On October 15, 2008, Alex and Elizabeth departed Punta Arenas, Chile aboard the Laurence M. Gould. Their journey will take them to Palmer Station, Antarctica. Palmer Station is a U.S. scientific research station focused on marine biology. They will be spending the Antarctic Summer participating in this year's collection of data at the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. During their 6 months in the Antarctic, they will be working as the phytoplankton/bio-optics component of the Palmer, Antarctica, Long-Term Ecological Research project (PAL-LTER) program. PAL-LTER seeks to understand the structure and function of the Western Antarctic Peninsula's marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the context of seasonal-to-interannual atmospheric and sea ice dynamics, as well as long-term climate change.
The PAL measurement system (or grid) is designed to study marine and terrestrial food webs consisting principally of diatom primary producers, the dominant herbivore Antarctic krill, and the apex predator Adelie penguin. An attenuated microbial food web is also a focus. The PAL-LTER is investigating ecosystem changes at lower trophic levels along the Peninsula, in response to the continued, dramatic climate warming and pole ward shifts in the climatic gradient. To quantify the impact of regional warming on the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) ecosystem, data is being collected across the full climate gradient along the WAP in both space and time.
The overall objectives of PAL-LTER research at Palmer Station, prior to the annual cruise, are to document and understand the seasonal and interannual cycles of primary production, krill recruitment, Adelie penguin breeding and microbial biogeochemical processes in the nearshore regime of the coastal Antarctic ecosystem. Elizabeth and Alex are collecting samples at Palmer Station from October to January, and again from February through April. They are conducting water column sampling using a 20 foot zodiac and are also carrying out experiments to measure photosynthesis in the coastal waters near Palmer Station. They will also be deploying autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) as a new component to the PAL-LTER. The Slocum gliders will be deployed to monitor, temperature, conductivity, and salinity of the adjacent ocean to help observe the development of local upwelling events that drive primary production at the base of oceanic ecosystems.
The annual Antarctic LTER cruise will be conducted during January 2009. This year, the annual PAL-LTER shipboard sampling has been extended farther south to encompass less-altered conditions while maintaining critical long term core observations to the north. The southern extension of the grid will allow sampling in regions not yet experiencing climate change to the extent observed in the north. Consequently, this extension of the sample grid may reflect the conditions that influenced the northern region when the PAL project began in 1990.
During the ship surveys there will be deployment and recovery of two coordinated Slocum gliders. The glders are outfitted to measure temperature, salinity, depth-averaged and surface currents, and bio-optics. The two gliders will survey southern regions of the ship sampling grid by transecting to and collecting data over the southern deep troughs prior to each process study.
In addition to all of the above-described work, Alex and Elizabeth feel it is important to document and share the experience of conducting research in such a fragile and isolated environment. To that end, Alex is maintaining a science blog while Elizabeth will be posting to a more general blog about life at Palmer Station in Antarctica. Feel free to email them with questions about either the science they are studying or about life in one of the most remote places on earth.
Alex is currently a postdoctoral research associate at Rutgers University where he is working for his former PhD. advisor Oscar Schofield. Oscar is the principal investigator of the phytoplankton and bio-optics components of the Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER). Alex’s PhD. thesis was focused on the links between phytoplankton physiology and oceanic carbon sequestration.
For the last half of his PhD. studies, Alex commuted via train and bike from New York City to New Brunswick, NJ. In NYC, he lived with his girlfriend Elizabeth (Zibba). Alex and Elizabeth met in 2001 as undergraduates at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). While at UCSB Alex completed degrees in Hydrology and Geography and worked as an intern processing satellite remote sensing data from the Santa Barbara Channel for Dave Siegel.
Outside of the earth sciences, Alex’s passions are long distance running, climbing, and getting lost in the political blogosphere.
Elizabeth Leonardis — a.k.a. “zibba” — is a registered nurse, who most recently worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, NY. She has since taken a sabbatical from nursing and is embarking on a journey to Antarctica with her boyfriend Alex, where she will be working as a research assistant at the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site.
Elizabeth and Alex met as undergraduates at UC Santa Barbara, where she earned a degree in BioPsychology. Elizabeth then went on to pursue a second bachelors degree, in Nursing, at the University of Rochester. Upon their return from Antarctica, Elizabeth plans to enter a masters program in nursing and continue her career in healthcare. That is unless she falls in love with phytoplankton or penguins in Antarctica and decides to devote her life to studying them.
When she isn't busy saving lives or filtering seawater, you can find Elizabeth running, rock climbing, or curled up with a good book.