The children at Churchtown Primary School are I gather busy working on the questions we asked them about sinking salp poo. The zooplankton group on board are getting very excited about their results, and already planning the scientific papers that they want to write. We collected more of the zooplankton yesterday so that we can make better estimates of the rate at which they eat and the rate at which they release the faecal pellets. In an attempt to get an idea of what these delicate organisms look like in the ocean we attached a few waterproof cameras to the CTD, and lowered them into the sea surface to record pictures for half an hour or so. I set the challenge to get a picture of a jellyfish or salp in the process of releasing faecal pellets into the water. There was a clear winner (Clare Ostle, from the University of East Anglia), but she was working very early this morning and is currently in bed – so I’ll get the photo for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, to help the kids at Churchtown think about this problem, the picture below has some good examples of the salps (the long, tubular jellies, connected in spirals) and the tiny jellyfish. Another rally interesting organism in this photo can also be seen, just about. The photo looks like it has a fine sprinkling of sawdust in it. These are tiny colonies of a photosynthesising bacteria called trichodesmium. It’s special in the ocean because it is a nitrogen fixer – it is able to use nitrogen gas dissolved in seawater, rather than the form of inorganic nitrogen (nitrate) that most phytoplankton need. That means they can grow in areas where nitrate is in very low concentrations, such as the large areas of open ocean in the sub-tropics. Finding them here is odd, because there is enough nitrate around and so the trichodesmium should not have any advantage compared to other phytoplankton. I’ll find out a bit more about them for another blog entry.