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how we study the ocean
physical sciences
biological sciences
how does the cool room work
who's in the cool?
who uses the cool room?
evolution of oceanography

How We Study the Ocean
- The Biological Sciences

The ocean is home to a myriad of life forms. Marine Biologists are attempting to find them all, classify them, and figure out what makes them tick. They estimate that there are between 50,000 and 1,500,000 total species known and unknown in the ocean. Obviously, there is still much to be discovered.

So, where to begin? Well, since all life needs to eat to live, let's approach our task by following the food chain. At the very bottom of the food chain are the producers, single-celled organisms that can make their own food. By using energy they absorb from sunlight, they take simple compounds from the water that they've absorbed through their cell walls and convert them into stored energy as sugar, a process called photosynthesis. Along with the sugar they make, producers use mineral nutrients they absorb from the ocean to grow and multiply. On land, the producer role belongs to plants. In the ocean, the role belongs to single-cell microscopic plants or phytoplankton.

Next in the chain are the animals that feed on phytoplankton. They are the primary consumers, or the first consumers in the food chain. Then come the organisms that feed on the primary consumers, known as secondary consumers. Finally, there are the tertiary consumers, the large fish and mammals that feed on the secondary consumers.

All life in the ocean (if not eaten) dies, decays and breaks back down into nutrients that sink to the ocean floor. These nutrients in turn are used by phytoplankton and other microscopic organisms, and so the circle of life continues.

How do plants make food for themselves?
Photosynthesis is the process in which plants convert the radiant energy from sunlight into chemical energy that they use to make their own food. Plants contain chlorophyll, a green pigment that traps the sun's energy. They then use the absorbed energy to break down the molecules of carbon dioxide and water into atoms of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and then recombine the atoms into glucose sugar, oxygen and water. Plants use the glucose for their own energy needs and when an animal eats a plant, the energy stored in glucose is transferred to the consumer.
Basic reaction:

How does the COOLroom help us understand marine life better? Oceanographers in the COOLroom monitor the ocean off New Jersey for the conditions that support phytoplankton. Knowing that phytoplankton need sunlight (so they need to be near the surface) and nutrient-rich water, they look for upwelling events when cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean bottom is forced to the surface. When conditions are just right, masses of phytoplankton erupt into what is known as a phytoplankton bloom. And a bloom of phytoplankton means a smorgasbord for the organisms that feed on them, and the ones who feed on them, and so on and so on. Visit the fishermen's page on the COOLroom to see if today has the right conditions for a phytoplankton bloom.

Play the food web game!

Learn some
fun facts about the ocean.