May 3, 2012
For Geoscience students—or any other science students for that matter—getting field experience is critical. Many students find summer research programs at various colleges and institutions across the country. Very few, however, get the chance to travel to Antarctica to conduct research on the Larson Ice Shelf with scientists from all over the world.
J.W. Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Studies Eugene Domack has studied the Larson Ice Shelf in Antarctica for 25 years. Every few years, he takes several students on a six-week adventure aboard the research vessel Nathaniel V. Palmer to explore the ice shelf and its impact on the environment. He has taken roughly 100 students to Antarctica since he began taking trips in 1987.
This year Domack, along with Associate Professor of Biology Mike McCormick took students Andrew Seraichick ’13, Manique Talia-Murray ’12, Natalie Elking ’12 and Hamilton alumna Liz Bucherri ’11 for a five week adventure, spanning from March 7 to April 15. Students work on projects involving the Larson Ice Shelf and are under the LARISSA (Larson Ice Shelf System, Antarctica) project, of which Domack is the principal investigator. In 2002, part of the Larson Ice Shelf collapsed causing a great deal of damage to the surrounding environment. The LARISSA project studies the Larson Ice Shelf with the goal to better understand the ice shelf, how it is changing and how these changes are impacting the surroundings.
Each trip has specific goals and research plans. This particular trip had two groups. One group comprised of Talia-Murray and Elking (under the direction of Domack) looked into the geological aspects of the ice shelf. They collected assorted sediment and granite samples to help understand the timelines of the Larson Ice Shelf. Seraichick and Bucherri (alongside McCormick) formed the second group which focused on the biological aspects of the trip.
“The purpose of my portion of the trip was to look at the sea floor microbial communities and their response to the Larsen Ice Shelf collapse in 2002. We took samples along a transect of the Larsen A ice shelf area for DNA and geochemical gradients,” said Seraichick.
This will allow the group, as well as other scientists, to better understand the changes that have occurred since the collapse and how the microbial communities are dealing with the change. Seraichick says the samples will have to be analyzed this summer in order to fully understand what was discovered. These samples will also allow scientists to understand how microbial communities are able to survive in an area that can best be described as harsh.
The group did find ikaite crystals in a core sample which is promising. “This was particularly exciting since they are a strange type of mineral that utilizes organic carbon from microbes breaking down detritus when it falls to the ocean floor,” said Seraichick. This indicates some promise for future results.
Aside from making scientific advances the trip also allows for those aboard to take in the breathtaking landscape that surrounds them.
“Antarctica is beautiful. The ice around the ship was practically alive,” Seraichick said. Seraichick explained that words and pictures really cannot do justice to how breathtaking the surroundings are. This was Seraichick’s first time doing field work, and alongside his group members and guiding faculty, he had a great time.
“It was amazing to collect samples from the environment, to really understand where all the samples I had already worked with in the lab came from, ” Seraichick said.