Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region (CINAR) researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) collaborated with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) to integrate continuous automated microscopic analysis of plankton with a recent Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) program cruise aboard the R/V Okeanos Explorer. The successful deployment produced millions of high resolution plankton images that are providing taxon-specific information about spatial distribution patterns in waters of southern New England and the Gulf of Maine.
Background: Traditional sampling approaches for characterizing plankton are so labor intensive and time-consuming that this kind of information is available only with very limited resolution. New technology developed at WHOI provides a solution that not only meets research needs, but can also contribute to resource management and science-based decision making. Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) combines flow cytometry and video imaging technologies in a submersible instrument that can be operated unattended for many months, producing thousands of high resolution microscope images of planktonic organisms every hour. When combined with automated analysis and classification approaches, this observational capability provides unprecedented characterization of the base of the marine food web, including harmful algal bloom (HAB) species. With appropriate transition, IFCB technology (now commercially available; McLane Research Laboratories, Inc.) could be incorporated as a routine component of EcoMon and other regional surveys as an on-board, flow-through system, reducing manual labor and providing more detailed and more highly resolved observations.
Collage of plankton images showing the diversity of micro-organisms observed by IFCB during the EcoMon survey
Significance: This research project paves the way for more efficient and detailed characterization of status and change in lower trophic levels, a critical element of monitoring that supports an Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) approach for resource management. As such, this research is aligned with NOAA’s Strategic Plan goal of improved understanding of ecosystems to inform resource management decisions.
Contact Information: Dr. Heidi M. Sosik, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution