The last few weeks of my internship have been eventful and particularly active. We are currently working on two separate projects in the lab and one in the field. In the lab, we’ve been working with algae biomass samples that have been collected and then frozen over the past several years. This alga was collected in various locations on different islands of the Galapagos during differing climatic events; El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), La Nina and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The purpose of collecting, drying and weighing the algae is to observe how these differing climatic events can affect the algae biomass in areas of low, mid and high nutrient productivity. From this data, we can then speculate what the results might mean for the local marine ecosystems. Additionally, the research aims to provide a better understanding of what ecological interactions may be causing the temporal differences in algal biomass. Perhaps the changes are caused by top-down effects; changes in the consumption by herbivorous marine life; marine iguanas, sea turtles, and certain fish. Alternatively the cause may be bottom-up and depend on different nutrient cycling and potentially anthropogenically influenced climatic events such as ENSO. If the results point to the latter, our research will have important implications for climate change research.
The second project is the urchin larvae (Lytechinus semituberculatus), growth manipulation research, which has recently taken us to the field (the ocean) and also required some lab work. We spent several days preparing, cleaning and fixing up the mesocosms in order to manipulate the temperature of the urchin larvae and ultimately observe the differences in growth and metabolism based on water temperature difference. You can see a photo of the mesocosms below. In the last week, we have been kayaking out in to the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to find a specific square shaped microalga to feed to the urchin larvae. I am looking forward to continuing this part of the research.
Most tangibly, these projects have provided me with a larger knowledge of marine research techniques. I have learned to use the oven to dry the algae for biomass measurements, attach a plankton trawl to a kayak, anesthetize microorganisms and identify and classify them in the microscope. Academically, the newer urchin larvae research has led me to realize the enormous amount of ecological change that can be affected by sea surface temperature rise. In past environmental science courses I have learned about how SST increase will lead to sea level rise and ocean acidification. This research however had made me realize the vast extent of micro-level interactions that can have cascading effects on entire marine ecosystems. Additionally, I have also acknowledged that we are just scratching the surface and even after a lifetime of research done by my professor and his colleagues they have an abundance of unanswered questions about what may happen to the oceans as the climate changes.
This experience of doing lab and fieldwork without having a simultaneous lecture or organized class has also left me with many questions. I’ve realized that in order to really stay on top of the research I am doing I need to be up to date with the related research in the field. Reading the papers of my professors and colleagues of my professors is integral in order to have a complete understanding of the material.