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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of New Hampshire
  • Robert T Letscher
  • (603) 862-1008
Award Date:09/13/2019
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 491,322
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 491,322
  • FY 2019=$491,322
Start Date:09/15/2019
End Date:08/31/2023
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Collaborative Research: Transparent exopolymer and phytoplankton vertical migration as sources for preformed nitrate anomalies in the subtropical N. Pacific Ocean
Federal Award ID Number:1923687
DUNS ID:111089470
Parent DUNS ID:001765866
Program Officer:
  • Cynthia Suchman
  • (703) 292-2092

Awardee Location

Awardee Cong. District:01

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of New Hampshire
Cong. District:01

Abstract at Time of Award

The ocean is usually layered, with light and oxygen in the warmer surface and nutrients at the cooler depths. Biological and physical processes determine this distribution. Marine algae grow in the well-lit upper layers but need nutrients to grow. However, in the subtropics, the ocean's largest biome, the relationship between oxygen and nitrate (a key nutrient required for photosynthesis) is different from expected. Two processes could explain this. Nutrients could be transported upward by migrating giant single-celled algae (phytoplankton). Another explanation is that the production of an organic material called transparent exopolymer (TEP) takes up carbon without using nutrients or exporting carbon to depth, as would occur in photosynthesis. While both processes could be occurring, the relative contribution of migrating phytoplankton versus TEP would tell us whether the observed oxygen pattern in the upper ocean results from photosynthesis. This problem relates to the general question of where and how nutrients reach the well-lit surface waters to enable photosynthesis. These hypotheses are tested at the Hawaii Ocean Time-Series using in-situ camera systems to image and quantify the giant phytoplankton and direct water samples to measure the vertical distribution of TEP. The data are entered into numerical models to calculate the nitrate to oxygen relationships and add information about the carbon cycle. In addition to training of undergraduate students and a postdoctoral fellow, the cruises provide an opportunity to prepare a cadre of communication fellows who will develop materials and media, including videos, to translate this highly complex scientific concepts for the general public. The social media campaign #SaveOur70 provides a valuable venue to reach and engage with the public. Quantifying nutrient transport, utilization, and its relationship to carbon drawdown in the subtropical gyres is fundamental to our understanding of the carbon cycle. Geochemical distributions from the well-characterized time-series sites near Hawaii and Bermuda have long-served to identify previously unknown links between subsurface nitrate fields, summertime dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) drawdown, and net community production in the absence of known nutrient sources. Two recently suggested processes rise to prominence to explain anomalies in subtropical distributions of dissolved carbon, oxygen, and nitrate in the upper ocean: 1) nutrient transport by giant phytoplankton that vertically migrate, and 2) cycling of low N organic matter between the mixed layer and the upper nutricline as transparent exopolymer particles (TEP) or gel-like organic material (GLOM). While linked at a fundamental level (phytoplankton are TEP producers), the outcome of the two processes are distinct. Vertical migration of phytoplankton is an active transport of nitrate, acquired in the nutricline, to the surface. There is an implication of subsequent reduction, photosynthetic carbon fixation and eventual export. TEP/GLOM cycling results in apparent DIC drawdown but there is no net export out of the surface layer and no requirement for additional nutrient sources in the mixed layer. This project collects the data to quantify the contribution of these two processes to the observed anomalies in nitrate to oxygen distribution at the time-series station at Hawaii (HOT). This is accomplished by enumerating the vertically migrating, aflagellate flora (VMF), implementing a 1-D model on vertical migration, and coupling these results with a 1-D model of the contribution of N-poor carbon cycling patterns in the upper water column derived from TEP and carbohydrate measurements. The combined VMF and TEP/GLOM 1-D models are used to model the dissolved oxygen, carbon, and nitrate budgets at HOT allowing for attribution of both hypothesized processes to the observed preformed nitrate distribution, its formation rate, and summertime inorganic carbon drawdown. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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