Plankton Portal uses crowd-sourcing to classify strange oceanic creatures

Sep 17, 2013
Photograph of a dense aggregation of hydromedusa Solmaris rhodoloma found off the coast of Southern California, October 2010, taken using the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS) on board the NOAA R/V Bell M. Shimada. Each medusa is about 2 cm long. Credit: Bob Cowen / University of Miami & Oregon State University

Today, an online citizen-science project launches called "Plankton Portal" was created by researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and developers at Zooniverse.org Plankton Portal allows you to explore the open ocean from the comfort of your own home. You can dive hundreds of feet deep, and observe the unperturbed ocean and the myriad animals that inhabit the earth's last frontier.

The goal of the site is to enlist volunteers to classify millions of underwater images to study plankton diversity, distribution and behavior in the open ocean. It was developed under the leadership of Dr. Robert K. Cowen, UM RSMAS Emeritus Professor in Marine Biology and Fisheries (MBF) and now the Director of Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, and by Research Associate Cedric Guigand and MBF graduate students Jessica Luo and Adam Greer.

Millions of plankton images are taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), a unique engineered at the University of Miami in collaboration with Charles Cousin at Bellamare LLC and funded by NOAA and NSF. ISIIS operates as an ocean scanner that casts the shadow of tiny and transparent oceanic creatures onto a very high resolution at very high frequency. So far, ISIIS has been used in several oceans around the world to detect the presence of , small crustaceans and jellyfish in ways never before possible. This new technology can help answer important questions ranging from how do plankton disperse, interact and survive in the marine environment, to predicting the physical and biological factors could influence the plankton community.

"ISIIS gives us a new view on plankton, enabling us to see them in their natural setting, where they occur, what other organisms are nearby, even their orientation," explains Cowen.

The dataset used for Plankton Portal comes from a project from the Southern California Bight, where Cowen's team imaged plankton across a front, which is a meeting of two water masses, over three days in Fall 2010.

According to Jessica Luo, graduate student involved in this project, "in three days, we collected data that would take us more than three years to analyze." Cowen agrees: "with the volume of data that ISIIS generates, it is impossible for us to individually classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis, from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists."

"A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish," explains Luo, "but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye." Volunteer citizen scientists can assist by going to http://www.planktonportal.org. A field guide is provided, and the simple tutorial is easy to understand. Cowen and the science team will monitor the discussion boards; answer any questions about the classifications, the organisms, and the research they are conducting.

Explore further: New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tiny plankton could have big impact on climate

Sep 13, 2013

As the climate changes and oceans' acidity increases, tiny plankton seem set to succeed. An international team of marine scientists has found that the smallest plankton groups thrive under elevated carbon ...

First atlas on oceanic plankton

Jul 18, 2013

In an international collaborative project, scientists have recorded the times, places and concentrations of oceanic plankton occurrences worldwide. Their data has been collected in a global atlas that covers ...

Ocean acidification as a hearing aid for fish?

Apr 19, 2013

Ocean acidification, which occurs as CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans, is known to negatively impact a wide variety of marine animals ranging from massive corals to microscopic plankton. However, there is m ...

Global change puts plankton under threat

May 04, 2012

Changes in the ocean’s chemistry, as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, threaten marine plankton to a greater extent than previously thought, according to new research.

Recommended for you

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

1 hour ago

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study ...

New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

3 hours ago

We have all seen a peacock show its extravagant, colorful tail feathers in courtship of a peahen. Now, a group of researchers have used a special camera developed by an engineer at Washington University in ...

App helps homeowners identify spiders

6 hours ago

Each autumn the number of spiders seen indoors suddenly increases as males go on the hunt for a mate. The Society of Biology is launching a new app to help the public learn more about the spiders that will ...

User comments : 0