Ian Smith, our on-board nutrient analyst

Interview by Courtney Tierney 

Ian Smith is a NOAA affiliate who is usually based in Miami doing small boat field work with sea grass and sport fish. On the Ron Brown, he is a nutrient analyst working from midnight to noon, 7 days a week. Nutrients can tell us about the quality of the water available for the organisms living here in the Gulf. Ian takes a sample either from our continuous flow of surface water (every three hours) or from a bottle collected at a specific depth from one of our stations (anywhere from 2 meters to 3000 meters). Once the sample is taken, Ian places it into a machine which automatically adds pre-made reagents (chemicals which perform a specific task, or reaction, to test for the presence of another substance) to each one. The system then computes the amounts of phosphates, nitrates, and silicates in the sample.

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Nutrients analyst Ian Smith enjoying a little brake in the fantail of the ship. Image credit: Courtney Tierney

These nutrients are usually most abundant in areas of deep water and where coastal sediment input is prominent. We are currently passing the mouth of the Mississippi River, which is a hotspot for coastal sediment, so Ian has been seeing higher amounts of nutrients than usual, as expected. Too many nutrients, on the other hand, can be bad for organisms because this causes extreme rates of photosynthesis. Algal blooms can then occur creating a shortage of oxygen in the water below. So, Ian’s data has the potential to show the extent to which the coast influences the waters in the Gulf.

So far, Ian says his favorite part of the cruise is being able to see the vast amounts of land-based effort being translated into sea-time success. We are all excited for the next 25 days.

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