SEA Currents: News
May 23, 2019
Exploring the Ocean’s Twilight Zone
Student Researchers Investigate the Microbiome of the Sargasso Sea
In the high seas region of the Sargasso Sea, college researchers pluck samples from the ocean’s twilight zone to study how microbes might affect climate change. On March 30th, undergraduates of Sea Education Association’s Marine Biodiversity and Conservation Program (MBC) boarded the SSV Corwith Cramer, and sailed East from Key West, FL toward the Sargasso Sea, also known as the North Atlantic Gyre. Student researchers Sharla Friend, Mary Noyes and Sarah Stover investigated the microbial biodiversity of the Sargasso Sea’s deep and surface regions, specifically targeting the twilight zone; the region where the sun’s light begins to fade away, sampling communities from as deep as 650m which is about a half mile below the sea’s surface is nearly.
Friend, Noyes, and Stover are one of four research groups on a scientific mission to measure and describe the biological diversity among a variety of taxonomic groups inhabiting the remote Sargasso Sea. Through this project the students hope to provide data that serves as a foundation for future microbial research and advance several hypotheses related to biodiversity in the twilight zone. The data collected can be used to help illuminate how microbial activity in this environment can impact the shifting climate and the health of our global oceans.
The Sargasso Sea and other ocean gyres are responsible for up to 90% of the oceans' carbon sequestration, the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, this process is crucial to regulating carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere regulating climate change. Diverse groups of microbial life are crucial to this ocean carbon pump, transporting dissolved organic carbon (DOC) through plankton migration, particle settling and other biological processes that are occurring in the twilight zone.
The student researchers also collected samples for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Ocean’s Twilight Zone (OTZ) project, a research endeavor that explores the biodiversity, food web, behavior and role of twilight zone inhabitants in the global carbon cycle. The SEA and WHOI collaboration will shed more light on the species richness in this region of our ocean’s waters.