University of Southern Mississippi marine scientist Vernon Asper
returned to the Antarctic Monday in a quest to unravel some of the
mysteries of Earth's climate changes.
Asper, a professor
of marine science specializing in marine geology and particle dynamics,
has been traveling to the remote Ross Sea in the Antarctic each
year since December 2001.
funded by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs,
Asper and graduate students from Southern Miss's Department of Marine
Science have worked with Dr. Walker Smith of the Virginia Institute
of Marine Sciences in deploying sophisticated equipment to monitor
both environmental and climate changes of this frigid region.
Science Foundation project, called "Interannual Variability
in the Ross Sea," or IVARS for short, is a five-year project
to see how the environment, and biological interactions with the
environment, change from year to year in this region of the Antarctic.
Joe Tegeder, a marine science graduate student in Southern Miss's
Department of Marine Science, based at Stennis Space Center, was
making his fourth trip to the Antarctic with Asper.
job is to collect and filter the suspended particle samples,"
Tegeder said. "In addition to that, I also assist Vernon with
the mooring deployment, and help the other scientists with their
to the Ross Sea, where all that science can begin, is a challenge.
are difficult," Asper said. "In December, we flew from
Gulfport to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia, to Hobart,
Tasmania." In Hobart, Asper boarded the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker
ship, the Polar Sea. It then took about eight days to sail through
the ice-choked waters to the study area in the Ross Sea.
and his party flew to Christchurch, New Zealand. From there, they
were to fly to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, where they will meet
the ship that will take them once again into the waters of the Ross
Once in his
research location each December, Asper establishes two mooring stations
in the sea where he deploys sampling equipment fastened to a long
tether to monitor chemical processes and biological organisms. The
equipment is withdrawn in February after collecting water samples
for analysis. Asper and the team from Southern Miss spend about
a week each trip in their research location taking water samples
and deploying or retrieving equipment from the mooring stations.
One of Asper's
primary interest areas is algal blooms high concentrations
of microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. The foundation
of the marine food chain, phytoplankton depend upon certain conditions
for growth and are a good indicator of change in their environment.
For these reasons, and because they also exert a global-scale influence
on climate, phytoplankton are of primary interest to oceanographers
and earth scientists around the world.
deployed into the Ross Sea can tell Asper a great deal about phytoplankton
how many are there, how fast they are growing, and whether
they are getting the nutrients they need from the environment.
on deck at around 20º F, Asper said he doesn't mind the cold.
Science Foundation provides clothing appropriate for the environment,"
he said. Wool socks, long underwear, several different kinds of
gloves for any working condition, mittens, hats, jackets, fleeces
and a parka are part of each crewmember's wardrobe.
are well provided with clothing for the cold, there is still no
escaping the danger inherent in the work they do from the deck of
right on the edge with no safety harnesses or railings," Asper
said. "If we were to fall in, we would very likely not survive."
however, are worth the payoff for Asper and his team.
environments are very important in monitoring climate change, imprinting
deep water as it's formed and as a sink for carbon dioxide,"
he said. "The more we know about these processes, the more
we'll understand observed changes in them."