Phytoplankton Sampling Begins

Dena Seidel reports that despite the weather, Oscar Schofield and Grace Saba, both of IMCS and of the LTER phytoplankton group, keep sampling.

In the photo below, you can see Oscar (brown coat) and Grace (black coat) on deck in 50 knot winds collecting water that has been incubating to test their phytoplankton and chlorophyll levels.  Phytoplankton a very small photosynthetic organisms that use chlorophyll to capture energy from sunlight for photosynthesis.

Phytoplankton sampling on the deck of the Gould. Jan 2013 (Photo: Chris Linder)


So what are phytoplankton and why are they so important?

Phytoplankton are photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that live near the surface of the water.  Phytoplankton use sun light to take up and convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into biomass (cellular components of each cell) and oxygen. Because they are able to use the sun’s energy to create biomass, they are called primary producers.  Despite being limited by sunlight for half of the year, Antarctic phytoplankton (especially along the western Antarctic Peninsula) are among the most prodigious primary producers in the ocean. Furthermore, their role as primary producers of biomass makes their abundance or decline critical to the health and well being of Antarctic ecosystems.

In addition to their role at the base of the Antarctic marine ecosystem, the fate of phytoplankton biomass is crucial to understanding climate change feedback loops. By conducting experiments to study phytoplankton physiology and working with other components of the LTER (such as ecologists studying microbes and zooplankton), we are also trying to develop a clear picture of the fate of phytoplankton biomass once it enters the Antarctic ecosystem. Whether this phytoplankton biomass is recycled by bacteria, grazed by krill, or merely settles to the sea floor has significant consequences for not only the Antarctic food web, but also for global biogeochemistry and our understanding of climate change dynamics.

For more information on the LTER phytoplankton research, see:


Arriving at Palmer

The Gould arrived at Palmer Station, on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, last Friday and Dena Seidel sent these photos over the weekend.  She writes, “Here is a photo of us arriving at Palmer station, a small science outpost filled with amazing scientists and impressive science labs. Only 30 some people live here year round but the work they are doing is very important from phytoplankton research to the biochemistry of melting glacial ice”

Arriving at Palmer Station, January 2013.


A view of the water and ice looking toward a nearby island. January 2013.

The Laurence M Gould Research Vessel docked at Palmer Station, Antarctica, January 2013

Heading to Palmer Station, Antarctica

The AQ Team has arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile and have boarded their ship, called the RV Laurence M. Gould (red ship in photo below).  This ship is an icebreaker used by researchers from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) as a research and supply vessel.  To learn more about the life aboard the Gould, see the United States Antarctic Program.

The AQ Team are now steaming toward Palmer station.  Here are two recent photos from Dena Seidel in Punta Arenas.

The AQ Team head to Antarctica aboard the icebreaker Gould (red ship).

View from the deck of the Gould leaving dock from Punta Arenas, Chile.