CAICE Summer 2018

Is the Ocean Healthy? Let’s Sniff it to Find Out!

This summer I have been fortunate to be a part of the CAICE summer experiment at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. My mentor, Jon Sauer, and I have been using a Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer (CIMS) to analyze the carbon-containing gases, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produced from the ocean.

CIMS summer expt 2018
The CIMS instrument next to the wave channel

In conjunction with the Aerosol Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (ATOFMS), which measures the chemical composition of individual aerosol particles, and aerosol particle sizing equipment we can effectively measure the chemical nature of gases and particles produced from seawater in our experiment. The CIMS plays a crucial role in analyzing the health and stability of the phytoplankton bloom in the ocean water within our sampling tanks. To do this, we use the CIMS to sample gases produced in the headspace above the ocean water in our tanks. Looking for specific species reassures us that successive phytoplankton communities are similar to one another and remain healthy.

Along with a lot of amazing knowledge, one of the most important and useful things I will take away from this experience is the importance of communication. This large of an experiment requires constant communication between everyone involved and the people in this group set an amazing example for how to communicate effectively. From group meetings to day to day problem solving, constant sharing of ideas and findings never go unheard.

Summer Expt 2018
Dr. Kim Prather talking to Ben Rico and Jon Sauer about their experiment

The environment promotes curiosity and collaboration and the people I’ve been so lucky enough to work with are always willing to help. I owe a great deal of thanks to my mentor Jon who not only went out of his way to make me feel a part of the group but who made the long days of work enjoyable. Whether we were acquiring data from the CIMS or he was telling me about all the fish he caught from his last fishing trip, Jon managed to make every day of my summer experiment a memorable one.


I am looking forward to the rest of my time being a part of this summer experiment and cannot wait to see the results of all the hard working people that are a part of it.

— Ben Rico, Undergraduate Researcher

— Jon Sauer, Graduate Student Researcher

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).