Museum’s 150-Year-Old Plankton Have Thicker Shells Than Their Modern Counterparts
By Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com
The H.M.S. Challenger spent just over three years in the late 1800s circumnavigating the globe and studying ocean life. Today, thousands of the specimens collected during the Challenger expedition reside at London’s Natural History Museum.
In a new study published in Scientific Reports, researchers at the museum compared plankton collected on the Challenger expedition to modern specimens. They found that on average, today’s plankton has thinner shells than those from 150 years ago—likely as a result of climate change.
The Challenger was a small warship before it was a research vessel. Fifteen of its 17 guns were removed before the mission to make more space on the ship, which was then decked out with rooms for photography, dissections, laboratories and a small library. The Challenger set off in December 1872 with thousands of bottles and boxes for holding specimens and 181 miles of rope to measure the ocean’s depth.
Throughout the journey, the crew would dredge the bottom of the ocean with a weighted net. The net brought up fish, mud and at least one shark. The six scientists aboard the ship documented everything they found, big and small.