Archive | Scientist

Experiment One – Krill Blood!

Hi All,

Sorry it has been a while since our last blog post. We’ve had a super busy and productive season so far. There are a few posts coming your way to show you what we’ve been up to, both in work and free time. So heeeere we go…

Once we got our krill from the Lawrence M. Gould, we decided to kick off the season with some short term experiments. The purpose of these is to see how krill physiology changes over a short time period (48 hours) when they’re exposed to high CO2 and/or high temperature. Some things that we measured included blood pH, cellular pH, and lactate.

Krill Blood
Krill have an open circulatory system, which means that there are no veins, arteries, or other blood vessels to carry around their juices. Like many other crustaceans, they also do not have any hemoglobin, the iron containing molecule in our blood that carries oxygen and gives it that nice red color. Instead, they use hemocyanin, a copper based molecule, which means the blood is clear-ish and difficult to find in these little guys. Brad and Abigail were able to find a nice large pool of it to take samples from.

Brad drawing blood from one of our krill

Brad drawing blood from one of our krill

Why these measurements?

One way that organisms can keep their machinery running smoothly is by moving things out of cells and into their blood, or vice versa. By measuring the cellular pH and blood pH, we can get an idea of how krill are moving around those little H+ ions (acidity).

Lactate works as an indicator of anaerobic respiration, the kind of metabolism that goes on when not enough oxygen can get to muscles in order to produce all of the energy they need. There are a couple of reasons organisms have to switch to this kind of respiration, but either is because they’re using oxygen more quickly, they’re have trouble getting oxygen to the muscles, or some combination of the two.

To measure lactate and cellular pH, their tails were chopped off and frozen to be analyzed back home. We do love our animals, but in order to study them, sometimes we have to do not-so-nice things. We are sorry, and we hope that their sacrifice will benefit the future of all krill-kind. No picture right here, in case it’s something you didn’t want to see, but feel free to click the link below if you do.


Measuring all of these parameters is important, because if a krill’s metabolism is going to change under increasing ocean temperature and acidity, these results can help explain how this change comes about. It will be very interesting to see what we get here – and how it comes together to tell the story of how krill respond to a changing ocean.

Right now Abigail and I are conducting some repeats of this same experiment (which are always good to have in science) as well as a similar experiment where we see how the krill may react to the same conditions over a longer time period (21 days).

Experiment Two – Juvenile Growth

Since we ended up with a nice mix of sub-adults (essentially krill in their late “teens”) and juveniles on our first krill delivery, we decided it would be a good time to conduct a juvenile growth experiment. Much like most animals, krill grow more quickly in their early stages than they do once they are nearly full grown – so the juveniles we got are ideal for this kind of an experiment.

We set up three treatments, as usual, each with 30 krill in their own jars. Each jar was observed daily, to see if the krill had molted. Krill do not grow continuously, but they can increase size (or sometimes decrease) each time they molt. Each time a krill molted, we weighed it and measured its length, as well as the length of the exoskeleton it shed. This allowed us to calculate what’s called the growth interval, between the krill and molt lengths.

Measuring krill length

Measuring krill length

A krill "molt"

A krill “molt”

Krill typically molt every 30 days or so, and about 25 days later we only have one straggler that hasn’t molted yet. The krill in the high temperature treatment seemed to molt much more quickly than those in the control and high CO2 treatments. This isn’t entirely too surprising, since most biological rates in ectothermic (“cold blooded”) organisms increase as temperature does. It also seems that these guys had a smaller (or negative) growth interval, as compared to the ones in the other treatments. One potential explanation for this is that, under higher temperature conditions, the krill have to devote more energy to metabolism than to growth, but it’s too early to call for sure.

Kickin’ it at Palmer Station

It hasn’t been all work and no play for us at Palmer station this season. Aside from plenty of indoor activities like movies, music, ping-pong, and pool, there is a lot of great outdoors to enjoy down here.

The Great Outdoors

The scenery alone makes sitting around and relaxing a great time. We’ve had plenty of nice sunsets, and watching how quickly the ice can blow in still amazes me. Earlier in the season the sunsets would last for hours, and run right into sunrise with no darkness in between.

IMG_1782 IMG_1808

And there’s always the glacier, if you want to hike up for an even better view.  The flags mark the edge of a safe hiking area. If you cross them, look out, you’re in danger of falling into a crevasse and spending the rest of the season down there. From up here you can see all of the islands surrounding Palmer station, and beyond. Unfortunately we picked a pretty stormy day for this trek…

We’ve been able to camp out quite a few nights. Some people do almost every day.  There’s not much wood around to start a campfire with, but the weather has been awesome and hardly ever too cold.  No dorm room on station can beat camping out in the backyard – it’s really amazing to wake up in the morning to the grunting call of a leopard seal or the splash of a big piece of ice falling off the glacier.

CAMPING! View from the tent

At first, the 24 hour sunlight was a bit too much, and we would have to pull our hats over our eyes to get some zZzZz’s in the tent, but now it’s getting pretty dark at night and we almost have “normal” sunrises and sunsets.
The Moon and Antarctica


The Wildlife

Occasionally we’re able to take a boat out to one of the islands near station and do a bit of exploring. We’ve gotten to see some pretty cool wildlife, like these Adélie penguins on Torgerson Island…
IMG_1749 IMG_1750IMG_1751IMG_1736

…and even some babies, like the fuzzy guy in the pic below.

Even though the penguins get most of the attention, they’re not the only birds around. The brown skuas are my personal favorite. These guys are pretty intense, and have a reputation for dive-bombing scientists that wander too close to their nesting sites. They’ll also snatch up the occasional penguin chick, if given the chance.
IMG_1733 IMG_1734

We even saw some grass out on Torgerson! It sounds boring, I know, but it was NOT something I expected to see in Antarctica. There is actually a surprising amount of green stuff down here, in small patches. Most the “plant” life is in the water, as phytoplankton or kelp.

You don’t need to get on a boat to see the wildlife around here, though. Just step outside the lab and there’s usually something going on, like lazy seals floating by on ice floes and the other oft-forgotten bird, the noble Showy Sheathbill (probably the animal we see hanging around the most).
P1000022 P1000025 IMG_0278IMG_0311

Hope this was a nice little break, I know it was for us. Next up….more science!

We’re Totally Krillin’ It

Brad, Ryan, and I left Punta Arenas, in the Southern tip of Chile, on New Year’s Eve.  But before we left, T-Rex rubbed Magellan’s toe (a statue in the town square in Punta Arenas), which is a tradition thought to bring good weather during the crossing of the infamously rough Drake Passage.  I love the murals painted in this little city and the Imperial Cormorant (black and white bird).



One of the many beautiful murals in Punta Arenas


Pier full of Imperial Cormorants


Leaving Punta Arenas…onward to Antarctica


I don’t really think Magellan liked T-Rex much because we had a pretty rough crossing due to a low pressure storm front between Chile and Antarctica.  Winds were blowing about 50-60 knots, and 20-foot waves were breaking over the bow of our research ship, the Laurence M. Gould (or LMG as we call it).

Watch this video of our ship moving through rough weather (filmed by Dr. Josh Kohut from Rutgers University, who is also down working at Palmer Station this season):

breaking waves short


When the ship bounces like that, it is nearly impossible to do anything.  If you lie down in your bunk, you have to secure yourself inside by stuffing things around you like life vests.  But even then, you usually end up sailing up and hitting your head on the ceiling.  Sitting in a swivel chair is bad news for your tummy, and even walking goes from weightless steps to feeling like you are carrying about 10 times your body weight in an instant.  So the only thing that I can tolerate when the weather acts up is to sit on in the ship’s lounge chair and watch movies.  So that is what we did until the weather cleared up.

But we made it to Palmer Station on Sunday in one piece and met up with Abigail.  The view from my Palmer bedroom window is pretty spectacular (see below).  We have been very busy getting all of our equipment set up.  This project is very multidisciplinary in that we will be focusing on many different aspects of krill biology and physiology as well as chemistry of the ocean and even krill blood.  This is a picture of one of our labs – it’s pretty messy and full of equipment, but we are getting there!


View from my bedroom at Palmer Station. Look at all that sea ice!


Equipment Galore!


The research ship that brought us to Palmer left on Tuesday morning for their 1-month cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula.  This particular cruise has occurred every January since 1992 as part of a Long Term Ecological Research Project (LTER).  Sampling of this type is very important to understand not only variability in ocean dynamics between years, but also is one of the only methods to see long term changes in the environment, such as those related to climate change.  Read more about the Palmer LTER here:

Their first order of business was to collect krill for our experiments.  About an hour after they left the pier, the zooplankton group on board lowered a net into the water and towed it for a little while behind the ship at a low speed.  This is the best way to collect large zooplankton for experiments.


Towing for Antarctic krill


Unfortunately, they brought the net up and there were NO krill!  They did quite a few more net tows with no luck, then moved to a different location farther south and tried again.  They were still not able to get any krill.  There has been a very high amount of sea ice this year. What is likely happening is that because of all the ice this year, the normal biology of the Palmer Antarctic summer season is delayed.  This is because sea ice can block the sunlight going into the ocean, and phytoplankton (microscopic plants of the ocean) need that light to grow. The phytoplankton that krill feed on just became abundant near the shore during the last week.  Usually that happens a month or so earlier (November or December).  So the krill are likely really far away from shore right now where there is little to no sea ice (offshore).

Due to our theory, chief scientist of the research ship, Dr. Oscar Schofield (Rutgers University), then decided to try to tow for krill offshore. And find they did!  Lots of them! As soon as they collected the krill, they placed them carefully in buckets and brought them back to Palmer Station around 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning.  It was quite an operation – they had to crane them over to us.


Craning the buckets of krill from the ship to Palmer Station


Once we brought them into their new home for the next month, we placed them into large aquariums with flow through seawater.  We will begin experiments to look at the effects of enhanced carbon dioxide and temperature on their physiology in the next few days, so stay tuned!


Rutgers University undergraduate student, Ryan Fantasia, holding his first bucket of Antarctic krill.


Watch this video of the big krill swimming around…ENJOY!

krill swimming short



Polar research opportunity for high school students

Dear high school students,

Do you want hands-on research experience in Greenland? Do you want to learn about rapidly changing polar systems and see it with your own eyes? Do you want to learn the benefits of large, cooperative international research programs and learn about cultures from other nations? Well, now is your chance!  The Joint Science Education Project (JSEP) selects 5 US high school students per year (along with other students from Greenland and Denmark) to spend part of their summers working with researchers in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. What a fantastic way to spend 3 weeks of your summer!

To learn more about the program and to apply (APPLICATIONS ARE DUE ON JANUARY 31, 2014), visit:

Also, check out this video summarizing the program:

What inspires you?

This post is addressed specifically to the Kansas high school students that are participating in Project PARKA, but of course I hope that others who read this will think about this too.

I remember exactly where I was when I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to be a marine scientist.  At 8 years old, I had never before been seen an ocean, and had not even ventured out of Kansas, except for a few trips to Missouri.  I was standing next to a small pond behind a farmhouse in Harveyville, Kansas.  I had been watching a group of tadpoles for a number of weeks metamorphosing into frogs.  I still can’t explain why that affected me the way that it did, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.  And to this day, I have never thought about any other career choice.  I figured out, with of course some bumps in the road, how to get the education and experience I needed to get to where I am at today, and I have never regretted it. My story is what inspired me to start Project PARKA, to bring full circle what growing up in Kansas has done for me.  I  hope that you enjoy participating in this project and that it gives you some perspective on different career choices you may not have been familiar with.  I hope that my story will make you realize that you can do what you want to do if you hold tight to your goals and are willing to work hard. I am looking forward to meeting all of you in April at the student research symposium.

But until then, I want to ask you and I want to hear from you (you can use the comments section below if you want):  What inspires you?


Our field season has begun!

With the government shutdown over, we finally received word from the National Science Foundation (the funding agency that supports our project) that our project was still on schedule.  We were all very relieved.  Palmer Station-based research survived the shutdown as we are the easiest United States Antarctic field station to get to.  However, many research groups based out of McMurdo and South Pole lost an entire year of data.  This also seriously affects graduate students, whose entire theses may depend on one field season in the Antarctic.  This is a huge blow to research on climate change, and we wish the best to those researchers while they can get back on their feet.

With regards to our project, our supplies have all been shipped.  They are all shipped to Port Hueneme, California, then placed on a large cargo ship that cruises all the way down to Punta Arenas, Chile.  This takes 3-4 months.  The cargo is unloaded in Chile and placed on our main research vessel, the R/V Laurence M. Gould (the LMG for short), which brings it down to Palmer Station.  Abigail, a graduate student with Dr. Brad Seibel at University of Rhode Island, is on her way down to Palmer Station right now with the first set of cargo.  You can track the research ship, the LMG here: The LMG is docking at Palmer as I type this (see picture below).  You can also watch at:  This website also has some great information (see links on the left side of the page) about Antarctic weather, the U.S. research stations, The Antarctic Treaty, research in Antarctica, and opportunities for travel to Antarctica.

LMG docking at Palmer

Speaking of weather, it has not been cooperating with scientists at Palmer this season.  Just after the government shutdown ended and Palmer Station reopened, ice blew in and enclosed any open water for at least a few miles offshore.  There have been research groups there since mid-October, and they have not been able to conduct any sampling from the small ships, or zodiacs, yet.  This week looks a lot better, and they have been able to finish their boating courses that are required for anyone riding or driving in a zodiac at Palmer Station.  Fingers crossed the weather holds out for the remainder of the season!

The rest of our team (myself, Dr. Brad Seibel, and a Rutgers undergraduate student Ryan Fantasia) leave for Antarctica on Dec. 28.  We will arrive at Palmer on Feb. 4, 2014.  As the season progresses, we will blog about everyday life at Palmer Station and the diversity of research occurring in Antarctica, and of course we will show you the beauty of the continent and its inhabitants.  So please stay tuned, much more to come.

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.

Skip to toolbar