Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jim McClintock: Off to Palmer Research Station

Jim McClintock, our guide to the Antarctic experience has arrived at his seasonal research stay at Palmer Research Station. He sent me this blog:

The Drake Passage south of Punta Arenas, Chile embraced us – sparing us its notoriously tumultuous seas.   As an Antarctic marine ecologist from the University of Alabama at Birmingham I am on my 14th expedition to Antarctica, this time to study the effects of climate change on the rich but delicate marine life that surrounds this amazing continent the size of China and India combined.  Our ship, the Laurence Gould, leased by the U.S. National Science Foundation, was home for our three day crossing of the Drake Passage.  The fourth day brought us sight of Smith Island, the first hint that the Antarctic Peninsula looms.  Before arriving at our destination, U.S. Palmer Station, our ship and its crew of scientists, marine technicians and sailors, enjoyed a short one-day visit to Primavera, a small Argentinian base perched on a rocky granitic rise overlooking the sea and surrounded by glaciers and snow covered peaks.    Upon departing  Primavera, my research team was treated to a twenty-mile zodiac tour of the Antarctic coastline – our boats zoomed across seas with skies above as blue as blue can be, past endless glaciers, countless ice bergs designed by Dr. Zeus, and provided us with several close encounters with humpback whales.  A quintessential day in a fantastical land.

Our research at Palmer Station has begun in earnest.  My research team is comprised of myself and another professor, Chuck Amsler, two female graduate students, and a research associate.  We are here to study the ecological impacts of ocean acidification on Antarctic marine plants and animals.  Ocean acidification is a process induced by the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide by our world’s oceans.  Since the industrial revolution the carbon dioxide humankind has put into the atmosphere has already increased the oceans’ acidity levels.  The seas surrounding Antarctica are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to ocean acidification.  Antarctic marine organisms are inherently weakly calcified and their shells can dissolve as oceans acidify.  Moreover, the building blocks of their shells – calcite and aragonite- are predicted to become limited in their availability first and foremost in cold polar seas.  In concert with Antarctic scientists from a variety of countries around the Antarctic continent – our team will share in the international collaboration of climate change research that is providing critical insights into the impacts of ocean acidification closer to home.  In coming  blogs I will share stories about the science and others here at Palmer Station are undertaking, the brother- and sisterhood of station life, and insights into the challenges of diving in freezing seas, avoiding leopard seals, and day-to-day living in one of the most remote, yet beautiful places on our planet.

Professor James B McClintock

No comments:

Post a Comment