Sampling the Sea Surface Microlayer

  • Michael CunliffeEmail author
  • Oliver Wurl
Part of the Springer Protocols Handbooks book series (SPH)


The sea surface microlayer (SML) is the interface layer between the sea and air, which is a unique ecosystem for microbial life. Microbial assemblages can be present in the SML that are distinctive from underlying plankton, and have a diverse range of ecosystem functions including the control of air-sea gas transfer and organic carbon cycling. Because of the position of the SML, specialised sampling equipment and techniques are required to investigate the interface. The three most widely used techniques for collecting SML samples for downstream microbiological analysis are the mesh screen sampler, glass plate sampler and membrane sampler. In this chapter, we detail how each sampler is constructed and what appropriate materials are required. We explain how each SML sampler should be correctly deployed and used. The chapter discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each SML sampling method in relation to microbiological analysis. Finally, we also discuss other issues related to investigating the sea-air interface that should be considered, including the selection of an appropriate sampling platform and the use of standardised descriptive parameters.


Glass plate sampler Membrane sampler Mesh screen sampler Neuston Sea surface microlayer Sea-air interface 


  1. 1.
    Cunliffe M, Engel A, Frka S, Gašparović B, Guitart C, Murrell JC, Salter M, Stolle C, Upstill-Goddard R, Wurl O (2013) Sea surface microlayers: a unified physicochemical and biological perspective of the air–ocean interface. Prog Oceanogr 109:104–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cunliffe M, Upstill-Goddard RC, Murrell JC (2011) Microbiology of aquatic surface microlayers. FEMS Microbiol Rev 35:233–246CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cunliffe M, Schafer H, Harrison E, Cleave S, Upstill-Goddard RC, Murrell JC (2008) Phylogenetic and functional gene analysis of the bacterial and archaeal communities associated with the surface microlayer of an estuary. ISME J 2:776–789CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cunliffe M, Whiteley AS, Schäfer H, Newbold L, Oliver A, Murrell JC (2009) Comparison of bacterioneuston and bacterioplankton dynamics during a phytoplankton bloom in a fjord mesocosm. Appl Environ Microbiol 75:7173–7181CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Taylor JD, Cunliffe M (2014) High-throughput sequencing reveals neustonic and planktonic protist diversity in coastal waters. J Phycol 50:960–965CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Calleja ML, Duarte CM, Navarro N, Agustí S (2005) Control of air-sea CO2 disequilibria in the subtropical NE Atlantic by planktonic metabolism under the ocean skin. Geophys Res Lett 32, L08606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cunliffe M, Murrell JC (2010) Eukarya 18S rRNA gene diversity in the sea surface microlayer: insights on the structure of the neustonic microbial loop. ISME J 4:455–458CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cunliffe M, Wurl O (2014) Guide to best practices to study the ocean’s surface. Occasional publications of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, Plymouth, p 118Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Harvey GW, Burzell LA (1972) A simple microlayer method for small samples. Limnol Oceanogr 11:156–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Landing WM, Upstill-Goddard RC, Stolle C (2014). In: Cunliffe M, Wurl O (eds) Guide to best practices to study the ocean’s surface. Occasional publications of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, pp 32–39Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Garrett WD (1965) Collection of slick-forming materials from the sea surface. Limnol Oceanogr 10:602–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    International-Oceanographic-Commission (1985) Procedure for sampling the sea-surface microlayer. UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Crow SA, Ahern DG, Cook WL, Bourquin AW (1975) Densities of bacteria and fungi in coastal surface films as determined by a membrane-adsorption procedure. Limnol Oceanogr 20:644–646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Franklin MP, McDonald IR, Bourne DG, Owens NJ, Upstill-Goddard RC, Murrell JC (2005) Bacterial diversity in the bacterioneuston (sea surface microlayer): the bacterioneuston through the looking glass. Environ Microbiol 7:723–736CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cunliffe M, Harrison E, Salter M, Schafer H, Upstill-Goddard RC, Murrell JC (2009) Comparison and validation of sampling strategies for the molecular microbial ecological analysis of surface microlayers. Aquat Microb Ecol 57:69–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Zhang ZB, Liu LS, Wu ZJ, Li J, Ding HB (1998) Physicochemical studies of the sea surface microlayer - I. Thickness of the sea surface microlayer and its experimental determination. J Colloid Interface Sci 204:294–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Santos L, Santos AL, Coelho FJ, Gomes NC, Dias JM, Cunha Â, Almeida A (2011) Relation between bacterial activity in the surface microlayer and estuarine hydrodynamics. FEMS Microbiol Rev 77:636–646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Kuznetsova M, Lee C, Aller J, Frew NM (2004) Enrichment of amino acids in the sea-surface microlayers at coastal and open ocean sites in the North Atlantic Ocean. Limnol Oceanogr 49:1605–1619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Zhang Z, Liu L, Liu C, Cai W (2003) Studies on the sea surface microlayer. II. The layer of sudden change of physical and chemical properties. J Colloid Interface Sci 264:148–159CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Agogue H, Casamayor EO, Joux F, Obernosterer I, Dupuy C, Lantoine F, Catala P, Weinbauer MG, Reinthaler T, Herndl GJ, Lebaron P (2004) Comparison of samplers for the biological characterization of the sea surface microlayer. Limnol Oceanogr Methods 2:213–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Wurl O, Miller L, Röttgers R, Vagle S (2009) The distribution and fate of surface-active substances in the sea-surface microlayer and water column. Mar Chem 115:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Wurl O, Miller L, Vagle S (2011) Production and fate of transparent exopolymer particles in the ocean. J Geophys Res 116:C00H13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Wurl O, Wurl E, Miller L, Johnson K, Vagle S (2011) Formation and global distribution of sea-surface microlayers. Biogeosciences 8:121–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine Biological Association of the United KingdomPlymouthUK
  2. 2.Institute of Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, Carl-von-Ossietzky University OldenburgOldenburgGermany

Personalised recommendations