Despite new technologies, satellite imagery and modern research methods the work of collecting routine, fundamental data about the Earth's oceans' physical, biological and chemical characteristics remains an unforgiving and impossible task that has challenged scientists for centuries.
A pioneering approach published today in the open access, peer reviewed scientific journal PLOS Biology challenges conventional research methods and proposes a global effort to engage and empower citizen scientists to gather basic ocean data aboard small vessels on the most common sailing routes.
Such data would significantly improve the accuracy of climate models, weather forecasts and even assist search and rescue efforts struggling to learn the likely trajectory of floating debris left by a plane crash or other incidents.
“The ocean is too vast for any vessel to sample very much of it, no matter its capabilities,” said report co-author Joseph Grzymski, an associate research professor of computational biology and microbiology at Nevada's Desert Research Institute. “Maximizing the number of observers, rather than the advanced capabilities of observers, requires a very different approach to the choice of vessel, personnel, instrumentation and protocol.”
Grzymski, lead expedition scientist of the Indigo V Indian Ocean Expedition – a pilot study in 2013 to test the aptly named “citizen oceanographer approach” across 6,500 nautical miles from Cape Town, South Africa to Phuket, Thailand – explained that observing your surroundings while aboard a sailing yacht is part of daily life at sea. Those observations, combined with a newly developed, simple and reliable technique for bacterioplankton sampling could be deployed and recorded by sailors – who have an inherent concern for the oceans and make ideal candidates for citizen scientists. Bacterioplankton, collectively known as the 'marine microbiome', serve as the backbone to the ocean's nutrient cycle and the food web.
The full story can be found here.