NASA, international researchers to Fly, Sail North to Study Plankton-Climate Change Connection
The North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES) has just launched its data collecting project of ocean plankton ecosystems. Phytoplankton account for roughly half of the net photosynthesis on Earth where the consumption of carbon dioxide plays a key role in transferring carbon from the atmosphere to the ocean. These ecosystems, in turn, are integral to climate because of how the rising level of carbon dioxide and ocean emissions (aerosols) are impacted. The NASA Project started November 12 and is part of a four part research mission. This first part will run through early December.
NAAMES will measure plankton using a fleet of ships and aircraft. The data will then be combined with data gathered from satellites. Teams of scientist and researchers are made up of more than 20 different research facilities and academic institutions worldwide. Involved is Atlantis, a research vessel out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that will coordinate its research with NASA’s C-130H Hercules airborne laboratory out of St. John’s International Airport in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Another airborne scientific research includes NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility Aircraft Office in Virginia that runs the C-130H research aircraft. Joining them are 5 sailing crews will from New Zealand known as Planktonauts who are citizen oceanographers part of an international project called Plankton Planet that involves France, New Zealand and the USA. The New Zealand-based Pacific Ocean Initiative is a key supporter of this global project and provides support to the New Zealand-based Plankton Planet team. Similar data gathered in 2014 showed how climate and ecosystem processes affect the growth cycles of phytoplankton.
“We will be studying an ocean region that every year exhibits one of the largest natural phytoplankton blooms on Earth,” said Mike Behrenfeld, NAAMES principal investigator from Oregon State University in Corvallis. “These plankton are also known to release organic compounds into the atmosphere that can be measured as far away as Ireland. That makes the North Atlantic an ideal place to study how plankton blooms are recreated each year by ecological and physical processes, and how ocean biology is involved in the sea-air exchange of organic aerosols and trace gases that may influence clouds and climate.”
NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, has science and project management responsibilities for NAAMES and science instruments onboard the C-130H. The agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, leads project data management.