A team of researchers led by professor Deborah Steinberg of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has returned to Antarctica for their annual 6-week field season aboard the research vessel Laurence M. Gould.
The VIMS team will collect zooplankton at a series of sampling stations in the waters along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula to better understand how climate change is affecting the microscopic animals that form the base of the Antarctic food web. The expedition is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research Program at the U.S. Palmer Research Station on Anvers Island. The PAL-LTER program is headed by former VIMS professor Hugh Ducklow, and funded through competitive grants from the National Science Foundation.
"We're interested in zooplankton for two main reasons," says Steinberg. "First, changes in their abundance and species composition ripple up the food chain to affect fish, penguins, and whales. Second, they play an important role in the 'biological pump,' potentially helping to move carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the deep sea where it doesn't contribute to global warming."
Annual winter temperatures along the Antarctic Peninsula have increased by 11F during the last 50 years, five times the global average warming. Researchers with the Palmer LTER program have monitored this change since 1991, and are now focusing their studies on how the rapidly warming climate is affecting sea ice and marine creatures in the region. In the 36 years since researchers first started counting Adlie pen guins in the area, the number of breeding pairs has declined from around 35,000 to 5,600, a drop of more than 80 per cent.
Steinberg is accompanied on the expedition by VIMS graduate students Lori Price, Kate Ruck, and Carolina Funkey; post-doctoral researcher Kim Bernard; marine technician Joe Cope; and recent William and Mary graduate Caitlin Smoot.
Price is studying the number and kinds of "microzoo
|Contact: David Malmquist|
Virginia Institute of Marine Science