Seaflow Search for Prochlorococcus

  • Released Wednesday, April 13th, 2022
  • Updated Friday, August 25th, 2023 at 12:15AM
  • ID: 4976

Overview of data collected from research ship paths through the north Pacific Ocean measuring the phytoplankton species Prochlorococcus with an instrument called Seaflow. Additionally, results from the Darwin global ocean ecosystem computer model show interactions between Prochlorococcus, a copiotrophic heterotrophic bacteria and a shared grazer that limits the poleward extent of Prochlorococcus.

Research ships traveling from Hawaii into the north Pacific Ocean have measured quantities of tiny organisms in the water called Prochlorococcus using an instrument called SeaFlow. These organisms are phytoplankton that, like plants, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Prochlorococcus is both the smallest and most abundant photosynthesizing organism on the planet. Scientists observed a falloff in the quantity of these organisms as the ships moved northward; however, the falloff did not happen where the water cooled as the scientists expected. This was a bit of a mystery. The scientists hypothesized that the drop off was actually due to competition with other tiny organisms like heterotrophic bacteria and their shared predator, a type of zooplankton. They coded this relationship into a computational model of the oceans called Darwin. Sure enough, when the predator-prey relationship was included in the model, the drop off occurred in the same place as the ship measurements. This demonstrates a powerful combination of using computational models with the scientific method.


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This visualization is based on the following papers:

Datasets used in this visualization

Model Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Darwin Project is an initiative to advance the development and application of novel models of marine microbes and microbial communities, identifying the relationships of individuals and communities to their environment, connecting cellular-scale processes to global microbial community structure.

Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Simons Foundation, NSF, NASA

Dataset can be found at:

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ship SeaFlow datasets v1.3 (A.K.A. doi10.5281/zenodo.3994953) (Collected with the SeaFlow sensor)
Observed Data University of Washington

SeaFlow is an underway flow cytometer that provides continuous shipboard observations of the abundance and optical properties of small phytoplankton (<5 μm in equivalent spherical diameter, ESD).

Credit: Annette Hynes, Chris Berthiaume, Francois Ribalet, E Virginia Armbrust

Dataset can be found at:

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