Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

St. George's, Bermuda
Craig Carlson (foreground, blue hard hat), professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the BIOS-SCOPE program director and co-principal investigator, oversees the operation of the Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System (or MOCNESS) aboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer during a 2017 BIOS-SCOPE research cruise.

Beginning in 2015, SFI funding to the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) has supported BIOS-SCOPE (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences-Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology). Over five years, BIOS-SCOPE produced more than 25 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, six dedicated research cruises, and more than 45 presentations at national and international meetings. In 2021, the BIOS-SCOPE program received five years of additional funding from SFI to continue its study of the microbial oceanography of the Sargasso Sea. Programmatic oversight is provided by Marian Carlson, director of Life Sciences at the Simons Foundation.

The Simons Foundation International now has a seven-year history of supporting our collaborative research into marine microbial oceanography,” says Bill Curry, president and CEO of BIOS and program leader for BIOS-SCOPE. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to continue BIOS-SCOPE’s valuable collaborations and interdisciplinary efforts to provide insight into this unique ecosystem.”

BIOS-SCOPE consists of a team of 22 researchers from Bermuda, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom representing BIOS, Oregon State University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Exeter and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The collaboration’s research efforts focus on the Sargasso Sea, a region in the North Atlantic Ocean that was chosen for its geographical location — within a subtropical gyre, or system of circulating ocean currents — and representative of much of the global ocean. This particular location experiences distinct seasonal patterns, which helps scientists understand the consequences of global change, such as increases in average sea surface temperature. It is also the site of the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS), an oceanographic time-series program established in 1988 that represents one of the few locations in the world where oceanographers have collected continuous physical, chemical and biological data from monthly research cruises over a period of decades. These data have advanced our understanding of both seasonal processes and long-term trends in the global ocean, and are instrumental in interpreting data from other, more focused, studies. 

The goal of BIOS-SCOPE is straightforward but ambitious: to leverage more than 30 years of data collected by BATS to understand how organic matter is cycled within a web of ecological interactions in the Sargasso Sea. How this matter is transformed by various organisms, such as microbes and zooplankton, that produce, consume, and redistribute it throughout the water column is a key question. Where does organic matter accumulate in the open ocean, and are there microorganisms that can take advantage of these accumulations? Are there seasonal patterns to how organic matter is distributed and, if so, how do organisms respond to these patterns?

A different approach
“What really sets BIOS-SCOPE apart are the investigators from different backgrounds who come together using systems biology, genomics and marine chemistry, combined with an extensive field program and rigorous experimental design processes, to interpret microbial and biogeochemical patterns,” says Craig Carlson, professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the BIOS-SCOPE program director and co-principal investigator. “When you add in the backdrop of the time-series data from BATS, as well as data collected by gliders from the BIOS-operated Mid-Atlantic Glider Initiative and Collaboration (MAGIC) program, we’ve really been able to focus on specific questions and interpret finer changes on smaller time scales.” In addition to Carlson, seven BIOS scientists actively work on BIOS-SCOPE research on a broad range of topics, with four serving as investigators: zooplankton ecologist and associate scientist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial; physical oceanographer and manager of the MAGIC program Ruth Curry; biological oceanographer and associate scientist Amy Maas; and microbial oceanographer and manager of the BIOS Microbial Ecology Laboratory, Rachel Parsons.

“This project is a unique opportunity to do research that is difficult to accomplish through traditional funding streams,” Blanco-Bercial says. “It is an integrative study from viruses to zooplankton, and everything in between, that explores the linkages between these compartments of the ocean, with the added knowledge of environmental conditions from BATS and MAGIC.”

“Ocean biology plays an incredibly important role in controlling the largest biogeochemical cycles in the global ocean,” Carlson says. “While we have learned a lot over the past several decades, we have only scratched the surface of a mechanistic understanding of biological and chemical interactions. BIOS-SCOPE’s aim is to help advance that understanding.”

Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences