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News from the Earth Sciences

The BBC BluePlanet

Newly discovered ocean plankton named after BBC Blue Planet.

Although measuring only thousandths of a millimetre, these plankton play a pivotal role in marine ecosystems as a crucial source of food for many ocean dwelling organisms. They are also incredibly valuable for studying the impact of climate change on ocean life now and across the previous 220 million years.
The plankton – called coccolithophores – are single cells surrounded by a calcite shell that varies drastically in shape across different species, acting as armour against predators.
“Although microscopic, the plankton are so abundant that they are visible from space as swirling blooms in the surface oceans, and form our most iconic rocks with their calcite forms making up the bulk of the white chalk cliffs and downs of southern England,” explained study co-author Professor Paul Bown.
It is the ability to produce this calcite shell that is being disrupted through ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is a symptom of climate change whereby rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, increasing its acidity.
By studying fossilised plankton shells or ‘coccoliths’ in samples from drilling down deep into the ocean bed, scientists can map the impact of climate change and other global events over a very long period of time and use this to inform what might happen to in the future.


Contact Information

Dr. Wendy Kirk 



The experiments within each module of Mars in the Classroom can be used either as stand-alone projects or in combination with any or all of the other modules provided. In this way, the educator has complete control over the duration and level of the program undertaken.

Average Lesson Duration: 1 hour

There are many other activities that can be carried out to assist in this project, all of which are currently under development:

Future Developments

A Face on Mars
Using the face on Mars as an example, this experiment shows how the appearance of an object can be changed simply by altering lighting conditions. For advanced students, it may be possible to design and build their own `Face on Mars'.
B Build Your Own Martian Shield Volcano!
(Albin, E.F. LPSC XXIX Education Abstract, 1998)
By building a wax shield volcano, students can learn about how these structures form over time. Successive `lava flows' will illustrate how a volcano circularises at the base, and will produce a caldera and `lava' lake in time. It will become clear that to make a volcano such as those seen on Mars, dozens of `eruptions' are necessary.
C Sci-Kits - Build Your Own Mars Global Surveyor (MGS)
These DIY models are available commercially from Sci-Kits. By building the models, students can learn about the structure of the spacecraft and its configuration at different stages of the mission.