Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Research from the Sea Floor

How do you carry two biologists, seven students, clipboards full of data and equipment to create a floating lab over the Atlantic Ocean? Meet the Ixthus—Gordon’s very own biology boat.

Though he usually spends his time on large research ocean vessels, Gordon’s newest biology faculty member, Walter Cho, is a deep sea biologist with big plans for his students this year. Before coming to Gordon, Cho was a researcher studying the BP oil spill and the potential ecological damage it was responsible for in the Gulf of Mexico. Since coming to Gordon this fall, he’s been anticipating getting out on the water and introducing the labs of the Atlantic to his students at Gordon. Recently Cho took his Marine Science class out into the waters of Ipswich Bay to collect samples of the water column and sediment to study the physical and biological characteristics of this environment.

Their transportation at sea? The Ixthus—a 21-foot power boat equipped with a Van Dorn-type water sampler to study the water column; a petite ponar benthic grab to study seafloor sediments and animals; a plankton net to study animals that live at the sea surface; several water quality meters to study water chemistry; and an underwater video camera to study the benthic habitat and animals.

Cho let the class design the cruise plan, and his students decided on different sites around Ipswich Bay. “They were interested in comparing sites near shore, off shore, and near an estuary to see if there were differences in the habitat and animals that live there,” said Cho. The deep sea biologist hopes the samples and information they collected from the Ixthus will teach his students about variability in the marine environment and help them appreciate the different physical and biological factors that influence that variability. “Now that the data is collected, we plan to scrutinize it and hope to find at least one variable that correlates to the biodiversity and abundance of these waters,” said Travis Keeler ’12, a  biology major from Littleton, New Hampshire. “Having a marine biology boat at Gordon creates so many exciting opportunities. It was great to be one of the first classes at Gordon to use it for research.”

In addition to taking samples of the sediment, water and plankton, and documenting the characteristics of the habitat and animals, the students also took photos and video footage of the ocean floor for further analysis. “We were all excited by the video footage we collected of the seafloor,” said Cho. “We found sand dollars, several skates—that even bumped the camera a bit—a flounder and some small crustaceans. We were even able to use the video camera to document our benthic sediment sampler in situ, watching as it took a sample from the seafloor."

Special Thanks: The department of Biology at Gordon College would like to thank the Ipswich Bay Yacht Club for use of a guest mooring for the purposes of this research.

This is the 50th anniversary year of the Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science at Gordon College. Departments include Biology, Chemistry, Kinesiology, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Physics and 3-2 Engineering.

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