A University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science-led research cruise leaves for the deep Atlantic Ocean 50 miles southeast of Bermuda on August 5 for a week of science at sea aboard the 171-foot R/V Atlantic Explorer. Scientists are sampling the depths of the ocean and analyzing bacterial diversity and function to better understand the marine carbon cycle in the ocean.

The team of scientists and graduate students are collecting water samples at different depths from oligotrophic, deep blue water—every 200 meters all the way to nearly 5,000 meters—from a fixed point in the Atlantic Ocean. The incremental sampling will provide a diversity of marine organisms because the community will change depending on the depths. Then they will use next generation sequencing tools to sequence the genomes of bacterial communities. Their goal: to understand how cyanobacteria contribute to the marine carbon cycle.

The ocean plays an important role in the global carbon cycle. Nearly 50% of carbon dioxide generated by human activities, such as fossil fuel burning, is absorbed by the ocean. Carbon moves in and out of the ocean daily, but it is also stored there for thousands of years. The ocean is called a carbon “sink” because it takes up more carbon from the atmosphere than it gives up.

The team includes Associate Professor Michael Gonsior, post-doctoral research Leanne Powers and graduate student Madeleine Lahm; Professor Feng Chen and graduate students Daniel Fucich, Ana Sosa, and Menqi Sun; and Assistant Professor Jacob Cram and research assistant Ashley Collins.

UMCES researchers will be joined by Professor Norbert Hertkorn of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Health, Munich, Germany and Shannon Leigh McCallister, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, and researchers from the University of Delaware.

This is part one of the research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Next year researchers will be exploring what is happening in the Pacific Ocean and what the differences are between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.