of the South Pacific. Specifically, we were interested in the new ATP measurement method that Jules Kuo developed as part of her thesis project in comparison with the traditional oceanographic ATP measurement methods that have been used for decades.
Our trip concluded in Saipan, where we were able to enjoy a little time off to snorkel in the beautiful waters surrounding the island. The ballast team flew back to California but the Golden Bear will continue sailing throughout the Pacific. Later this summer, we will re-board in southern California for another round of tests!
The week before spring break, I had the pleasure of going on two class cruises back to back on MLML’s research vessel, the Point Sur. On Monday, I set sail with the biological oceanography class as we went out into the Monterey Bay to do a few CTD casts. The Point Sur is equipped with many oceanographic devices, and one of the most important is the CTD, or conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor. Once the CTD is lowered into the water and through the water column, we can get real-time information about the conditions at each depth. Surrounding the CTD is a rosette of 12 open bottles that can be triggered to close whenever we desire, so as we pull the device back up and onto the ship, we can also sample seawater at various depths.
The biological oceanography class was particularly interested in phytoplankton and how they differ among different depths. After collecting water samples from the CTD rosette, several different measurements were made, including ATP concentrations and variable fluorescence through a PAM fluorometer. We also filtered water at each depth so that we could later conduct chromatographic analysis on the pigments found in each sample.
The next day, I went out with the chemical oceanography class. Early in the day, we also utilized the CTD to collect water samples at various depths to measure the nitrate, phosphate, and silicate composition at each depth. In addition, we got to deploy the multi-corer, which allowed us to collect sediment samples from the bottom of the ocean. Net tows were done to gather concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton.
A smaller group of students was also selected to launch a small boat from the Point Sur and collect surface water samples.
We were fortunate enough to have beautiful weather on both days, resulting in two incredible cruises out in the Monterey Bay. For many students, it was their first opportunity to be aboard the Point Sur, and I’m sure we’re all hoping it wasn’t our last.
Ballast water treatment and testing is a big focus here in the Biological Oceanography lab, and this is no exception even when it comes to class projects. Last semester, I started a project aiming to improve one of our counting techniques. I’d previously written about IMO’s restriction to 10 organisms per 1,000 liters of discharged ballast water and counting zooplankton under a microscope in order to check for these results. But when it comes to even smaller organisms, such as algae and other even tinier phytoplankton, different methods are called for.
We already have a pretty clever way of quantifying such microscopic organisms by using a few chemical and optical tricks. The first key ingredient is fluorescein diacetate, or FDA. One of the special features of this molecule is that it can only be cleaved by certain proteins in live cells. Once FDA is split, what remains is fluorescein, a compound that glows bright green when excited under blue light. We can then use an epifluorescence microscope to both shine the right wavelength of light and magnify a sample in order to count any green organisms. If it glows green, then it means it’s alive! This allows us to quantify the number of live organisms that are extremely small and difficult to see.
Unfortunately, even such a clever method has a few key disadvantages. First of all, these water samples must be counted in a 3D well-plate, making it very difficult to find organisms at different depths. This is like trying to count chickpeas in an Olympic sized swimming pool! Secondly, fluorescein eventually leaks out of cells, so these samples have to be counted immediately after they’ve been treated and they can’t be preserved over time. That’s a bit too time-consuming and inconvenient for ballast treatment testers.
What I investigated at the end of last semester is the possibility of preparing samples on flat slides. This would eliminate the depth-of-focus issue and as a bonus, allow us to take photographs of known volumes of samples. I also experimented with a variety of fixation methods, or ways of preserving the fluorescein inside cells so that it would stay there for an extended period of time. Surprisingly, microwaving the slides seemed to do a fairly good job of keeping the fluorescence within the cells. These findings have given me an exciting jumping-off point for this semester!
Although I’m only a first-year graduate student here at Moss Landing, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the ballast water testing team with the Biological Oceanography lab for over a year now. Aquatic invasive species have become an increasingly large problem across the globe and one of the ways organisms make their way to non-native waters is through the ballast tanks of ships. The IMO (International Maritime Organization) is now requiring all ships to reduce the number of live zooplankters in their ballast tanks to only 10 in every 1000 liters. Since most zooplankton are microscopic, you can imagine that this is an incredibly challenging thing to accomplish!
But another huge challenge that our team directly faces is determining whether certain treatment methods have worked. How do we do this? With some good old fashioned counting! First, samples are filtered through a net that catches only organisms that are greater than 50 um in size (which is the size class we count by eye). Then, 5 mL of that sample are pipetted into a serpentine tray, which allows us to count what is in the sample row by row. We can then look under a microscope and manually count every single living zooplankton found in that 5 mL sample. This is sometimes known as the "poke and prod" method, since we may not even be sure if a zooplankter is alive or dead until after we've poked them with a small poker stick. Afterwards, we can use our 5 mL sample counts to extrapolate how many total organisms were found in 1000 liters of the treated water and determine whether the treatment method passed.
In order to make sure our zooplankton counts are as reliable as possible, we have to count samples multiple times. Although the work is time consuming and sometimes back-straining, it’s fun and fascinating to discover all of the tiny, microscopic organisms found in just a few drops of water. Everytime I count a new sample, I wonder what kind of alien-like creatures I’ll find swimming around!
Last week the biological oceanography class took a field trip to the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the MLML Biological Oceanography Lab’s work with ballast water treatment aboard the Training Ship Golden Bear.
We started the day with background about the importance of ballast water treatment for aquatic invasive species management, led by Biological Oceanography Lab students Brian Maurer, Heather Fulton-Bennet, and Julie Kuo.
After that we took a tour of the ship’s engine room, bridge, and saw some of the living quarters. The ship can house up to 350 people and each year takes a 2-month cruise in different parts of the world to train Cal Maritime students about merchant marine operations and engineering.
In the afternoon we took a tour of the marine biology lab, where Biological Oceanography lab students, under the direction of Dr Nick Welshmeyer, analyze the effectiveness of different ballast water treatment methods.