Research expeditions and global ocean changes: Bigelow Laboratory’s August 9 Café Scientifique

The interrelated challenges of climate change and ocean acidification are the focus of Bigelow Laboratory’s Café Scientifique on Tuesday August 9 at 6 p.m. in the Boothbay Harbor Opera House, 86 Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor. Led by Bigelow Senior Research Scientist Dr. Barney Balch, the discussion is titled Voyages of Discovery: Polar Phytoplankton, Climate Change, and the “Global Squeeze Play.”

Balch and members of the Bigelow Ocean Observing and Optics laboratory are returning at the end of this month from a five-week expedition to the Arctic Ocean aboard the 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker R/V Healy. The Bigelow team joined over 40 other scientists as part of a multi-year, interdisciplinary project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) called ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment).

“The mission was to use a combination of satellite remote sensing and state-of-the-art chemical, physical, and biological sensors to assess the impact of melting sea ice on the health of the Arctic Ocean region,” said Balch. “Our focus was on the changes taking place in the chemistry and biology of the ocean at the microscopic level and how those changes are affecting the global carbon cycle on a planetary scale.”

“The burning of fossil fuels is predicted to nearly double the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” he added.  “This increase will be responsible for a whole host of changes on the planet, including increased temperatures, intensification of the Earth’s water cycle, and acidification of the oceans.”

In January 2011, Balch led a major, multi-institutional expedition across the South Atlantic to investigate the impact of increasing ocean acidity on the Great Southern Coccolithophore Belt, the largest recurring algal bloom in the Southern Hemisphere. This research voyage, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, was the first systematic study of coccolithophores, the abundant single-celled marine plants that cover themselves with hard calcium carbonate scales and are part of the foundation of the food chain in the world’s oceans.

A biological oceanographer, Balch’s research focus includes bio-optics, biocalcification, and the biological productivity of the world’s oceans. He is developing new ways to study phytoplankton communities and ocean acidification using measurements of ocean color, sea surface temperature, and light both at sea and through remote sensing by satellites.

Café Scientifique talks are free and open to the public, with beer, wine, and sodas available for purchase. This is the seventh of ten Bigelow Laboratory summer science conversations, held every Tuesday evening from 6 to 7 p.m. through August 30. The complete 2011 summer Café Scientifique program is posted on the Laboratory’s website ( Sign up for regular email updates about Bigelow Laboratory at

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography — examining the biology in the world’s oceans at the molecular level — to the large-scale ocean processes that affect global environmental conditions. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory is spurring significant economic growth in the state through construction of a major Ocean Science and Education Campus in East Boothbay.

Contact: Tatiana Brailovskaya, Director of Communications, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, (207) 633-9633;

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. 28 July 2011. Article.

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