This story first appeared in the SERC quarterly Newsletter winter 2005/2006
Dr. Patrick Neale Returns from Recent
They're too tiny to see with the naked eye, but they drive one of the most significant forces in the global climate machine. That's why photobiologist Patrick Neale is compelled to spend weeks chasing them around one of the coldest corners of the world. Neale led a team of researchers on a 45-day Antarctic cruise to study phytoplankton and other micro-organisms in the Ross Sea.
Like all plants, phytoplankton use the carbon from carbon dioxide (C02) to create plant tissue through photosynthesis. The resulting tissue or organic matter is called "'primary production." Because of their abundance, phytoplankton are responsible for much of the world's primary production. Over time, as phytoplankton die and sink into the depths, they transport vast quantities of carbon from the atmosphere to the ocean floor a process believed to be an important regulator of atmospheric CO2.
During his expeditions south, Neale has been investigating the effects of ultra-violet radiation and vertical mixing on the photosynthesis there. "'Ultimately we should be able to better estimate the productivity of the Southern Ocean, which is an important part of the global carbon budget," Neale said. "'At least the preliminary results from our field measurements. . .suggest that the Ross Sea phytoplankton are among the most UV sensitive in the Southern Ocean," Neale said.
For more information, or to reach Dr. Neale, please contact SERC science writer Kristen Minogue.