Phytoplankton Identification


field scope


Correctly identifying the phytoplankton species present in a water sample takes lots of practice! A field microscope can be used to take a quick glance at the sample, either at the field site or in the lab. Water from the sample is drawn into a capillary tube for viewing.

To view a larger volume of sample, a petri dish is used and viewed with a stereoscope. With the stereoscope, the phytoplankton can be viewed in 3-D and also photographed.

  petri dish

sample and book   A single sample can contain a wide variety of phytoplankton species. We rely on experience (lots of practice!) and good field guides to help with identification. Some phytoplankton are much easier to identify at a glance than others - note the two large noctiluca cells in the center of the image.


University of California Santa Cruz
Ocean Sciences Department
Santa Cruz CA 95064