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Seeing the invisible

July 22, 2009


Aurelia sp. a jellyfish, here photographed in Monaco

As with all things that might attract someone’s attention, it is amazing how many details can be discovered about any subject. Many marine organisms give off light, when they are hit by light, so much, that you can observe it from space! .,…

In the case of phytoplankton, I find it fascinating that these small organisms can not be observed by the naked eye, but their presence is rather easily detectable from space. As an example, you may want to look at the links on the right side of this page, under ‘Science’ and click on the link ‘Global fluorescence‘, where you will find a NASA publication on how the microscopically small phytoplankton cells can be observed with satellites.

Fluorescence? Fluorescence is light which is emitted from an object, a short time after that same object had absorbed light of a shorter wavelength (so fluoresced light is a bit more reddish then the slightly more blueish light which was absorbed).

Well, in case of phytoplankton, fluorescence is one way in which the light energy (from the sun) which was absorbed, can be safely dissipated if it could not be used by the phytoplankton to support their immediate energetic needs. So it is a loss factor, and it can be used to measure how efficient the cells are carrying out their life supporting functions. Knowing this efficiency is as valuable to the ability to judge the health of phytoplankton as is a cardiogram for a physician when he examines a patient.

For many years, I was so fascinated by this phenomenon, that I wanted to learn as much as possible about it. Then, after learning how to measure this emitted light, and used it to understand under which condition phytoplankton feels well (or not), I wanted to dig deeper into this phenomenon.  It ended up in a situation, where I had collected enough nifty details, that, when put together as mathematical equations in a model, I hoped that the equation would allow me to create signals exactly such as observed in nature, and when so, that I could ‘look’ at the invisible processes which were now made visible by equations. Since the equations were a reflection of existing structures, the whole effort helped me to better understand how the whole energy generating machinery was functioning. Anyhow, I wrote it up for fun, long after I left science, and I put it here for those who wish to understand why we can see phytoplankton from space, and those who study phytoplankton and wish to understand some more details.

Just click the link below:

From Electrons to Biomass

Do note, that if you are one of the few who opens this link above, you join most probably only a few people on this earth who are interested in one of the most fundamental processes of our earth!

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