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> May 11, 2006 – SPOTLIGHT ON…Beth Caissie, Beth Talks About Sea Ice Algae
post May 12 2006, 06:06 PM
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May 11, 2006 – Aboard the Healy
Longitude: 174 35.633 W, Latitude: 62 25.072 N

Meet Beth Caissie. Beth is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She studies ancient diatoms, or microscopic one-celled algae that have cell walls made of silica—the same substance that makes up glass. Beth talked with me today about why she went out in the small boat yesterday to collect ice samples (see May 10, 2006 journal) and what the experience was like.

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Although the Bering Sea isn’t ideal for sunbathing, Beth goes out on the deck anyway and catches some rays.

Yesterday, Beth and Marj climbed into a small boat that was hanging off the side of the Healy. Then, members of the Coast Guard slowly lowered the boat onto the Bering Sea so that they could collect algae that were clinging to the sea ice. In case you didn’t read yesterday’s journal, algae are plant-like organisms that transform carbon dioxide and the energy from sunlight to fuel themselves.

Beth said that going down on the boat was unlike anything she’d ever done before. Once she was down on the water, she looked back at the Healy. It was a mammoth of a ship!

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Beth looks back at the Healy and sees just how huge the ship really is.

My big question for Beth was: If she studies ancient diatoms that lived thousands of years ago, why did she want to collect ones that are alive on the ice now?

She explained to me that depending on how long sea ice lingers, different species of diatoms will live in it. In other words, a certain species might live in ice that stays around for 4 or 5 months of the year, while a different species might live in ice that lingers for 7 months.

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Far from the Healy, the small boat lands on ice so that Beth and Marj can collect ice samples.

Ice in the Bering Sea where we are sampling currently sticks around for about 4 or 5 months of the year. So by comparing diatoms living now with ancient ones, she hopes to be able to learn how ice coverage in the Bering Sea has changed over time. For instance, scientists believe that much more ice covered the Bering Sea 20,000 years ago than it does today. The ice extended much farther south and lasted longer too.

This knowledge can help her figure out how much of a climate shift is needed to affect sea ice. This is important, because Earth’s temperatures are rising currently, and sea ice is melting. Scientists think that in 100 years the normally icy Arctic Ocean could be ice free in the summer.

Wow: Who knew that so much information could come from microscopic organisms!
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