SEA Days: Ocean Love 2017

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days!

As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration, and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego scientist or other local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Name: Ben Whitmore (1 of 4 scientists that will be present)

Hometown: Maple Plain, Minnesota

Schooling background: Undergraduate- Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida

1 word to describe a characteristic a scientist must have: Patience!!!!

This Autonomous Underwater Vehicle has a camera system attached to it called a Zooglider, which is used to observe plankton.

How does California Current Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research work affect a person’s everyday life?

The research we conduct in the CCE can better improve our understanding of the plankton dynamics in the ecosystem right next door. Plankton are important as they give us 50% of the oxygen in the world. Also, they are the base of the food web, so without them there would not be larger fish/crabs/lobsters for us to eat.

How did you decide to work on this particular issue?

I work with the Zooglider. It is a camera system that is mounted to front of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), basically an unmanned underwater robot. This camera lets us see the very small plankton (0.2-2mm) at the scales they interact with each other at (~5 cm). I got involved with this project because of my background in engineering and I wanted to help study the ocean. I had done some previous work with imaging plankton at an algal biofuel company in Florida, and both my adviser Dr. Mark Ohman and I thought it would be a good fit.

How do you predict the story of our California ecosystem will change in the future?

It’s extremely difficult to predict what the ocean will do. But, if we see changes in water temperature, differences in wind patterns and upwelling (the bringing of deep nutrient filled water to the surface), we could see different plankton communities develop, which may lead to different types and numbers of fish/mammals.

A photo of plankton captured by the Zooglider.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego