Student Questions

Many questions and answers from students, teachers and others can be found on the daily updates pages of this site. A few questions were submitted directly to us and their answers appear here.

Our teacher told us about you guys in science class the other day. Our teacher explained that at one point, you wanted to find where the iron was coming from that made the plankton produce better. Perhaps, do you think that when the shelf was first created, the seawater froze into glaciers and such and it’s minerals stored up and when a fissure broke it, some of that stored minerals go into the ocean and thus made the plankton produce better? -Victoria from Roselle Park High School

Dr. Kohut’s answer: Wow! That’s a great question. The seawater froze while at sea, so it probably didn’t contain much iron, but the glaciers, which formed from snow falling on the ground, might have.

Dr. Kustka’s answer: it’s possible that when glacial ice breaks off into the ocean, some terrestrial iron goes with it.

Dear Scientists, I am from memorial middle school Mrs. Corbetts class. We are starting to study on oceanography. It seems very interesting! I was wondering What exactly does a glider do? -Chris

Hi Chris, thanks for writing. Gliders help us sample the ocean at much higher resolution than other instruments can. They do this by guiding themselves on missions that Dr. Kohut’s team sends to them in the form of computer programs. Read more about how gliders work in today’s post (Feb 5th).

How does carbon dioxide “stay inside” phytoplankton, after the phytoplankton dies? -Lindsey from Mr. Saito’s class at Grover Cleveland Middle School

Dr. Kustka’s answer: Phytoplankton take carbon dioxide out of the water to make their cells. Just like animals, phytoplankton also respire carbon dioxide – the main difference is that animals need to eat foods to burn sugars (how they get energy) but plants get this energy by respiring sugars that they have made themselves. Phytoplankton make their own food but both phytoplankton and animals respire their food for energy. When plants or animals respire, CO2 is given off. Through photosynthesis, plants incorporate CO2 into their bodies and then turn around and burn (or respire) some of it for fuel.

When phytoplankton die and start sinking, most of their “fixed” carbon is consumed by bacteria who are happy to glom onto the sinking phytoplankton and start breaking down the carbon to carbon dioxide. But some of the little plankton bodies escapes this and ends up on the sea floor where it can be buried for thousands (or even millions!) of years. Today’s oil deposits are believed to be the result of phytoplankton blooms that settled to the sea floor something like 90 – 150 million years ago (similarly, today’s coal deposits are believed to be the result of trees and other land plants that died and were buried quickly enough to escape rotting.

Is the phytoplankton bloom a good thing, I would think so since that forms the basis of primary production in most marine areas. Although we have also found a lot of primary production occurring in alga beds for example in tropical waters. Now, do these plankton stay on the surface of the waters or do they also incorporate on the underside of ice floes, where they could provide forage for krill and other animals or are these totally different species, perhaps algae as well, thanks a good luck. Reef Relief, by the way its sunny and 80 degrees here in Key West! – Rudy B.

Dear Rudy, excellent questions. Of course, whether a phytoplankton bloom is a ‘good’ thing or not depends on your perspective. Perhaps a diatom-dominated bloom might not be regarded as a good thing from Phaeocystis’s point of view. But in general phytoplankton blooms are thought of as good things because they represent more food being produced for the rest of the food chain to live on. You’re right, some of the Antarctic algae does grow under ice floes where they support great numbers of krill. Thanks for writing and enjoy the weather!

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