In Search of Slicks and Polymers

(Written by Tiera-Brandy Robinson)

Yesterday in the evening we began our entrance into the Fjords. Leaving behind the open ocean, with its high wind speeds and rolling waves we found refuge and calm waters between the scenic Norway mountains. Today our morning was calm and sunny and perfect conditions for an SML layer known as a “slick” to form. A slick needs only 2 ingredients for its creation; moderate or low wind speeds and sufficient organic mat

erial present to break down and form in the SML. These slicks can be seen when the water is calmer in some spots due to a dampening effect on the waves by the sticky nature of the SML. Exactly how the SML layer forms is an intricate process involving the biological pump and physical properties of the water. However, the importance of the SML layer cannot be understated, it is a small thin layer resting at the top of the ocean and is the doorway between life in the sea and in air. So naturally we are very curious to see how things differ between the SML and lower layers of water.

For my part, I am mainly interested in polymeric substances in the water, these polymers are formed primarily by planktonic degradation and by their “sticky” nature join to each other and with other organic matter. Once joined they will either rise to the surface to help form the SML or will sink down as what’s called “marine snow”. These polymer

s act as the automobiles for organic matter in the ocean and so it is my interest to see at what depths and under what conditions we observe them forming. After the usual preparations of sending our Buoy named “Sniffle” and our Catamaran out into the water (a process which takes a lot of effort by both the scientist and crew) the Catamaran and buoy begin their daily adventure of collecting water samples and information for us. As the samples are brought back to the ship, work begins for the “filtration team”. Water is divided amongst the different scientists based on need and we each begin pouring the water into different vials for storage or into our filtration systems to obtain the material in the water. My station is perhaps the most colorful as I use blue stains; Alcian blue and Coomasie Brilliant Blue to stain different polymers on the filters after filtration. Once the water has been divided and used, the collection bottles are cleaned and prepped for the next day of sampling.

Each day I watch the clouds roll by over the ocean and mountains, paying close attention to the wind and water, always hoping for phytoplankton blooms as they are a good indication of polymer formation. Today the highest polymer concentrations were found deep in the water but tomorrow will bring a new location further into the Fjords and new conditions, we will see where the polymers reside and where in the water column they are moving. No matter what, this scenery is inspirational and beautiful: the fjords are proving to be an important environment of their own.