IBM Aims to Improve Ocean Health by Monitoring Plankton Behavior

You’re at your desk in elementary school listening to your teacher describe how Baleen whales eat plankton as their food source, and you think it’s bizarre that such a large animal can survive on such tiny foodstuffs. But what your teacher doesn’t tell the class is that those tiny foodstuffs do much more than feed whales. They also act as ocean, lake, and river sensors because they’re extremely sensitive to shifts in water. If their behavior changes, it can indicate changing water quality or temperature. But we need to know more about plankton reactions to water changes to understand what these tiny creatures may be telling us.┬áMaybe there’s been an oil spill, chemical runoff, or a looming red tide.

IBM has an idea. It’s created a small microscope for in-ocean observation of plankton behavior. Until now, scientists generally observe plankton behavior in a lab, but with IBM deploying their ocean microscopes around the world, or at least that’s the current aim, observing them in their natural habitat will help us understand plankton behavior better, hopefully leading to identifying when something goes wrong in our oceans.

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