A full-size lab inside a tiny float

(Image credit: Philip Kulisev/Monaco Explorations)

Small but Mighty

“One single BGC float is like a tiny research vessel that will operate autonomously for five to six years and send its data every 10 days,” Hervé Claustre says. A float also costs a lot less than the simplest and shortest research vessel campaign. On top of the temperature and salinity sensors already found on Core Argo floats, a BGC Argo float carries six additional sensors for sampling oxygen, pH, nitrates, chlorophyll, suspended particles, and light.

A BGC float and the six biogeochemical parameters. (Image credit: ERC REFINE)

“The idea is to understand how climate change impacts marine ecosystems, their biodiversity, and functioning,” explains Emanuele Organelli, a marine ecology researcher from the Italian National Research Council (CNR), working today for Argo Italy, a member of the Euro-Argo consortium. Dramatic changes in marine ecosystems have repercussions on living marine resources, such as fisheries all around the world. By better understanding global marine ecosystems, scientists can better advise policymakers on the urgent actions needed to anticipate and mitigate these potentially dramatic effects on marine resources.

A Suite Sensors

The BGC floats provide the tools to collect a wide array of key data for marine ecology. Oxygen sensors can detect regions where oxygen is scarce. As the oceans are getting warmer, their circulation is getting weaker. Consequently, there are fewer exchanges between oceans and the atmosphere and less oxygen entering oceans in certain areas. pH sensors can measure ocean acidification. The excess carbon dioxide from human activity is absorbed by the oceans and transforms into acid via a chemical reaction in the water. This phenomenon has dire consequences for marine life.

Nitrates, chlorophyll, and light sensors are used to monitor phytoplankton, microscopic marine algae. It is an essential component of the food chain: phytoplankton is consumed by zooplankton, microscopic drifting animals, and zooplankton is the main food source of small fish and other marine animals. Moreover, the quantity and types of phytoplankton thriving in one region give a lot of information about the local ecosystem. Each type, or community, of phytoplankton modifies the intensity and color of marine lightscapes.

With light sensors, scientists can identify these colors and study the diversity of such communities. Scientists can also assess phytoplankton biomass in a particular area by measuring chlorophyll and suspended particles in the water. In the long run, they should be able to deduce the distribution of phytoplankton communities all around the planet. That, in turn, will help them assess how healthy marine ecosystems are and how sustainable the harvest of living marine resources is in different regions of the planet.

ECO, 15 November 2023. Full article.

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