Dr Richard R. Kirby, a Marine Institute Research Fellow at Plymouth University in the U.K., is leading a worldwide study of microscopic organisms called phytoplankton. These tiny plants are the bottom of the marine food chain and perform as much as 50% of all photosynthesis on earth. Scientists regularly gather data on phytoplankton, but there are only so many researchers and the oceans are vast. So Dr. Kirby is asking voyagers and members of the cruising community to take part in the study and help gather data on these marine creatures. The researchers have eased the task of gathering the data by constructing a smartphone app called Secchi App for both iPhone and Android.
To help, voyagers need only four simple pieces of gear: 1) A 30 centimeter diameter white disk called a Secchi(pronounced Seck-ee) disk, 2) a small weight, 3) a measuring tape and 4) the Secchi smartphone app. Voyagers take a reading (explained here via a FAQ and a video demonstration) and then enter their findings into the smartphone app. If the phone has connectivity, the data will be sent to Plymouth University. If the phone is out of range of the cell network, the data is stored and then sent the next time the phone connects.
Dr. Kirby commented on the study in an email: "Many of the datasets that scientists rely upon today to tell us about long-term changes are 'citizen science' studies that were begun a few decades ago. Often we look back and wish we had already started monitoring something about the natural world – "if only we had started measuring 'x' ten years ago". Well our view was there is no time like the present to start something for the future. Hence the Secchi App and this Citizen Science project, to try to encourage data collection on the plankton and make data submission simple."