A swath of new instruments debuted during a 25 day expedition across the Pacific exploring a wide variety of oceanic ecosystems. The focus of chief scientist Dr. Ivona Cetinic´, USRA/NASA, and her team of oceanographers, engineers, biologists, and computer scientists was to explore ocean particles, and more specifically the tiny phytoplankton that make up the base of our food web.
The research will allow the science team to learn how plankton and other living things in the ocean contribute to global climate. The team will use the collected information to ground-truth satellite observation of ocean color (influenced by phytoplankton), and better understand the processes each planktonic community carries out with regards to the carbon and nitrogen cycles.
"This cruise allowed us, for the first time, to follow particles all the way from space with NASA satellites through the surface of the ocean, to ocean depths. The oceans are changing and having accurate ocean color satellites will allow scientists to monitor change over a long period of time,” said Cetinić.
Early results reveal some unexpected players in oceanic carbon export. Further molecular and image analysis will allow the scientists to explore this new hypothesis and the effect that it might have on the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. New instruments such as the time-lapse sediment trap camera and the holographic camera provide a new way to collect imagery and data about particle size distribution. The NASA-funded FERPS-particle sizer, obtained continuous information about the size of microscopic particles in the ocean for the first time. The high-resolution imagery also provided new insight, collecting over one million images and over two billion hyperspectral continuous optical data, which will assist the development of mathematical formulae to distinguish types of phytoplankton using the next generation of satellites (such as NASA’s upcoming PACE mission). Data collected during the expedition was visualized in near-real-time Virtual Reality also for the first time; allowing scientists to immerse themselves in the data.