When I sailed in the morning toward the Antarctic peninsula my first time, it was absolutely breathtaking—you go from two days in open ocean and all of a sudden you see these snow- and ice-covered mountains, and you reach this place that is stark, and it’s harsh, and you feel how desolate it is, but also how palpable life is there because it’s such a challenging place to live.
I spent two winters as a general marine biologist guide in the Antarctic. My first season I was a senior, it was right before my senior project term. I put together an introductory whale talk, an intro seal talk, an oceanography talk, one on whaling history, and one on fish and fisheries. I didn’t do a climate change talk, but I always throw in little nuggets of climate change. The Antarctic is the most rapidly warming place on the planet—you can look at pictures of glaciers melting back year by year and how all the organisms are responding. You can see it right there. But you still run across people who don’t believe it.
There isn’t a lot of large-scale science going on in the Antarctic because it’s so challenging. There’s a lot of basic biology that we’ve inferred from just a few data points, which isn’t quite enough. So we make a lot of generalizations. When I see something interesting that hasn’t been represented in the literature to my knowledge, it’s exciting: a penguin with the wrong color eye; a humpback whale with really weird barnacles and skin lesions that I’ve never seen anywhere. Each one of those moments is this feeling of exploration and the promise of answers to questions that hadn’t been thought yet.
I come from Wisconsin and there’s not a lot of ocean out there, so COA was my introduction to the marine world—I worked out on Mount Desert Rock and on COA’s boat, the Osprey. My PhD program is in a quantitative ecology lab, using math and statistics to tackle complex ecological questions which can be used to get at issues of population dynamics and other fairly large-scale problems in ecology. I’m hoping to look at how changing climate variables are affecting populations at both large and finer scales in the Antarctic. One thing COA taught me was to ask questions broadly and think about how things work on vastly different scales.