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Antarctic Peninsula the global “Canary in the Coal Mine” of ocean acidification, warming, UAB's McClintock says

Posted Feb 27 2012 4:15pm
This post comes from James McClintock, Ph.D., and Charles Amsler, Ph.D. (pictured in order to the right) from Palmer Station . They will frequently update the UAB Antarctica Team's pioneering research on ocean acidification here.

Our UAB research team’s week-long travels to Palmer Station are history. The birthday celebration for two of our members at a lovely restaurant in Punta Arenas, Chile, a distant memory, the four days rolling across the infamous Drake Passage aboard the NSF’s Laurence M. Gould , tucked away in our collective memories.

Awaiting our return at Palmer Station were many friends and colleagues from past field seasons. Some are scientists, but as many are science support staff – a doctor, two cooks, a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, a power plant operator, IT specialists, cargo operators, science lab technicians, a small boat operator – all work long hours with a can-do attitude to ensure the scientific enterprise pays dividends. Most have fallen hard for Antarctica, molding their lives around the opportunity to return once again.

Our station leader, Bob Farrell, who welcomed our UAB team at the dock, just celebrated his 95th month living and working in Antarctica. He wears this distinction proudly. Bob is proud of the station family that he parents – as he well should be. A recent analysis of the research papers produced by the station’s scientists indicates that, per capita, it is the most productive research station among the three stations operated under the U.S. Antarctic Program (the other two stations are McMurdo Station on the Ross Sea and the South Pole Station).

Since arriving a week ago, our UAB team has made excellent progress towards their goal of carrying out pioneering research on the prospective biological impacts of ocean acidification and rising seawater temperatures on calcifying marine algae and invertebrates. The Antarctic Peninsula is the global “Canary in the Coal Mine” when it comes to ocean acidification and warming. Nowhere on the planet are seas acidifying quicker, nor are temperatures rising as quickly. This makes the Antarctic Peninsula a natural laboratory to study climate change – a place to learn first and foremost what may happen down the road, in warmer seas, closer to home.

In addition to erecting two large computer-controlled systems in the station’s aquarium room that will automatically control seawater acidity and temperature in 72 independent microcosms, we have spent much of the week diving in the cold waters surrounding the station. Our dive team has been diving twice a day to collect algae, limpets, and gastropods, and to exploit the superb weather conditions – the brilliant sunshine that in the pristine Antarctic air illuminates the surrounding glaciers and snow covered peaks. Antarctic diving has opened up the world below the icy waters.

Yesterday – our team celebrated a diving milestone. Julie Schram (pictured above, on the left w/Charles Amsler), a UAB biology doctoral student on our team, made her first Antarctic dive. She emerged from the sea - beaming.
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