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Elizabeth Saunders - Phytoplankon Lab

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

Studying phytoplankton has become important because of the adverse effect that increased phytoplankton productivity has on water clarity, and therefore the health of the ecosystem and other organisms, specifically the submerged aquatic vegetation.  Studying phytoplankton dynamics, however, is a challenge because it is unfeasible to measure certain parameters, like maximum photosynthetic rate, as frequently as needed to account for short-term variability.  A possible solution to this under-sampling problem is to use models to supplement other, labor-intensive measurements, or to fill in gaps in historical data to get a more complete record of photosynthetic rate over time.  My objective was to attempt to resolve a model to predict phytoplankton maximum photosynthetic rate on a rapid time scale for shallow, turbid estuaries.  I used two years worth of data collected by the phytoplankton lab in 2000 and 2001, which I processed last year for my distinguished majors thesis at the University of Virginia.  Using this data set and a few side experiments, I was able to examine several aspect of my study system, the Rhode River, and was able to resolve a model that worked fairly well at predicting phytoplankton maximum photosynthetic rate for this area.  I will be pursuing the publication of these results in the coming months and I also hope to go on to graduate school in marine science next fall, and will hopefully continue studying phytoplankton.