Texas Researchers Head to Antarctica for Pollution Study

A team of scientists will be leaving for Antarctica this week in order to conduct a pollution study.

Terry Palmer, a Research Associate with the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, is part of a team of scientists that will record their scientific adventures at McMurdo Station, the largest research station on the frozen continent of Antarctica. The results will be shared on the “Island to Ice 2013”  educational blog.

Palmer, who will embark on his 10th trip to Antarctica, will leave on Thursday, Nov. 7, and will return on Saturday, Dec. 7.  During his trip, funded by the National Science Foundation, the team will spend four weeks enduring a maximum wind chill of -10 F and experiencing the effects of a sun that never sets. In collaboration with researchers from Texas A&M University, the team will monitor the chemistry, macrofauna communities, sediment toxicity and animal tissue chemistry to determine if polluted areas of Antarctica are showing improvement.

“Antarctica provides such a surreal landscape and environment that is kind of overwhelming, but in a good way,” said Palmer. “It’s extremely cold and dry. There are no plants or insects, and very few animals.”

Palmer, who says that the bitter cold causes contaminants on land and water to break down slowly, studies how human-induced physical changes affect benthic macrofauna communities of animals on and in the bottom of seas and estuaries. At McMurdo station, he will collect ocean floor sediment and tissue from organisms to analyze the effects of contamination. After samples are preserved, they will be shipped to Palmer’s lab to be identified.

“Although some very small isolated parts of Antarctica are very polluted, organisms still manage to survive,” he said. “The contaminations are restricted to the sediment sea floor; however, the contaminants have risen up the food chain and are present in the tissues of fish and other mobile species.”

 The “Island to Ice 2013” project allows students from Texas, other parts of the United States, and New Zealand to ask questions via email and view online journal entries about the studies conducted in Antarctica.  This is the 13th year of the program.