Oceans Alive!

In 2016, MIT had an Open House that invited the public to peek “Under the Dome” and see what happens in MIT’s labs. I led a team of volunteers, including undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, researchers, and professors, in the EAPS Department to create an interactive exhibit called Oceans Alive! For two months, we planned activities that would lead participants on an adventure through oceanography and learn how we approach modeling ocean physics and ecology. Prior to the Open House, we sailed along the Charles River and conducted a plankton tow (what we deemed “Tiny TARA“) to show the public what lives in our neighborhood river. Starting at the microscale, participants could peer into our stereomicroscope and look at the phytoplankton and zooplankton living in the Charles River. Next, we displayed the microbial ecology simulations created by the Darwin Project modeling group to connect the microscale plankton to global-scale biogeographical patterns and ecology. Participants could also learn about developing mathematical models through an instructional poster and through playing the Holling Disk game, which we adapted by using Swedish Fish (instead of disks) atop an image of a mesocale phytoplankton bloom. Lastly, we used the iGlobe platform to display three-dimensional visualizations of phytoplankton models and physical oceanography. Our educational exhibit was covered in an article by Oceans@MIT titled, “The Value of Community Engagement with Climate Science.” Below is the official description of our exhibit and scroll down to the end for event photos!

Oceans Alive!

The ocean surface can look like a vast, still expanse of emptiness. But with the right tools and a closer look, we can see that within the ocean is an energetic soup of physics, chemistry and biology interacting with one another at spatial scales of less than a millimeter to the size of the planet and on time scales of less than a second to thousands of years. Through showcasing research of MIT scientists working in Cambridge this event will reveal and explain some of the beauty and dynamism of the ocean that is not visible to the eye. The picture that will be presented visually, experimentally, and illustratively will show the ocean is alive and how MIT research helps understand the health and well being of critical pieces of a vital piece of Earth’s life-support system. Join us to learn how the biology and physics of the ocean combine in this interactive exhibit.

Live plankton camera

Have you ever wondered what lives in the Charles River? Take a closer look at the microscopic life teeming within just a few drops of water with our live plankton camera. You can observe the beautiful geometry of phytoplankton, microscopic ocean plants, and then watch them get engulfed and digested by zooplankton predators. We will provide an i.d. sheet of local phytoplankton and zooplankton in the Charles River and an “I SPY” like game to find and identify the plankton.

I SPY Plankton. Free to use for educational purposes, but please reference Deepa Rao.

Projections of the highest-resolution ocean circulation models

How many computers does it take to run a high-resolution ocean model? Researchers at MIT have been working for decades to develop the MIT General Circulation Model (GCM), which is the highest-resolution numerical model used to study the ocean, atmosphere, and climate system. To do this, it took around 50,000 central processing units (CPUs)! What does a high-res model mean for researchers? It allows scientists to study the large and, now, smaller scale physical features of the ocean. This is also incredibly useful for models of ocean biology, since these smaller-scale features impact marine microbiota. Join us to see the MITGCM in action along with models of phytoplankton blooms from the Darwin Project!

Modeled phytoplankton type on a cubed sphere from the MIT Darwin Project on Youtube.

Research in the Round: iGlobe

From 10 am – 12:30 pm, we will showcase models of ocean circulation and phytoplankton blooms on the iGlobe, a spherical educational tool that helps lift data off the page and into a full three dimensions. With the iGlobe, we can explore physical ocean features as they travel across the planet, and watch phytoplankton blooms develop through the seasons.

1 Comment

  • An Ocean of Curiosity | Climate@MIT

    May 30, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    […] Oceans Alive!, presented by professor Mick Follow’s group, helped attendees focus their attentions on the ecological microcosm contained in a drop of Charles River water. Using a compound light microscope with a projector, researcher Anne Willem Omta and graduate student Emily Zakem invited guests to observe interactions between dinoflagellates, daphnia, phytoplankton, copecods and other marine organisms captured from the river both the day and week before. […]