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Iron analysis sheds light on productivity of Gulf of Alaska

Iron is a nutrient that is needed in small quantities, but has a big impact on life in the Gulf of Alaska. Dr. Ana Aguilar-Islas is a chemical oceanographer at the University of Alaska School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences who is looking at the how, where and when of iron in the Gulf. Iron is especially important to tiny plant-like organisms – the phytoplankton. When there is sufficient iron relative to other nutrients, the more phytoplankton can produce and that can have cascading effects considered good for fish productivity. 
Last summer Dr. Aguilar-Islas's lab collected iron samples around the Gulf of Alaska and now she and her lab are doing the hard work of sample processing and analysis. Studying iron requires a sterile laboratory, because there is so little of it in seawater. The analysis of iron requires a clean work space where researchers wear special coats, gloves, headcover and shoes. The clean lab is kept to assure that iron from the outside in the form of dust, skin, and dirt doesn’t contaminate the water samples. People who work in the lab filter the collected seawater to separate iron into different sizes, and then using mass spectroscopy – a way to separate elements by their mass – they examine the iron itself. Marie Seguret is pictured here working in the lab.