Biological Oceanography

BioOc Dolphins

In the summer of 1983 "Every breath you take..." by The Police was on everybody’s lips. But did you know that every other breath you take comes from the ocean, produced by microscopic phytoplankton? We refer to this process as primary production, because it is the most basic process to convert the energy from the sun into chemical forms of energy that can be used by higher organisms. As such, marine primary production is not only at the bottom of the food web, it is also the starting point of all energy that flows through the marine ecosystem, up to the very fish that we eat. 1983 was also the year when Farooq Azam and colleagues published their seminal paper that brought into focus the important role of microbes in the ocean. Microbes are like the oil in your car’s engine that keeps everything ticking over nicely: they make sure that the energy is recycled and keeps flowing. But not all energy comes originally from the sun, some of it comes from the belly of the Earth itself, giving life to the spectacular ecosystems that we find at hydrothermal vents. And again, microbes are the vital link between the chemical energy from the Earth and all the weird and wonderful creatures that live near the vents. Oh, and lest we forget, there’s also dolphins in the ocean, and they are great fun to watch riding the bow wave as the research ship heads out to sea. But they are not only riding the waves, they are also riding the coattails of the microscopic life that makes it all possible… just like you and me.