Methods: Databases
Fields: Biological Sciences, Environmental Science, Oceanography

Project lead: Sophie Clayton (WRF and Moore/Sloan Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Oceanography, eScience Institute)
Post-doc advisors: E. Virginia Armbrust (School of Oceanography), Bill Howe (Computer Science & Engineering and eScience Institute)

Project overview: Microscopic algae (phytoplankton) form the base of the oceanic food chain, and are key players in the biogeochemical cycles of many climatically active elements, such as carbon and nitrogen. I use a combination of modeling approaches, field observations and large-scale data analysis techniques to understand how the oceanic environment shapes patterns in phytoplankton ecology. Since joining UW, I have been working with data collected with the SeaFlow instrument (an underway flow cytometer that describes the community structure of small phytoplankton cells). This represents a rich source of high-resolution (~1km) data on the physical and biological structure of the surface ocean over a large area. I have recently been applying statistical spatial analysis techniques to identify characteristic scales of variation. Preliminary results show that the influence of physical structures (e.g., ocean eddies) on the distribution of phytoplankton biomass and community varies across the North Pacific basin.

Attached figure: Changes in the characteristic length scales of chlorophyll and sea surface temperature over a cruise track and how they relate to patterns in detrended sea surface temperature. There are clear regions where the scales of temperature and chlorophyll are significantly different, and these coincide with features in the structure of sea surface temperature (e.g. the red box shows the signature of an eddy).

Phytoplankton ecology meets big data