PAL PI Oscar Schofield was recently asked to provide a “senior scientist view of the world” as part of the Food for Thought series in the ICES Journal of Marine Science. In this retrospective, Oscar recounts how he ended up as an oceanographer, he shares tales of his early field experiences and the friends he made along the way, and he shares his insights on the future of ocean science and lessons learned along the way. His biggest lesson, “Don’t’ forget that science is fun!” Abstract: Over the last 30 years, ocean sciences have been undergoing a technological revolution. Changes include the transition of autonomous platforms from being interesting engineering projects to being critical tools for scientists studying a range of processes at sea. My career has benefitted immensely from these technical innovations, allowing me to be at sea (virtually) 365 days a year and operate ocean networks globally. While these technical innovations have opened many research doors, many aspects of oceanography are unchanged. In my experience, working/talking/scheming with scientists is most effective face-to-face. Despite the growing capabilities of robotic platforms, we will still need to go to sea on ships to conduct critical experiments. As the responsibilities of scientists expand with mandated outreach efforts, I strongly urge young scientists to leverage the expertise of Broader Impact professionals, who are increasingly available to our community, in order to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of our outreach efforts. Given the increasing observations of change occurring in the ocean, our work is ever-more important while still being fun. I am blessed to have had a career as an oceanographer exploring this planet. You can find Oscar’s full paper here… Schofield, O. (2024). Watching the sunrise on our ocean planet in a new era of marine science. ICES Journal of Marine Science, fsae049.

During the winter, sea ice that is essential to the marine food web usually grows around Antarctica. Warming temperatures are slowing that growth. By Kristin Toussaint4 minute Read It’s currently winter in Antarctica, but that doesn’t mean the polar region is exempt from the extreme temperatures that are scorching the world. While normally the ocean around Antarctica freezes in the winter, growing sea ice that is essential to the marine food web, this year that ice isn’t growing as usual. “What we’re seeing this year we’ve never seen before,” says Oscar Schofield, chair of the Marine Science Program at Rutgers University and one of the principal investigators for Palmer LTER, a Long Term Ecological Research site on Antarctica. “Unless something dramatic happens in late winter, which I’m not expecting, this will be the lowest year ever recorded for sea ice.” Sea ice grows throughout the winter, historically reaching its peak in September at about 19 million square kilometers, or 7 million square miles. (North America, for comparison, is about 9.5 million square miles.) But the ice isn’t growing to that level this year. The decline is so extreme that researchers have been calling it a “five-sigma event,” basically referring to how many standard deviations it is beyond the mean: “It’s like, okay, we’re five times outside of deviations,” Schofield says, “so it’s an extreme event.” As of June 27, Antarctic sea ice measured 1.6 million square kilometers (618,000 square miles) below the previous record low for that date set in 2022, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center—and more than 2.6 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Before 2015, some areas around Antarctica would see large declines in sea ice, but other areas were still growing more, so it essentially balanced out. Since 2016 there’s been a “hemispheric decline” in the amount of sea ice year to year. “But this year is particularly stunning in how little sea ice has formed around the continent,” Schofield says. The trend has big implications for the planet. Antarctica is already warming faster than the rest of the world, with the Antarctic Peninsula in particular warming five times faster than the global average. The ocean also takes in a lot of the atmospheric carbon that we produce, and the Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean, is responsible for 30% to 40% of that. ​“If you change the state of the Southern Ocean, there’s great potential for it to have big ramifications on planetary carbon, biogeochemistry, and all those kinds of things,” Schofield says. “There are a lot of discussions going on now about, what does a super-low-sea-ice year like this mean?” There are also questions about what the decline means for the Antarctic life that has evolved around sea ice. In the winter, Antarctic winds increase, which can mix up the ocean water. Sea ice provides a substrate, or “tabletop,” Schofield says, that protects the surface of the ocean. The upper ocean is important for plants that need to catch sunlight, and in years after there’s been a lot of sea ice, researchers tend to see big blooms of plankton in the spring—which then feed krill, ensuring there’s krill to feed whales, penguins, fish, and so on. “One prediction might be that with no sea ice, plankton blooms are smaller, and then we see that ripple up through the food web,” Schofield says. His research team is just starting to gear up for its field work, which begins in October and includes research cruises in January, so he’s not quite sure what the impact of this low-sea-ice winter will be down the line. “Is this going to be one of those years where the system fundamentally flips to be in a new state? We don’t know the answer,” he says. “But we do know that this [extreme] level is going to be sort of a prime experiment in terms of what future Antarctic ecosystems might look like.” Ecosystems could also be affected by warming water, and less sea ice means the ocean absorbs more warmth from the sun. (White ice reflects the sun, but the blue of the ocean absorbs heat from sunlight.) “Once it starts to run away it becomes worse,” says David Holland, a professor of mathematics and climate science at New York University who studies both the Arctic and Antarctic. “When summer comes to polar regions, it’s 24 /7 sunlight . . . and so you just get this really big impact. . . . Not having ice means sunlight is absorbed really efficiently by the blue ocean.” Less sea ice doesn’t change the sea level, though, since sea ice often melts and re-forms—but it can cause the planet to warm faster than current models show, Holland adds. And if that warm ocean starts to melt the continent of Antarctica and its thick, miles-deep ice, that means sea levels could rise. These trends certainly stem from human-induced climate change and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but natural climate cycles like El Niño can magnify the effects of climate change. Essentially, a lot of things are happening to the planet at once—but the lack of sea ice and the condition of the Antarctic is extreme. “It’s absolutely mind-boggling,” Holland says. “It’s such a massive change.” Original article at Fast Company Photo credit; Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It’s been a spring of alarming headlines for the coldest climates on Earth, from record heat waves at both poles, to a never-before-seen ice shelf collapse in East Antarctica. But what can we say for sure about how the Arctic and Antarctic are changing under global warming? In this Zoom taping, guest host Umair Irfan talks to two scientists, Arctic climate researcher Uma Bhatt and Antarctic biological oceanographer Oscar Schofield, about the changes they’re seeing on the ice and in the water, and the complex but different ecologies of both these regions. Plus, answering listener questions about the warming polar regions. Original article and video at Science Friday

High-resolution optical imaging systems are quickly becoming universal tools to characterize and quantify microbial diversity in marine ecosystems. Automated detection systems such as convolutional neural networks (CNN) are often developed to identify the immense number of images collected. The goal of our study was to develop a CNN to classify phytoplankton images collected with an Imaging FlowCytobot for the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research project. A medium complexity CNN was developed using a subset of manually-identified images, resulting in an overall accuracy, recall, and f1-score of 93.8%, 93.7%, and 93.7%, respectively. The f1-score dropped to 46.5% when tested on a new random subset of 10,269 images, likely due to highly imbalanced class distributions, high intraclass variance, and interclass morphological similarities of cells in naturally occurring phytoplankton assemblages. Our model was then used to predict taxonomic classifications of phytoplankton at Palmer Station, Antarctica over 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 summer field seasons. The CNN was generally able to capture important seasonal dynamics such as the shift from large centric diatoms to small pennate diatoms in both seasons, which is thought to be driven by increases in glacial meltwater from January to March. Moving forward, we hope to further increase the accuracy of our model to better characterize coastal phytoplankton communities threatened by rapidly changing environmental conditions. Full article

A long-term study in the Southern Ocean reveals a correlation among warming waters, decreased sea ice and reduced abundance of Antarctic silverfish. These small fish are important prey for penguins, seals and other marine life. The study was published in the journal Communications Biology. Lead author Andrew Corso of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science says, “This is the first statistically significant relationship reported between sea ice and the long-term abundance of any Antarctic fish species. With continued regional warming, these fish could disappear from the region entirely, triggering major changes in the marine ecosystem.” Co-authors on the study are Deborah Steinberg and Eric Hilton of VIMS, along with Sharon Stammerjohn at the University of Colorado Boulder. The study is based on an analysis of more than 7,000 larval fish specimens collected over 25 years (1993–2017) as part of the NSF-funded Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research program. The Palmer LTER is an ongoing investigation of the effects of climate change on the ocean food web along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. “The West Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming areas on Earth, so studies there are important to helping us understand the ecosystem’s response to change,” says Karla Heidelberg, a program director in NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. Steinberg adds that “the study area is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, with increases in air and water temperatures leading to substantial reductions in sea-ice coverage over the last half century.” From 1945 to 2009, the mean winter air temperature in the region rose by 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius), while the annual duration of sea ice decreased by almost two months. —  NSF Public Affairs, Original Article at NSF

The Long-Term Ecological Research site at Palmer Station, Antarctica, celebrates its 30th field season this year. Thanks to this long-running research program, scientists have consistently tracked environmental changes taking place along the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth, over the past several decades. Researchers have also seen how those changes have rippled through the food web, affecting everything from microscopic ocean plants and tiny crustaceans to penguins and other seabirds and marine mammals. Data collected from the Palmer LTER helps researchers understand not only how climate change is disturbing the marine ecosystem of the Antarctic Peninsula, but also gives them an idea of what the coldest places on Earth might look like in the coming decades. “I think the LTER is going to help guide us in understanding where the polar regions of this planet are going to go,” said Oscar Schofield, an oceanographer at Rutgers University and lead Principal Investigator of the Palmer LTER. “If you didn’t have this long-term dataset, you’re not in a position to understand why the ecology changes.” Full article at The Antarctic Sun

The National Science Foundation has funded RUCOOL to update their Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Website. The Palmer LTER study area is located to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula extending South and North of the Palmer Basin from onshore to several hundred kilometers off shore. Palmer Station is one of the three United States research stations located in Antarctica. It is on Anvers Island midway down the Antarctic Peninsula at latitude 64.7 South, longitude 64.0 West. The Palmer LTER studies a polar marine biome with research focused on the Antarctic pelagic marine ecosystem, including sea ice habitats, regional oceanography and terrestrial nesting sites of seabird predators. The Palmer LTER is one of more than 26 LTER research sites located throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Tahiti; each focused on a specific ecosystem, that together constitute the LTER Network. We have added a lot of new features to help all researchers help us study the West Antarctic Peninsula, one of the most rapidly warming locations on Earth.  The warming is resulting in declining sea ice which is now rippling through the food web. We see this new website as an evolving project. Please reach out and provide us input on suggestions, questions, and thoughts.