Two Natural History Museum scientists begin a blog this week of their 5-week-expedition to the middle of the Atlantic to study tiny plant plankton.
Jeremy Young and Martine Couapel are studying a group of plant plankton called coccolithophores. When these single-celled organisms die, they are buried in the sea floor and studying them can reveal clues to how the marine environment changes over long periods of time.
They are recording every step of their journey in the Atlantic coccolithophores blog, giving a great insight into the actual working life of Museum scientists.
From their journey to the Falklands, to how they collect and analyse the plankton, and what they will do with the information once they return to the Museum, all will be recorded in weekly blog updates.
Coccolithophores are one of the main groups of plant plankton and form the basis of the food chain in the ocean. They produce elaborate calcium-based skeletons, made up of minute platelets called coccoliths. When the plankton die, these coccoliths fall to the sea bed and add to the sediments there.
Geologists study coccoliths to find out how old sea floor sediments are. More recently, scientists have become interested in finding out how coccoliths will be affected by global warming and by increasing levels of acidity in the ocean.
During the cruise Martine and Jeremy will be taking samples of the coccolithophore population in the 200m of sunlit water closest to the surface. They will examine these through a microscope.
After the cruise there will be further blog entries describing the progress of their research as they study the coccolithophores that they collected on the cruise.
Martine and Jeremy are taking part in the AMT18 (Atlantic Meridional Transect 18) oceanographic research cruise, a unique British project. It involves detailed physical, chemical and biological research in the Atlantic and long-term monitoring of the effects of climate change on the ocean.
The UK Natural Environment Research Council funded project makes use of British Antarctic Survey ships. These travel south each year to take essential supplies to British research stations in the Antarctic.