About the blog

This blog follows Museum researchers Martine Couapel and Jeremy Young as they collect minute plant plankton, called coccolithophores, in the Atlantic Ocean.  They are taking part in the AMT18 (Atlantic Meridional Transect 18) oceanographic research cruise in autumn 2008. The cruise will take them from Britain to the Falkland Islands and will last 5 weeks. 

About coccolithophores

Coccolithophores are one of the main groups of plant plankton, forming the basis of the food chain in the ocean. They are single-celled organisms and they produce remarkably elaborate calcium-based skeletons, made up of minute platelets called coccoliths. When the plankton die, these coccoliths fall to the sea bed and add to the sediments there.

Some types of rock that were originally formed under the sea are full of coccoliths, for example chalk.

For a long time, coccoliths have been studied by geologists to find out how old sea floor sediments are. This helps scientists see changes in the marine environment over long periods of time.

More recently, scientists have become more interested in finding out how coccoliths will be affected by global warming and by increasing levels of acidity in the ocean.

The role of the blog

During the cruise Martine and Jeremy will be taking samples of the coccolithophore population in the 200m of sunlit water closest to the surface. They will examine these through a microscope.

This blog is an online diary of their activities and results. It will provide an insight into modern fieldwork, the working life of scientists, and the changing environment as they cross the Atlantic. After the cruise there will be further blog entries describing the progress of their research as they study the coccolithophores that they collected on the cruise.

A more complete picture

Jeremy and Martine’s study will build on previous research in this area. The aim is to build a more complete picture of the current distribution of coccolithophores in the Atlantic. This can be used as a baseline and future surveys will be measured against it to find out if changes have taken place. The baseline information will also help us to predict possible changes before they occur.

The AMT project

The AMT programme is a unique British project. It involves detailed physical, chemical and biological research in the Atlantic and long-term monitoring of the effects of climate change on the ocean.

The project is funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and it makes use of British Antarctic Survey ships. These travel south each year to take essential supplies to British research stations in the Antarctic.

Cartoon image of a hatchet fish on a museum pass

Until 1938 whale carcasses were buried in the Museum grounds so that their flesh would decay leaving only the skeletons.