Huntingdon resident Evan Quinn and a team of researchers have been investigating the effects of ocean acidification on phytoplankton, a key food source for ocean ecosystems, at Juniata College.
The research specifically addresses coccolithophors, nicknamed “coccos” for short.
“Coccos are like small, chalky soccer balls,” said Quinn. “They calcify just like coral. They’re phytoplankton. They’re super important because they take CO2 out of the environment and transport them to water column.”
Although difficult to conceptualize in themselves, phytoplankton keep the ecosystems of the oceans functioning.
“They (phytoplankton) are the energy source for the whole system,” said Quinn. “They get eaten by zoo plankton which get eaten by macro-organisms that get eaten by fish. It’s hard to picture how important they are because you can’t see them, but they’re essential.”
The team of researchers, comprised of Quinn, a recent Juniata College graduate with a degree in marine biology, and his advisers Dr. Neil Pelkey, a professor of environmental studies, and Dr. Sonia Bejarano Head of the Reef Systems Workgroup at Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research, hypothesize that ocean acidification will negatively affect the plankton community.
“Climate change is making the oceans warmer and because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere, there’s more CO2 and carbon absorbed in the ocean,” said Quinn. “When water interacts with CO2 it turns into hydrogen ions which makes the ocean more acidic. Which is bad, which makes things like coral, snails, anything that has a shell. What worrisome is that as CO2 keeps going up the coccos won’t be able to build their shells as well.”
We are starting to see signs that the decrease in phytoplankton may have significant effects on coastal regions.
“For people that are living on the coast that really depend on fisheries or the tourist industry, it’s not certain whether the fisheries will start to collapse where phytoplankton has started to go down,” he said. “A few fisheries where the phytoplankton has gone down the fish population has started to decline because everything underneath them is starting to crash.”
Quinn hopes the research that started at the end of October will continue on a larger scale at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, Germany starting in January 2020 and finishing at the end of April 2020.
“The plan is that we’re going to do a field sample as well as order some coccolithophore and put them under ocean acidification. Everyone is just looking at coccolithophore, no one is looking at the broader picture and what that means for the natural environment. That’s what we want to investigate,” said Quinn.
The future research currently hinges on raising enough funds in the next six days to cover travel expenses to Germany and materials required to conduct the research.
As of the time of publication, $1,130 of the $1,900 needed for the research has been raised.
“I want to stress this is an all or nothing campaign, so if we don’t hit 100% then we don’t receive any of the money,” said Quinn.
A fundraising dinner will be held from 5-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at Stone Town Gallery.
The event will have live music and proceeds from the dinner will go towards meeting the $1,900 fundraising goal.
For more information on the research project and to contribute to the fundraising campaign you can visit: https://experiment.com/projects/how-does-ocean-acidification-affect-carbon-dioxide-sequestration-in-coccolithophores.
Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.