By: Kenny Bolster
I am starting my third year as a graduate student at USC, working with Dr. Jim Moffett. This is my second summer as a Wrigley Institute Graduate Fellow, and I’m so glad to be back out here. I am an oceanographer, studying broad patterns that span the Pacific Ocean.
I’m especially interested in the way that the availability of iron changes marine ecosystems. On land, there’s usually plenty of iron in the soil for plants to absorb, and then for other animals to eat, so iron deficiency is fairly rare. But in the ocean, most of the iron that’s dissolved will form rust particles within a few hours and sink to the bottom, leaving really big areas of the ocean surface starved for iron.
This summer, I’m continuing some of my previous work on Catalina, studying how sunlight changes the behavior of iron, and I’m also starting new projects growing microbes that feed an enormous plume of iron coming off the coast of southern Mexico, and collaborating with some other Wrigley scientists to study how Sargassum horneri, an invasive species of seaweed, is impacting Southern California.
To do all of this, we’ve had to develop a lot of exciting new techniques. I’ve developed a new method to measure sunlight breaking up rust in dust particles, and dissolving the iron so that algae can absorb it.
We’re also experimenting with using a flying drone carrying a small bottle to pick up seawater samples, so that we don’t have to worry about metal on a boat or a dock contaminating the sample. It also means that in my free time, I can get cool pictures and videos of the Wrigley Institute from the air.
There’s a lot going on, and it’s keeping me very busy. I’ve been helped by the Wrigley Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, and have been working alongside one of the REUs on a lot of these projects. In a month, I’m also preparing to go to the Goldschmidt conference, an international meeting of geochemists that’s in Paris this year, where I’ll be presenting this work I’ve been doing here in Big Fisherman’s Cove. And all of this combined is making this summer fly by. How is it July already?