Honours Environmental Science student takes to the seas for summer research
11/29/2017 10:40:37 AM
Matt_Fyfe_ESSummerResearchMount Allison honours environmental science student Matt Fyfe went on a cruise this summer, but it was no ordinary cruise. With 20 other scientists from universities in the US and Israel, Fyfe sailed from Hawaii on the research vessel the Marcus G. Langseth to gather samples for Mount Allison’s Marine Macroecology and Biogeochemistry Lab (MMAB).

The MMAB is an interdisciplinary research group whose main goal is to understand and predict the effects of climate change on marine organisms. Fellow lab member and post doc Dr. Chris Brown accompanied Fyfe on the trip.

This is one of three cruises members of the lab have been able to take part in that were funded by the Simons Foundation. For 18 days, the crew sampled microbes across ~20 degrees latitude, which is an area that has a dramatic productivity gradient. 

“We want to understand how the microbial community changes and why,” explains Dr. Zoe Finkel, Geography and Environment Professor and Canada Research Chair in Marine Environmental Ecology who heads up the lab with Dr. Andrew Irwin in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Fyfe worked hard on the cruise.

“We would wake up at 3 a.m. to help some other scientists to collect samples before the sun came up,” he says. “Then at 4 a.m. until noon we would filter our samples to collect as much phytoplankton as we could.”

Sometimes the seas were rough but Fyfe proved to be a true scientist.

“Things were crazy, the boat was rocking all over the place, but it was that much more adventurous,” he describes. “I was able to turn around right afterwards and go right back to filtering. It felt very hard-core.”

The benefits however made up for everything else. 

“With 20 different scientists on the boat, it was really interesting to see what other people were doing,” he says. “When I finished our sampling, I would help out other people on their projects. Oceanography is interdisciplinary and I didn’t realize this until this trip. It changed my perspective on all the different and interesting things that can be accomplished.”

He was also able to spend some time exploring Hawaii.

Fyfe has his own honours research project looking at how diatoms, which are a type of phytoplankton, accumulate storage molecules as they become starved for nitrogen. He spent the rest of the summer and has continued during the school year working on this in the lab on dry land. He is also training to qualify for the Boston Marathon and working for the Argosy, Mount Allison’s independent student newspaper.

The cruise included research groups from the University of Washington, University of Oregon, University of Southern California, University of Hawaii, and a group from Haifa, Israel. 

MMAB is part of a research consortium with a $7.25M grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative funded by British Petroleum for independent research in response to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. It has ten postdocs working with the lab. They also have seven Mount Allison student researchers from five different departments: Math, Biochemistry, Biology, Environmental Science, and Economics.