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The University of Southampton

SOES2006 Phytoplankton and Primary Production

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

1. To provide an introduction to the fundamental processes of marine phytoplankton photosynthesis and planktonic primary production. 2. To understand the factors influencing phytoplankton production and recycling processes in the near surface ocean. 3. To gain experience and skills in measuring phytoplankton biomass and activity in laboratory and field based practicals.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the fundamental processes of phytoplankton photosynthesis and primary production in the ocean.
  • Explain the main factors influencing phytoplankton production and carbon recycling in the surface ocean.
  • Apply basic practical laboratory methods for observing phytoplankton, quantifying their biomass and determining photosynthesis and respiration rates.
  • Demonstrate skills in the analysis and presentation of data sets and the setting of such results within the context of current literature


An introduction to the euphotic zone and its biology; light in the ocean, photosynthesis and respiration; chemosynthesis; the algal cell, pigments, sampling and preservation; description of major phytoplankton groups; definitions of primary production; measurement of primary production; light and photosynthesis, phytoplankton growth and critical depth model; nutrients and phytoplankton growth; oceanic regions of phytoplankton production; global phytoplankton production; sources and sinks of dissolved organic matter; marine bacteria biomass and production; the microbial loop; modelling marine primary production. Practicals: 1. Determination of chlorophyll and phosphate in samples collected from algal culture. 2. Oxygen production incubation experiment. 3. Boat practical in estuary; phytoplankton collection, use of YSI multiprobe to determine vertical profile of temperature/salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence, turbidity and dissolved oxygen; determination of light profile and collection of water samples for chlorophyll analysis and nutrients phosphate and nitrate.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal lectures: will provide an introduction to the theory underlying the fundamental processes of marine phytoplankton photosynthesis and planktonic primary production. Laboratory classes: will provide you with a basic introduction to practical methods for determining samples collected and experimentation. Laboratory safety awareness. Boatwork: will provide training in data collection, sampling and analysis. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Practical classes and workshops9
Independent Study117
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Miller, C.B (2004). Biological Oceanography. 



Practical Report


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 35%
Theory examination  (2.5 hours) 65%

Linked modules

SOES1006 or SOES1008

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