Belen Cairo

I am an undergraduate student with a double major in Earth System Science and Urban Studies.  I discovered phytoplankton research after getting involved with the Bolsa Chica Education Program FLOW (Follow and Learn about the Ocean and Wetland).  Phytoplankton are often referred to as “Plants of the Sea,” where they produce half of the oxygen in our atmosphere just like terrestrial plants.  I collected phytoplankton from the Wetlands to monitored harmful algal blooms for the California Department of Public Health, analyzed water chemistry to examine how urbanization affects the water quality, and collected zooplankton to be analyzed for DNA identification.  I interned at the Newport Back Bay Science Center, where I collected phytoplankton and submitted samples to the California Department of Public Health to monitor harmful algal blooms. As a participant of the UCI Salton Sea Initiate, the UCI Water-PIRE program, and as a beach goer, I want to explore the outcome of urbanization and its effect on phytoplankton in the future. I am interested on how urban pollution may change the microscopic ecosystem

For the past two and a half years, I have been investigating Prochlorococcus among southern California’s invisible forest off of Newport pier. I refer to California’s phytoplankton population as the invisible forest because they are like plants but are invisible to the naked eye. Prochlorococcus are the most abundant photosynthetic organisms on the planet and are typically open ocean organisms; however, a coastal population was recently found off Newport Pier. The results from my research will provide a glimpse of what may happen to organisms along California’s coastline in the future, as coastal waters come to resemble the open ocean (especially during El Niño events) as a result of anthropogenic climate change. It is imperative to support climate change research because it shows whether organisms (such as phytoplankton) are capable of surviving within the modified habitat. My research is funded by Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Summer Undergraduate Research Program,and the Louis Stokes California Alliance Minority Program.