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MIT's ocean model captures diversity of underwater forests

us of study for 20 years. Stephanie Dutkiewicz, a research scientist in EAPS, and Scott Grant, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, who was an MIT physics undergraduate during this project, collaborated with Chisholm and Follows on the new model.

Chisholm believes that because previous ocean models did not convey the diversity of phytoplankton, they did not well represent the systems they modeled. The new model remedies that.

"Now we are finally modeling the ocean systems in a way that is consistent with how biologists think of them-water filled with millions of diverse microbes that wax and wane in relative abundance through interactions with each other, and the environment, as dictated by natural selection," said Chisholm.

Indeed the guiding principle of the new model is natural selection. It simulates the physical and chemical characteristics of the oceans, but adds to the virtual soup about 100 random types of phytoplankton. The model randomly generates the single-celled plants, which differ primarily in their size, and in their sensitivity to light, temperature and nutrient availability, then allows the ocean to self-select those most fit for survival in any particular area.

What emerged after the model completed its 10-year virtual evolution -which took four to five days on a cluster of parallel computers-is a phytoplankton community with members that are characteristic of observed phytoplankton communities, including plants similar to prochlorococcus that are extremely abundant in the warm mid-latitude Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Chisholm said this is the first major change in the way scientists approach ocean models in many years. She believes it will serve to break down disciplinary barriers between the physical and biological ocean sciences.

Follows attributes this new approach to three factors: the emergence of new information about the genetic diversity of marine microbes, recent a
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Source:Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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