Secchi Marine Phytoplankton App

Secchi Marine Phytoplankton App

The marine phytoplankton—also called microalgae—account for about half of all photosynthesis on Earth and, through the plankton food web that they support, they both underpin the marine food chain and play a central role in the global carbon cycle strongly influencing the Earth’s climate.

Living at the surface of the sea the phytoplankton are particularly sensitive to changes in sea surface temperature. A recent study of global phytoplankton abundance over the last century concluded that global phytoplankton concentrations have declined due to rising sea surface temperatures as a consequence of current climate change.

Researchers at Plymouth University's Marine Institute in the U.K. need to know much more about these changes. That’s why they’ve created the Secchi citizen science app and are asking for citizen scientists for help. Citizen scientists can lend a hand by making a simple piece of scientific equipment called a Secchi Disk and using the Secchi App, available for both Apple iOS and Google Android devices.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Richard Kirby, plankton biologist
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Plymouth University's Marine Institute, U.K.
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Fieldwork
  • COST: Less than $20
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    To use the free app, participants must make their own Secchi disk—a simple white disk attached to a measuring tape—lower it into the ocean (away from estuaries or other sediment-rich areas), record the depth at which it disappears, and enter the information into the app. Because the organisms exist only in the sunlit sea surface, the shorter the Secchi depth (the distance where the disk can no longer be seen), the more phytoplankton are present. For more details, visit the project’s Web site.

See more projects in Less than $20FieldworkAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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