The goal of this program is to fabricate a submersible micro flow cytometer (mFCM) for quantitative detection of phytoplankton. In situ detection of phytoplankton is a presently a niche market mainly directed at climate research. This market will grow dramatically if the mFCM price was significantly reduced and its deployment simplified. For example, NOAA has deployed ARGO, a global array of 3,000 free-drifting profiling floats that measures the temperature and salinity of the upper 2000 m of the ocean. These buoys could be equipped with our inexpensive mFCM. In addition, there are numerous potential customers (US government and commercial) that could use small inexpensive and robust microflow cytometers. The Navy has interest in better methods of detecting phytoplankton blooms, as they can interfere with submarine navigation. They are also interested in water quality issues associated with coastal assets. There are major developments to pursue the use algae as a biofuel source. This emerging industry will need a means to monitor algae growth, which could be served by a variant of our microflow cytometers. There are also new proposed water standards that call for algae monitoring (for example Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament). These regulations affect many aquatic environments, such as lakes, river, beaches, and estuaries. Altogether, we believe that tens of thousand of microflow cytometers could be employed to monitor algae and phytoplankton.
We will develop a submersible micro flow cytometer for quantitative detection of phytoplankton in response to NASA call for sensors for monitoring phytoplankton and harmful algal blooms. Marine phytoplankton account for 50% of global photosynthesis. For some time scientists have employed satellites to measure the amount and distribution of chlorophyll a, an indicator of phytoplankton biomass in the ocean. More recently NASA's Aqua satellite has been monitoring red-light fluorescence emitted by phytoplankton. This fluorescence reveals insights about the physiology of marine plants and the efficiency of their photosynthesis. The amount of fluorescence increases when phytoplankton are under stress, for example from a lack of iron. When phytoplankton cells are iron-starved, additional solar energy is emitted as fluorescence rather than being transferred through the photosynthetic pathway. Thus, chlorophyll measurements indicate phytoplankton biomass, and fluorescence provides insight into how well they are functioning in the ecosystem. The space-based instruments must be calibrated, and the algorithms applied to the collected raw data need to be validated. Our sea-based micro flow cytometer will provide sea-truth date to give an independent verification and confirm the validity of the data collected using spaced-based platforms. Its low fabrication cost will allow for the global deployment of numerous units, thus enhancing NASA's Earth science research capabilities.