I carefully lifted the small glass vial from the box and gently pulled its cap off. Careful not to spill the ethanol on my clothes, I slowly poured a little onto the microscope tray. Then I used tweezers to lift out the preserved specimen. It was a deep-sea amphipod about the same size as a grain of rice. I typed the information into my spreadsheet as I went . . . date: February 20, 2017 . . . specimen number 417. Peering down the microscope, I carefully measured and dissected the specimen.
These tiny amphipods live in the deepest parts of Earth’s blue oceans. Humans have explored space and looked back at our blue planet. More than two-thirds of it is covered in water. But how and why do we dive down deep to study the depths?
Over the years, technology available to marine scientists has improved immensely. As a young oceanographer, I am lucky enough to be able to use satellite data to measure things like primary production—the use of carbon dioxide and nutrients by tiny phytoplankton. However, a lot of what we can see and measure from space is limited to looking at the surface of the oceans. We can gauge the depth of the ocean from space, but what’s contained within is largely a mystery.
Out to Sea
Even up close and personal, from the deck of a research vessel, we require tools to help us understand what’s happening below the surface. Five years ago, I stepped onto Research Vessel Callista for the first time as a bright-eyed marine science student. We used one of the most basic methods for sampling the seafloor: we lowered a large metal claw through the water column until it hit mud. Someone pulled a trigger, and it clamped shut. A few minutes later we hauled it back up to the boat, and vast quantities of mud and water spilled out across the deck. We trawled through the limpets, crabs, sea squirts, and occasional sea stars, learning about the local biology. As my interests developed, I wanted to learn about deeper, darker realms. With that came new methodologies.
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