The Great Plankton Count!

Scientists need your help identifying and counting plankton!

Plankton are uber important – they make-up the base of food webs, drive ocean chemistry, and can even influence global climate and fisheries. So studying and understanding these tiny creatures can help scientists understand some pretty big and important phenomena. Typically scientists tow fine-mesh nets through the water column to capture plankton, which are then stored in jars with nasty preservation chemicals. Scientists then head back into the lab and identify and count the plankton they see with the help of microscopes. But now with the advances of technology, plankton can be “captured” digitally with the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS) – literally a photographic plankton tow.

In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS) being placed in the water. Image from http://yyy.rsmas.miami.edu/groups/larval-fish/isiis%20website/isiispage1.htm

The ISIIS generates A LOT of photos of plankton throughout the water while recording other important environmental information such as temperature and depth. Identifying and counting these creatures is the first step to answering a whole host of questions – this is where YOU can help! The team of scientists using the ISIIS has uploaded their images to the Plankton Portal – a website hosted by Zooniverse – where you can be a scientist by identifying and count the plankton in their photos, helping scientists gather data from these virtual plankton tows. On the Plankton Portal you’ll find information about plankton, the ISIIS, and can even chat with scientists about the project. After a short tutorial you’ll be on your way to logging data on plankton for these scientists!

So, make a Zooniverse profile, take the short tutorial and then start counting!

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