Phytoplankton

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The Beast and the big “What if?”

Friday, February 19th, 2010

For many SERC scientists, field research comes to a halt in the winter. Some manage to head off to the tropics to investigate invasive species or mangroves, but not photobiologist Pat Neale. Neale and his assistants are spending a good part of their time these days in his lab with the Beast.

Photobiologist Pat Neale with his photoinhibitron

Photobiologist Pat Neale wears eyeglasses that protect him from the Beast's UV rays.

The Beast does not bite, but if you look at it the wrong way it will hurt you. In fact it can char your corneas if you’re not careful. That’s because it reflects and filters ultraviolet light. UV rays are invisible to the naked eye, but are high in energy and potentially damaging to animals and plants. As a photobiologist Neale studies how UV rays affect aquatic environments and the organisms that live in them.
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From the Bay of Bengal, a dinoflagellate makes its way to the Smithsonian

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

A photo of one end of the dinoflagellate Amphisolenia quadrispina.

A photo of one end of the dinoflagellate Amphisolenia quadrispina. Photo by Sharyn Hedrick

It’s a rare event when our phytoplankton taxonomist, Sharyn Hedrick, sees something new. She’s observed and photographed hundreds of species of dinoflagellates, diatoms, algae and the like. Phytoplankton are the microscopic organisms that float in the ocean’s photic zone where they can photosynthesize and become a source of food for other creatures in the food web.

It’s not an exaggeration to say Hedrick was ecstatic when she peered into her inverted phase contrast microscope and found Amphisolenia quadrispina floating in her sample. “For 20 years I’ve been hoping to see something like this,” she said. A. quadrispina has a unique long, thin shape that resembles a stick, more than it does other dinoflagellates. It’s huge too — between 600 to 700 microns, which is still smaller than the tip of a needle, but large by phytoplankton standards.
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