CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Terry Palmer, a Research Associate with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, was among a team of scientists from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University that recently conducted environmental monitoring in Antarctica at Palmer Station, located on Anvers Island. Palmer Station is one of two coastal United States research stations in Antarctica. For Palmer, it was his 11th trip to the world’s fifth largest continent.
The team spent four weeks from April 12 to May 7 enduring a wind chill of 6 F and experiencing day lengths as short as 7 hours. They collected samples of ocean floor sediment and tissues of organisms and monitored the chemistry, macrofauna communities, sediment toxicity, and animal tissue chemistry to determine the presence and extent of pollution at Palmer Station, Antarctica. The samples will be processed in the coming months and results will be shared near the end of 2015.
“The Antarctic coast is a harsh and beautiful place, filled with riches of marine life,” said Palmer. “Despite its harshness, the Antarctic is also relatively stable and therefore vulnerable to change. Our aim is to determine if the presence of Americans in Antarctica is impacting this vulnerable environment”
To reach the continent of Antarctica, the group traveled on the ARSV Laurence M. Gould, an icebreaker vessel. The trip took five days. At Palmer Station, the group used scuba to collect ocean floor sediment and tissue from organisms to analyze the effects of contamination. In past years, the group has traveled to McMurdo Station, which is the largest research station on the frozen continent. During this most recent research trip, Palmer logged daily photos and videos of glaciers, seals, snowy sheathbills, and penguins on Facebook and Instagram.
Palmer, who said 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 the seas and estuaries.
“Unlike the warm Gulf of Mexico, biological and chemical break-down in the Antarctic environment is incredibly slow, meaning that natural remediation of pollution can take decades or longer,” Palmer commented. “Visually, the contamination at Palmer Station appears to be very low, which is a good sign that the US is preserving this pristine environment while allowing important research to be undertaken,” he said.