Incorporation of trace elements (TE) into plankton, and the chemical, geological, biological and biochemical mechanisms which influence this process, are of central importance to our understanding of the biogeochemical functioning of the oceans. Bioactive TEs such as Fe, Zn, Co, Cu and Ni have the potential to control ocean productivity, ecosystem structure, and the utilization of macronutrients in large regions of the global ocean. Numerous laboratory studies have been performed to study the responses of cellular TE quotas in model strains to varying environmental conditions, but accurate measurements of TE stoichiometries in cells and biogenic material collected from natural communities are rare. Measurements of bulk particulate TE stoichiometries typically rely on comparison to laboratory results to assess the biogenic component, precluding study of cellular responses to geochemical gradients.

In this project, investigators at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the University of Maine will measure TEs in plankton cells representing major functional groups and in bulk particulate matter along the US GEOTRACES South Pacific Zonal Transect from Peru to Tahiti in 2013. U.S.GEOTRACES is the US component of the international GEOTRACES program which was initiated to advance our knowledge of the concentrations, physical and chemical speciation, and spatial distributions of TEs in the ocean. The Pacific transect will run from a highly productive eastern boundary upwelling system with an intense oxygen minimum zone to the southeast Pacific gyre, one of the world's most oligotrophic regimes. Specifically, the investigators expect to accomplish the following objectives: (1) Measure cellular quotas of P, Si, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu and Zn in major functional groups of phytoplankton across horizontal productivity gradients in the eastern tropical South Pacific Ocean; (2) Measure cellular quotas of P, Si, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu and Zn in phytoplankton and bacteria across vertical redox gradients in the OMZ of the eastern tropical South Pacific Ocean; ( 3) Measure total and labile concentrations of Al, Ti, P, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd, V and Mo in bulk particulate material collected from the upper 500 m with GO-Flo bottles.

Broader Impacts: The broader impacts and environmental relevance of this research will be communicated to educators and the general public through a dedicated webinar series to be organized in coordination with COSEE-Ocean Systems. This series will involve 5 webinars delivered sequentially and covering the science results produced by this project, as well as results and synthesis from four other GEOTRACES projects from the South Pacific cruise. These seminars will describe the broader goals and significance of the international GEOTRACES program, promoting this global geochemical program to educators and citizens, as well as synthesizing findings on various aspects of the project (dissolved, particulate, and biogenic trace metals; metal binding ligands; natural radionuclide tracers). Information from GEOTRACES will also be introduced to undergraduate students through Bigelow's REU program and through an undergraduate course being taught to students at nearby Colby College.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)
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Henrietta N. Edmonds
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Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
East Boothbay
United States
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