Submersible Imaging Flow Cytometer for Real-Time Observation of Phytoplankton


R. Olson and H. Sosik
Visit lab website 
Read Oceanus article on Imaging FlowCytobot used for red tide early detection


Observing plankton growth and decline by species in real time has long been a dream of those who study plankton ecology.  Such measurements provide great insights into how primary productivity is related to ecological parameters.


The invention is a system that uses a combination of video and flow cytometric technology to both capture images of organisms for identification and measure chlorophyll fluorescence associated with each image.  Images can be automatically classified with software based on a support vector machine, while the measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence make it possible to more efficiently analyze phytoplankton cells by triggering on chlorophyll-containing particles.  Quantitation of chlorophyll fluorescence in large phytoplankton cells enables the interpretation of patterns in bulk chlorophyll data, and the discrimination of heterotrophic and phototrophic cells.


  • Scientific investigation of plankton in aquatic environments
  • Harmful Algal Bloom Detection (see Oceanus Article link above)

Key Benefits

  • Real-time quantitation of species specific plankton concentration
  • Automated species determination
  • Long-term deployment
  • Data transmission to shore station in real-time

Stage of Development

A system is in operation for scientific studies.  WHOI is in negotiations with an instrument manufacturer to make the instrument available to the broader scientific community.

Patent Number

US Patent 20090109432

Relevant Industry

Ocean Observation
Municipal Water Districts