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Explorers census hard-to-see sea life: microbes, tiny animals key to Earth's food, carbon systems
Date:4/18/2010

Ocean explorers are puzzling out Nature's purpose behind an astonishing variety of tiny ocean creatures like microbes and zooplankton animals - each perhaps a ticket-holder in life's lottery, awaiting conditions that will allow it to prosper and dominate.

The inventory and study of the hardest-to-see sea species -- tiny microbes, zooplankton, larvae and burrowers in the sea bed, which together underpin almost all other life on Earth -- is the focus of four of 14 field projects of the Census of Marine Life.

Identifying species within these hard-to-see groups, where they are and in what numbers, and the environmental role of each, is critical for understanding the size, dynamics and stability of Earth's food chain, carbon cycle and other planetary fundamentals.

At the other end of the hard-to-see scale: microbes form mats on the sea floor off the west coast of South America that explorers recently found. The mats cover a surface comparable in size to Greece and rank among Earth's largest masses of life.

The research will be showcased October 4 at ceremonies in London to conclude the Census and its historic decade of exploration, research, recording and logging of marine life past and present, with predictions of what will live in the ocean in the future. The Census involves more than 2,000 scientists from 80+ nations -- one of the largest global scientific collaborations ever undertaken.

Microscopic microbes: huge in diversity, abundance, importance

Microbial cells in the oceans' water column number roughly 10 to the 30th (called a nonillion; expressed another way: 1,000 x 1 billion x 1 billion x 1 billion) and collectively weigh the equivalent of 240 billion African elephants. That's 35 elephants of marine microbes per person.

Constituting 50 to 90 percent of all ocean biomass, marine microbes are the tiniest cogs essential to planetary functioning. Yet until technolo
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Contact: Terry Collins
terrycollins@rogers.com
416-538-8712
Census of Marine Life
Source:Eurekalert  

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