Understanding Phytoplankton Growth to Better Test Water Treatment




Cal Maritime’s Training Ship Golden Bear is a floating test facility. Its ballast water management system provides certification to outside companies that remove microscopic marine organisms. Without treatment, these organisms travel between ports, invading and disrupting natural ecosystems.

The testing adheres to strict protocols mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard, including using challenge water that contains elevated concentrations of phytoplankton. This challenge water is generated in-house by adding nutrients containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and silicate to stimulate phytoplankton growth.

This partnership provided an opportunity for Cal Maritime student Hannah Foster to determine the optimal time required to achieve desired concentrations of phytoplankton, and the role nutrients play in altering phytoplankton species diversity.

“Hannah’s project allows us to better understand how the indigenous phytoplankton population grows in our incubator tubs with added nutrients and little else,” says Richard Muller, the facility’s engineering operations manager. “Hannah has been very enthusiastic in her work and has learned how to use engineering and scientific instrumentation normally unavailable to students.”

The student-led project is funded through the CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology Undergraduate Research Support Program.