Marrying in the water

What is my PhD project about? I want to give you an introduction to this. To make this introduction easily understandable for everyone, no matter what scientific or non-scientific background you have, I did it in a special form: I only used the 1000 most commonly used English words. Valentin did this two years ago by describing the Marriage in Space, showing how hard this way of writing is. But I wanted to give it a try – so have fun reading my short story about my research project!
(And if you want to figure out on your own how hard it is to be limited in words: You can give it a try with this editor.)

The air and the water that are present on our world always give and take things from each other. As long as they are present in the air, those things are stored in a form that we are not able to see with our eyes. When they move into the water, they can remain in this state our eyes do not see. But this can change. One very important piece that is moved between air and water, we can call Mrs. Carbon-Dioxide.

Mr. Foram and Mrs. Carbonate meet in the water – and together, they are very important for the water, the air and the world.

When we take a look at the water, we can see that lot of animals live there. Besides, green things are growing there. In the water, even the green things can move around (and do not have to stay at the same positions as trees on land). And then, there is something else. It is no animal, and no “water-tree”. It is something in between those two. It is not easy to understand, and one of those things I want to talk about has a really long name. If you still want to know it: One sort of those things is called “Foraminifera”. To make it easier, let’s call them the family of Mr. Foram.

All three of them – animals, water-trees and the things in between – need the things that can move from the air into the water. They breathe them (yes, that is possible, also when you live in the water!). They can change them into other things. They are able to build pieces out of them that we can finally see with our eyes.

In the case of Mr. Foram, the thing he is building is something like a house to him. It is a very small house. It is so small that only Mr. Foram himself can live inside it. But it is a nice house: Mr. Foram is safe in there. It is hard for other animals to eat him because he lives there.

This is what the houses of Mr. Foram look like when I have taken them out of the water and they are dried.

The house of Mr. Foram is very interesting to me. I am interested in the stuff it is made from. In the beginning, Mrs. Carbon-Dioxide is needed. And then, other pieces are added that Mr. Foram can find in the water. It is like he is helping that Mrs. Carbon-Dioxide gets married. By this, they become parents. And their child is called Mrs. Carbonate. All this means that we now can see parts of the things that are present in the water and that we could not see before.

To learn more about all this, I try to catch the very tiny houses of Mr. Foram and his family out of the water. The way of catching can be different. I can do it for short steps in time, like a few days, or on a lot of days during one year, or even more than that. By doing so, I can understand what Mr. Foram and Mrs. Carbonate are doing during the year and during different times of the year. When I catch the house of Mr. Foram, he is already dead. But his house stays in the water after his death (if I do not catch it).

Let’s take a deeper look on the house of Mr. Foram to learn more about his family!

When Mr. Foram dies, Mrs. Carbonate, in the form of his house, slowly moves to deeper areas of the water. She moves and moves and moves. Until she reaches the bottom. And there, she stays. She stays there for days. For weeks. For months. For years. And longer. Much, much longer. On her own, Mrs. Carbonate is not able to move away. And it gets even harder when other stuff moves to the bottom of the water as well. This new stuff is put on top of Mrs. Carbonate. And then, she really is not able to move away anymore.

However, it is possible that Mrs. Carbonate can escape from the bottom of the water again. For this, she needs help. This help comes from different living things. And from the happening of hard-to-explain things. The grounding of them is that present ties between pieces lying at the bottom are broken. By this, the way Mrs. Carbonate looks like can change. Then, she is not the walls of Mr. Forams house anymore. She is again something that our eyes are not able to see, and much more like her mother Mrs. Carbon-Dioxide. And she can move up again. She moves up in the water. And she can even leave the water and go back into the air.

From there, the game can start again: It is possible that the air again changes her against something else and moves her back into the water. She can get in touch with another Mr. Foram. And this new Mr. Foram helps that she marries, and he can build a new house out of the new Mrs. Carbonate.

All this is happening all the time. Again and again. It already happened many many years ago. And it will still be happening in many years. But the question is how many of the family of Mr. Foram will live in the water in the next hundreds of years. And how many of the family of Mrs. Carbon-Dioxide will live in the air, and how many of the family of Mrs. Carbonate will live at the bottom of the water, not able to leave because of other things that lie on top of them.

These questions are important to answer because the family of Mrs. Carbon-Dioxide and Mrs. Cabonate also have a relationship to the sun and the rain, to the air being cold or warm. All this is different when a lot of Mrs. Carbon-Dioxides are in the air, or a lot of them are at the bottom of the water as part of the family of Mrs. Carbonate. Right now, humans are changing the number of Mrs. Carbon-Dioxides in the air. The water areas of our world, giving Mrs. Carbonate and Mr. Foram a place to live, help to make the changes in the air smaller. But still, there might be a lot of changes to come in the coming years.

For that reason, I try to answer all these questions by catching the houses of Mr. Foram. I want to see how big he his, how big his houses are. And how thick the walls of his houses are. Because when the walls are thicker, he uses more of the stuff from Mrs. Carbonate.

And I really hope that the two of them will help me to say something about what will happen in the next (hundreds of) years.

Now, after I have explained all this using the easiest words that I could take, I am curious: Do you all know what I am actually talking about?

Franziska Tell

About Franziska Tell

PhD student from the 3rd ArcTrain cohort, working on planktonic foraminifera and the carbon cycle in the Arctic Ocean. @GruenEisBaer on twitter & instagram

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