Archive | October, 2013

Government shutdown may impact Antarctic research

The government shutdown has affected many people in different ways.  Now, even Antarctic researchers are feeling the brunt of it.  We have been told that if the shutdown persists, field programs scheduled for this season at the U.S. field stations (including Palmer Station) may be cancelled.  You can read and hear more about this here:

Cancellation of Antarctic research programs are not simple and certainly not without a cost.  Many of us have already shipped all of our equipment down to the field stations (this is not cheap).  Some of our field teams are already down there, waiting to work, but may have to turn right back around and head home.  Our logistics contractor may run out of money by the end of the week and will no longer be able to support the staff we so heavily rely upon to coordinate our shipping, travel, and research.  And last but certainly not least, our long term ecological research (LTER) program at Palmer Station, which has been collecting annual data for over two decades, will lose an entire year of data.  This is tragic – and in a region that has seen drastic climate change impacts, including the precipitous decline of the Adélie penguins, missing a year of data makes it all the more so.

With fingers crossed, we are anxiously awaiting word this week from the National Science Foundation (which is still furloughed…)


Sometimes oceanography = plumbing

One of the things I never expected going into the field of oceanography was how much time I would be spending as a plumber.  In order to run experiments on a research ship and at a field station, you need to make sure your experimental set up is as close to natural conditions as possible.  This ensures the most realistic conditions so that you can use responses observed in smaller-scale studies to model or extrapolate responses that might occur on larger scales, such as an entire population of organisms or geographic regions such as entire oceans.  When studying Antarctic organisms, this means everything needs to be incubated in very cold water.  Bottles containing organisms need to be kept in tanks that are constantly circulated with fresh cold seawater.  You can now purchase water-jacketed beakers and containers that you can connect hoses to and recirculate water from a temperature-controlled water bath.  Different kinds of pumps for pumping seawater require different types and sizes of tubing.  Even using gases, such as carbon dioxide, in experiments requires specific types of regulators, connectors, control valves, and tubing types and sizes.

For this project alone, we need 16 different types/sizes of tubing, 27 different types/sizes of tubing connectors, and 7 different sizes of luerlok connectors, and 6 different sizes of wrenches (so far…).  I wonder if I will ever acquire an honorary PhD in plumbing…

An example of why plumming is important in oceanography.  Here is a schematic of my very complex intermittent respirometry system. There are different types of tubing required for the different pieces of equipment, which means lots of different connectors are also required.

An example of why plumbing is important in oceanography. Here is a schematic of my complex intermittent respirometry system. There are different types of tubing required for the different pieces of equipment, which means a lot of different connectors are also required.

More plumbing to circulate seawater from a large tank into a chiller to keep the seawater at a specific and cold temperature.

More plumbing to circulate seawater from a large tank through a chiller to keep the seawater at a constant, cold temperature. Photo by Brad Seibel

Equipment testing: Atlantic Ocean krill trials

I have been testing out a new system that will allow me to measure oxygen consumption (breathing) rates in krill.  This system from Loligo Systems, Inc. includes glass chambers, each containing an animal, where seawater is pumped through. The seawater in each chamber is refreshed (via a flushing process) every 5 minutes. Then water from each chamber is pumped through an oxygen sensor and monitored for 3 minutes to measure the decline in oxygen over that time (via animal consumption/breathing).  This process is repeated multiple times for several hours and is called intermittent flow respirometry.

Fortunately, some colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were able to collect some krill for me off the coast of Rhode Island recently so that I could test out my respirometry system and get some background data on krill that I can later compare to much larger Antarctic krill (Thanks, NOAA!).




Now that I have the equipment up and running, it is time to break it all down, pack it up and ship it out so that it gets to Antarctica in time for our field season. Because we are extremely isolated there, we have to ship EVERYTHING from our home institutions.  This takes a long time, so we have to have everything shipped down 3-4 months before we actually go ourselves.

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