Polar organisms have adapted...

...their seasonal cycles to the dynamic interface between ice and water. This interface ranges from the micrometer-sized brine channels within sea ice to the planetary-scale advance and retreat of sea ice. Polar marine ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change because small temperature differences can have large effects on the extent and thickness of sea ice. Little is known about the interactions between large, long-lived organisms and their planktonic food supply. Disentangling the effects of human exploitation of upper trophic levels from basin-wide, decade-scale climate cycles to identify long-term, global trends is a daunting challenge facing polar bio-oceanography.

(From Smetacek and Nicol, Nature, 2005)


Maria Vernet

I am marine phytoplankton ecologist with specialization in polar environments, Antarctic and Arctic. My interests are wide ranging, from taxonomy to primary production, dynamics of plankton communities, planktonic food webs and pelagic-benthic coupling. My approach has been mostly experimental, based on laboratory and field studies, more recently including inverse modeling of food webs.  During the last 14 years my projects have concentrated on ice-phytoplankton interactions, studying response of plankton after Antarctic ice-shelf breakup, the ecosystem around drifting icebergs and more recently the influence of glacier meltwater in polar fjords. For the last four years I have collaborated with tourist ships that are members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators  (IAATO) organization to the Antarctic Peninsula  to extend sampling of phytoplankton from fjords along the Peninsula, a highly successful approach not only to obtain samples of scientific relevance but also as an effective way to reach non-scientists and involve them in science and conservation efforts.

Email: mvernet@ucsd.edu

Web site: www.polarphytoplankton.ucsd.edu

Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=jAs5hsUAAAAJ&hl=en

Allison Cusick

Allison Cusick is a Biological Oceanography PhD graduate student in the Vernet Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She was born and raised in Seattle, Washington where she received her BS in Biology from the University of Washington in 2006. After working as a technician in various fields for 10 years (6.5 of which she looked at diatom response to ocean acidification), she moved down to San Diego to begin an MAS degree in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation from SIO.  Her first expedition to Antarctica occurred in 2013, where she boarded the US Nathaniel B Palmerfor 53-days in the Ross Sea. Since 2017, she has been traveling annually to the Antarctic Peninsula through her graduate work running the FjordPhyto citizen science project and giving lectures to passengers on-board various expedition ships.  Her scientific expertise and love of travel have also allowed her to research exotic ecosystems in the Amazon jungle, the plains of Africa, and remote mountains in Mexico. When not doing science you can find Allison traveling, scuba diving, ultra-running, cycling, camping, or drinking a good cup of coffee. For more information visit: www.womanscientist.com and www.linkedin.com/in/womanscientist.

FjordPhyto Citizen Science project

The FjordPhyto citizen science project connects Antarctic travelers with the Vernet Lab to help monitor changes in the microscopic life that live within coastal fjords. With the help from expedition vessels registered with the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), polar guide staff, and passengers, biological and physical data is gathered from multiple fjords along the west Antarctic Peninsula throughout November to March. Over the growth season, we can characterize phytoplankton communities and relate their assemblages to the presence of glacial meltwater. This project not only provides a better understanding of how glacial meltwater may impact biodiversity and ecology at the base of the food web, but also increases tourism engagement and understanding of science. To learn more about the FjordPhyto citizen science project visit our website at  https://www.fjordphyto.org and follow updates on our social media accounts Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/fjordphyto), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/fjordphyto) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/fjordphyto)

Project is funded in part by  the National Science Foundation Public Participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Research (PPSR) extension to NSF award # PLR-1443705 (2017-2018), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Michael M. Mullin Fellowship (2018-2019), the Hurtigruten Foundation, and many generous donors through UCSDs Crowdsurf campaign (2018-present)

Jack Pan

Jack Pan is currently pursuing his Ph.D. degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO, UCSD). Prior to enrolling at SIO, he attended UC Irvine and obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Earth & Environmental Sciences with a minor in Global Sustainability in 2013. Between 2012 and 2014, Jack worked as a consultant at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and served as a team lead to drive the development of two satellite remote sensing projects on coastal ocean monitoring. He received his Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from SIO in 2016. As a polar oceanographer, Jack has participated in numerous expeditions to Antarctica and local research deployments; in 2016 he received his Congressional/DoD Antarctica Service Medal for his instrumentation work and sampling in extreme environments. Jack is also an avid traveler and photographer (https://500px.com/byjpan/galleries). For more information, please visit: www.byjpan.com.

Jack’s Polar Research

In Jack's Ph.D. dissertation, his research focuses on the impacts of environmental change on phytoplankton ecology in the Western Antarctic Peninsula under the FjordEco project. He is interested in using a combination of methods, including field work, remote sensing, computational models, and data science, to better understand the polar ecosystem from a holistic perspective. Jack's work focuses on the role of glacial meltwater and its influence on phytoplankton community composition. He analyzed the oceanographic and optical data collected during the FjordEco field campaign, and developed a multivariate linear model to predict meltwater fraction based on these optical properties. In order to better understand the role of meltwater in the polar ecosystem, Jack also used a state-of-art deep-learning modeling technique akin to those used for research and development in self-driving cars. The models from this method are capable of predicting phytoplankton community abundance with extremely high accuracy. He will apply these machine learning models to the shelf of the Western Antarctic Peninsula in order to gain insights on the broader ecosystem dynamics.


Jeff S. Bowman

I'm a microbial ecologist interested in how the single-celled members of the Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya mediate the biogeochemical processes that drive polar ecosystems.  My lab is active in both the Arctic and Antarctic, and we use a variety of tools including DNA and RNA sequencing, flow cytometry, mass spectrometry, and modeling in our investigations.  Our current projects include participation in the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition, an audacious multi-disciplinary effort to make observations of key climate parameters in the central Arctic across a complete annual cycle.

Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=Cits2zAAAAAJ&hl=en

Recent new pieces: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/science/arctic-sea-ice-expedition-to-study-climate-change/?utm_term=.1d2aed30d7a1

Recent relevant blog posts from my group: https://www.polarmicrobes.org/category/mosaic/

Srishti Dasarathy

Srishti Dasarathy is a doctoral student in Biological Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO, UCSD). Before pursuing graduate study at SIO, she attended UNC Chapel Hill and received her BS in Biology with minors in Marine Science and Chemistry in 2016. Her undergraduate research experiences have ranged from analyzing life in one of the world’s most extreme environments, the hydrothermal vents of Guaymas Basin, to studying the acoustics of fin whales in the Bering Sea. Srishti’s work has led to her designation as an Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholar as well as a co-authored publication in Frontiers in Microbiology. Srishti also serves as an environmental advocate, encouraging students of all grade levels to pursue the sciences, and continues to present her research both on-campus and nation-wide. Srishti was the recipient of the Irene F. Lee Chancellor's Award, which distinguished her as the most outstanding senior woman at UNC-CH for the Class of 2016. As a graduate student at SIO, she has cultivated her passion in the interdisciplinary sciences and utilizes remote sensing techniques to investigatehow the polar microbial ecosystem of the western Antarctic Peninsula influences the physical environment. She continues to advocate and represent the interests of students, particularly minorities and women, and has served as a Student Representative to the Graduate Student Council as well as the SIO Graduate Student Council Co-Chair. Beyond the sciences, Srishti is an avid traveler, photographer, road-trip enthusiast, dog-lover, and long-distance runner. For more information, and to find her C/V, please visit https://www.polarmicrobes.org.

Srishti’s Research

Srishti’s graduate research focuses on improving our understanding of the link between marine microbial ecology and the physical environment of the western Antarctic Peninsula (wAP). Towards these ends, she has undertaken an analysis on the oceanographic parameters, particularly ocean color and sea ice, most strongly associated with marine aerosol formation in the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) study area. This is exceptionally important as high latitude regions harbor a rich diversity of biological activity and high rates of primary production intimately tied to sea ice and aerosol dynamics. In later stages of her work, she will use novel applications of satellite-based measurements in conjunction with the analysis of microbial community assemblages to bridge in-situmicrobial community sampling observations with remote sensing. The anticipated findings from her work will help bridge a gap between our knowledge of biological community diversity and function with the physical environment of the WAP. Her work will further enhance the value of remote sensing data products through associations with constructed global microbial community assemblages across spatiotemporal scales.

Emelia Chamberlain

Emelia Chamberlain is a PhD student studying Biological Oceanography in the Bowman Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO, UCSD). Growing up in the forested Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, she developed an interest in the natural sciences from a young age. In 2018, she received her B.A. in Environmental and Marine Science from Boston University. During her undergraduate career, she participated in an extensive amount of ecological research from the coastal marshes of Massachusetts to the mangrove forests of Belize. However, her primary research focused on the hydrologic and biogeochemical properties of Antarctic lake systems and it was during her 2015 Antarctic Dry Valley field season that she developed a passion for polar science. At SIO, Emelia is excited to shift her expertise northward to the other polar extreme while she completes her dissertation work on Arctic microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. Her first Arctic oceanographic expedition is planned for the summer of 2020. For more information, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emelia-chamberlain

Emelia's Research

Emelia’s dissertation research focuses onhow microbial community structure and ecophysiology mediate biogeochemical fluxes in the central Arctic Ocean. She plans to use a combination of field observations and modeling approaches to study these processes. Fieldwork will include participation in the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) International Drift project. MOSAiC is an international effort to study the Arctic ocean-ice-atmosphere system with the goal of clarifying key climatic and ecological processes as they function in a changingArctic. The field campaign lasts an entire year, creating a time series of observations across the complete seasonal cycle.Emelia’s work will focus on constraining seasonal oxygen and carbon fluxes in the context of microbial community composition.You can find more information on the MOSAiC Expedition here: https://www.mosaic-expedition.org. Emelia is funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the University of California San Diego Cota Robles Fellowship.


Polar Ecosystems Researchers:

Jeff Bowman

Assistant Professor
Oceans and Atmosphere, Biology

Maria Vernet

Research Biologist (RTAD)

John Hildebrand

Oceans and Atmosphere

B. Greg Mitchell

Research Biologist, Emeritus

Research in polar regions is enhanced by international collaborations. Five main foreign academic institutions participate in, or sponsor, our polar research:

  1. Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremenhaven, Germany
  2. CADIC, Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas, Ushuaia, Argentina
  3. KOPRI (Korean Polar Research Institute), Incheon, Republic of Korea
  4. SINTEF, Trondheim, Norway
  5. University of the Arctic in Norway, Tromso, Norway
  6. University of Concepcion, Concepcion, Chile
  7. University of La Plata, La Plata, Argentina