The US Antarctic Program’s research vessel Laurence M. Gould delivered MBL Logan Science Journalism Fellows Jennifer Bogo, Jane Qiu and Susan Moran to Palmer Station Antarctica just after noon on Monday, November 29. There they and MBL Senior Scientist Christopher Neill join more than a dozen scientists investigating the consequences of rapid environmental change in this oceanic outpost on the western edge of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The region around Palmer is the fastest-warming place on earth. It’s the main study area of the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research Project led by MBL Ecosystems Center Director Hugh Ducklow.
Winter temperatures at Palmer have warmed 11 degrees F since 1950. The disappearance of sea ice that has accompanied that warming is reshaping ocean foodwebs by changing where and how fast phytoplankton at the base of the marine food chain grow. A warmer and earlier ice-free ocean leads to deeper ocean mixing, less light and lower growth for these microscopic plants. Less phytoplankton means less Antarctic krill, a critical food for the Adelie penguins that are now laying eggs on the Torgersen Island, which is visible out the window of Palmer Station’s dining room.
During the next two weeks, Bogo, Qiu and Moran will visit penguin colonies, measure plankton in seawater they collect from Zodiacs and accompany other scientists at Palmer who study everything from viruses to the large sea-going Southern Giant Petrels that nest on nearby islands.
Jennifer Bogo is the Science Editor for Popular Mechanics Magazine. Jane Qiu is a correspondent for Nature in Beijing. Susan Moran is a freelance science writer and radio host who lives on Boulder, Colorado.