The Dim Sum, Microbial Dark Matter and Wine Dark Seas

The oceans are a microbial soup I like to call the Dim Sum. It is an appropriate pun because it is both dim in the sense we don’t understand it, and  a dim sum in that we  cannot describe it mathematically. The oceans have chemical complexity nearly on the order of life. They are full of life as well, and microbial dark matter drives ocean chemistry in ways that make it difficult for us to distinguish the organic and inorganic chemistry. So all things considered, the oceans are rather like wine.pelican2

We have learned much of the chemistry of wine and much of the oceans as well, but our understanding of both remains as much art as science.

Astronomers tell us that dark matter comprises about eighty percent of the mass of the universe. We can’t see it, we don’t know anything about it except that calculations tell us it must be there. So it is with plankton. We can see some of them, but we don’t know anything about many of them because they are wild things that mysteriously resist our attempts to grow them alone in captivity.


A dark matter “beach ball” above, the first Plankton Atlas below. Researchers were surprised that phytoplankton and zooplankton had equal mass in the upper ocean. Phytoplankton and zooplankton are the equivalents of plants and animals on land.


Is this some kind of a joke? Our knowledge of phytoplankton in 2013, in the Pacific Ocean, which covers roughly a third of the planet, is a couple of random transects? The sum gets dimmer.  One presumes they so much more interested in zooplankton because Forams are the touch stones of the ODP? How can you draw any general conclusion when the databases are so asymmetrical?

Check out zooplankton in the tropics. It shows alternating bands of Pteropods and Mesozooplankton. Overlooking for the moment that the line weights are oversized many orders of magnitude, does this strike you as real?

The sum remains dim, the matter remains dark, and our oceans remain as opaque to us as big red wines.

This entry was posted in Biology, Geography, Microbial Dark Matter, Oceanography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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