National Science Foundation Fellow Karen Stamiezkin discuses her research on zooplankton fecal pellet carbon export in the ocean.
The ocean’s full of lots of tiny living creatures. Everything in the ocean, all life, is based on carbon like all life on land. The ocean is actually a sink for carbon.
As organisms in the ocean grow, they use carbon to build up their bodies. When they breathe out, they respire carbon dioxide like living things on land. Of course, also, in the atmosphere, there’s a lot of carbon dioxide.
This is a hot topic right now because we’re putting more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But the more and more life that grows in the ocean, they can actually take up that carbon from the atmosphere, store it in their bodies, store in the ocean. We’re very interested in this cycle of carbon between the atmosphere and the ocean.
Obviously, Maine is part of the world and, since these are issues facing the whole world, they face Maine as well. Maine’s also in a unique situation where we are right off of the Gulf of Maine, so this small sea, a shallow sea that stretches basically up to Nova Scotia and down to Cape Cod. We have this basin that contains a lot of marine life.
A lot of our fisheries rely on the Gulf of Maine’s health and so forth, but we actually can use the Gulf of Maine as a living laboratory in a way. It’s an interesting area to study. It’s very dynamic. Those dynamics in the physical environment in the Gulf of Maine impact the biological communities there.
By studying the physics and the biology in this region just off the coast of Maine, we can learn a lot not just about our home state, but how the whole global ocean works, but by studying the Gulf of Maine.