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Adrift on a boat in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, the most astounding sight is the utter absence of anything to see. The glassy calm water is undisturbed and gently undulating for miles in every direction. Even if you peer over the edge of the deck into the crystalline blue water, the light of the sun penetrates to a depth of around 600 feet without anything to block its path. There appears to be nothing to see but water here, but looks can be deceiving. It's the impossibly small organisms and their disproportionately large impact on the ecosystem who lured me and a team of scientists to brave the high seas, a curious shark, and an impending hurricane. We came to the middle of the ocean to tap into the secret lives of the microbes that call the open ocean home. We recently published our results in The ISME Journal.
In the summer of 2015, a team from Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory–Sonya Dyhrman, Sheean Haley, and I–packed up the contents of our laboratory and shipped it to the other side of the planet. We followed close behind, thankfully with less baggage, and joined approximately 60 biological oceanographers from around the world in Honolulu, Hawaii. From there, we were destined for the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre aboard a fleet of two research vessels.
Expedition - Simons - Foundation - Simons - Collaboration
Our expedition was funded by the Simons Foundation and called the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology, or SCOPE. The mission of SCOPE is to measure and model how marine microbes interact with and influence each other and the environment at large. These processes take place hundreds of miles away from dry land, but they have critical importance for all life on earth. After all, microscopic marine plants, or phytoplankton, are responsible for roughly half of the...
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