Smartphone App Allows Seamen To Track Phytoplankton For Science
February 24, 2013

Smartphone App Allows Seamen To Track Phytoplankton For Science

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers at the Plymouth University Marine Institute have developed a new smartphone app that they claim will allow regular folks to help scientists track the impact of climate change on phytoplankton.

In a statement released Friday, the university reports that scientists are concerned that the tiny organisms, which are at the bottom end of the marine life food chain, could be decreasing in numbers due to increasing sea temperatures caused by global warming. Such a development would have a major impact on sea creatures worldwide, they explained.

However, Dr. Richard Kirby, the leader of the project, told the Summit County Citizens Voice that there are “too few scientists to survey the world´s oceans as well as we would wish.”

“If we can just get a small percentage of the global population of sailors involved, we can generate a database that will help us understand how life in the oceans is changing,” he added. “It would help us learn much more about these important organisms at a crucial time when their habitat is altering due to climate change.”

To that end, Kirby and his colleagues have unveiled the new Secchi app, which is available for both Android and Apple iOS devices and allows citizen scientists to help professional researchers keep tabs on global phytoplankton levels.

So how does it work? According to reports, anyone interested in participating in the project first need to create a Secchi disk, which is used to measure plankton density by measuring the depth at which the device vanishes from view. They then need to download the smartphone app, which allows them to instantly report the measurements recorded during their research, no matter where they happen to be at the time.

The software was developed by Dr. Nicholas Outram and Dr. Nigel Barlow from the Plymouth University School of Computing and Mathematics; the database of information reported using the app will be maintained by Pixalytics Ltd, a company founded by Dr Sam Lavender, an Honorary Reader at the University.

“Ultimately the plan is to build a map of the oceans to record seasonal and annual changes in plankton populations,” said BBC News Education Reporter Judith Burns. “Sailors are asked to take readings whenever they can, but to avoid taking measurements in estuaries. The data they collect will upload automatically onto the Secchi Disk database once they return to port and get a network connection.”

"As the phytoplankton live at the surface of the sea they are being affected by rising sea temperatures due to climate change. A scientific paper published last year suggested the ocean's plankton population had declined by as much as 40 per cent since 1950,” Kirby added. “Like all marine creatures, phytoplankton have a preferred optimum sea temperature no matter where they are in the world and we need to know more about how they are changing in order to understand the effects on the ocean's biology.”