340 Ocean Detective: Debbie Wall-Palmer

Enjoy meeting 340 Ocean Detective Debbie Wall-Palmer who has created a PHOTO Story to share her research while aboard the JR.

Hello everyone, I'm a PhD student in the final year of a PhD in micropalaeontolgy at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom.  My PhD research looks at the effects of past ocean acidification and climate change on pteropods (planktic snails) and related fauna in the fossil record. Keep reading to learn more about sea butterflies and sea elephants!


This is what a micropaleontologist sees when they look down their microscope!

There are many different types of organisms in our samples which represent what has been living in the ocean in the past. This sample was taken from just below the sea floor, so it represents the organisms living in the ocean right now! In this photo you can see planktic foraminifera (living in the water column), benthic foraminifera (living on the sea floor), planktic and benthic gastropods (snails), pieces of sponge, called spicules and a bivalve. The scale in the bottom left corner is 1 mm.


On the ship my job is to look at planktic foraminifera, however, when I'm back in the UK, my research involves studying pteropods and heteropods. Pteropods and heteropods are planktonic snails that have evolved wings! They live their entire lives swimming around at the surface of the ocean, catching smaller plankton in nets of mucus. The pteropods are known as sea butterflies because they flap their wings to swim. The heteropods also have wings, but are known as the sea elephants because they have a long trunk! Some pteropods don’t have shells - we don't see these in sediments because they leave no fossil. Only pteropods that have shells leave a fossil for us to study. The pteropods in this picture are called Styliola subula.


This is one of my favorite species of pteropod it is quite common in the Caribbean. It is called Diacria quadridentata. The shell of this species is quite large, about 2 mm in length. Although pteropods are snails, their shells come in a variety of shapes!


Pteropods make a shell of aragonite, which is very easily dissolved when sea water pH becomes slightly acidic. This makes them useful for working out at what water depth dissolution occurs on the sea floor. Generally, the deeper the water, the more dissolution occurs. In this photo you can see two specimens of the same species (Limacina inflata). The one on the right is in good shape, it looks strong and shiny. The one on the left however, has been dissolved, removing a large part of the shell and the shiny surface layer. Because their shells are so easily dissolved, living pteropods are currently under threat due to changes in ocean chemistry related to climate change.





Cool! I never knew about pteropods. They're very pretty. =)

Questions for Debbie Wall-Palmer:
Is there much marine life to study in Plymouth? I've been to Chichester, much further east on the Southern Shores of England, and it didn't look like there was fish to see. Being from Florida, the rocky and windswept shores don't seem so kind to animals!

Also, favorite footie team? =) - Chris Carpentier

Marine Life in Plymouth

Hi Chris!

I actually come from close to Chichester (I went to school in a place called Midhurst) and, although the sea there looks a bit brown and murky, there are certainly plenty of fish! In fact, my dad has a fishing boat and spends a lot of time fishing in the sea close to Chichester, he also tells me there are sea horses living near the harbour entrance! In Plymouth there's loads of interesting marine life. I often help out with 'rockpool rambles' where we take school groups to investigate the rock pools (tide pools in States) close to Plymouth. We find all kinds of amazing creatures - lots of starfish, sea slugs, pipe fish, all kinds of crabs and squat lobsters. I also like to snorkel and I see loads of fish - wrasse, mullet, plaice, bass and sand eels! In Plymouth we also have the Marine Biological Association and the National Marine Aquarium. It may not be Florida, but on a sunny day the beaches of the UK are pretty nice!

Also, I'm afraid I'm not much of a football fan. I prefer outdoor-pursuit style sports, there are good surfing and hiking spots very close to Plymouth.