Phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that inhabit the world’s oceans. Through photosynthesis, these tiny organisms capture large amounts of human-produced carbon dioxide, generate half of Earth’s breathable oxygen, and underpin major aquatic food webs that sustain human life. Human-induced climate change is causing alterations in ocean temperature, nutrient supply, and other environmental conditions necessary for phytoplankton survival. We currently have a limited understanding of how these changes will influence future phytoplankton growth, their ability to absorb CO2, and the subsequent impacts on fisheries and ecosystems. However, by performing basic studies on phytoplankton cells, we begin to uncover how climate change affects phytoplankton and their ability to influence critical Earth processes such as carbon cycling.
My current PhD research at Dalhousie University examines how warming and changes in nutrient supply influence the growth of phytoplankton from Antarctica, a region heavily impacted by climate change. In line with this, my Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Program will foster collaborations among academic research institutions, government agencies and non-government facilities in five countries to explore cutting-edge techniques of studying phytoplankton cell biology and ecology. My journey will begin with an exploration of phytoplankton DNA, followed by learning various methods used to study cellular functions and structures. I will then explore a broader perspective by examining phytoplankton behaviour in the lab and in the wild. Through studying phytoplankton cells, this highly multidisciplinary journey will create the collaborations and knowledge base necessary for understanding the ecological and societal impacts of climate change.