NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009
Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 8, 2009
Yesterday, at the Deep Sea Corals Briefing we took a trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences “Wet Lab.” This off-site lab -Prairie Ridge-was once a 38-acre cattle pasture – and is now being used by the museum to restore the original Piedmont ecosystem and for outdoor education. The “wet lab” is located on site and is where many of the samples collected by scientists studying the deep coral reef ecosytem – go to be “processed” and “curate” the research.
The lab contains microscopes, hand lenses, lots of jars, species identification field guides. Specimens – usually fish come to the lab where they are identified and classified- placed in jars of 70% ethanol for long-term storage. Some specimens however are stored in 95% ethanol for potential DNA research.
Why are keeping specimens important? – Specimens classified here are entered on a global data base so scientists have access to them from anywhere-global diversity. Scientists study the specimens to compare with other species, morphology (the branch of biology dealing with the form and structure of organisms), compare age and growth, and understand over time where animals lived and are living geographically.The oldest specimens of fish were collected in the 1840’s – this gives scientists a chance to tell how species have changed over the past 150 years. Scientists also use specimens to develop “dichotomous keys”-a key for the identifying organisms based on a series of choices between characteristics.
The lab itself was pretty cool – The collection here contains over 800,000 specimens – one of the top 5 in the US – like a warehouse though it felt like Raiders of the Lost Anchovy – and strangely like the beginning of every zombie movie. Like expeditions to the Amazon – nearly every trip to the deep water coral habitat scientists have discovered a new species – hopefully this voyage will add another piece to the global bio-diversity puzzle. 🙂