Many people would likely jump at the opportunity when offered a 19-day cruise of the Atlantic Ocean aboard a 279-foot ship during the warm summer months. Hesitation may ensue when it is revealed that the purpose of the cruise is not to get a tan and relax, but instead to “study the links between the biomass of surface ocean phytoplankton and the production in the lower atmosphere of freshly-emitted sea-spray aerosols.” For two Millersville University students and one professor, this mouthful of a mission is a reality.
The expedition, a project called the West Atlantic Climate Study (WACS II) saw Dr. Robert Vaillancourt and students Jeremiah Stone and Evan Ntonados cruising the North Atlantic aboard the research vessel, the Knorr, from May 18 to June 7.
“WACS II is an excellent example of the importance of viewing the ocean and atmosphere as one integrated system and how surface ocean biology can have important impacts on the chemistry of the lower atmosphere, and thus affect global climate,” said Vaillancourt, assistant professor of earth sciences.
Vaillancourt, a seasoned ocean researcher, has spent time studying in the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea during his research career.
Stone and Ntonados measured phytoplankton (which are minute plant organisms carried by water), biomass and species composition during the cruise, using that information and subsequent analysis as part of their senior theses at Millersville. The two also plan to present their findings at international meetings over the next two years.
The WACS II is a collaborative project, led by Dr. Patricia Quinn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. Scientists and researchers from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Oregon State University, Naval Research Laboratory, Harvard University, Texas A&M University, University of Washington and Rutgers University are also participating in the study.