LTER: Palmer Antarctica LTER: Climate Change, Ecosystem Migration and Telecommunication in an Ice-Dominated Environment

Lead PI: Hugh Ducklow

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

April 2013 - August 2015
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Since 1990, Palmer LTER (PAL) research has been guided by the hypothesis that variability in the polar marine ecosystem is mechanistically coupled to changes in the annual advance, retreat and spatial extent of sea ice. Since that time, the hypothesis has been modified to incorporate climate migration, i.e. the displacement of a cold, dry polar climate by a warm, moist climate regime in the northern component of the PAL region, producing fundamental changes in food web structure and elemental cycling. The observed northern changes are affecting all trophic levels and elemental cycling, and the primary mechanism of change involves match-mismatch dynamics. The proposed research builds on previous findings, with a new emphasis on process studies and modeling to elucidate the mechanistic links between teleconnections, climate change, physical oceanographic forcing and ecosystem dynamics. The proposed research will examine the hypothesis that regional warming and sea ice decline associated with historical and on-going climate migration in the northern part of the study area have altered key phenological relationships, leading to changes in species distributions, increasing trophic mismatches and changes in habitat, food availability, ecosystem dynamics and biogeochemical cycling. Through targeted process studies linked to numerical model simulations, the research also will test the hypothesis that deep cross-shelf canyons characterizing the core study region are focal areas for ecosystem processes that result in predictable, elevated food resources for top-predators. The effort includes the addition of 3 new PIs: a zooplankton ecologist with expertise in biogeochemical fluxes, a phytoplankton ecologist focusing on bio-optics and autonomous observations using gliders, and a numerical simulation modeler specializing in coupled global models of ocean circulation, plankton ecology and biogeochemical cycles. The program will add trace metal sampling and analysis, moored physical oceanographic sensors, a moored sediment trap in the south, drifting sediment traps and stable carbon (del 13C) and nitrogen (del 15N) isotope analyses. Missions lasting up to 45 days using gliders deployed before, during and after summer cruises will, along with moorings and satellite remote sensing of sea ice, ocean color, sea surface temperatures and wind fields, greatly extend the observational program in space and time. Since its inception, PAL has been a leader in Information Management to enable knowledge-building within and beyond the Antarctic, oceanographic and LTER communities. PAL has designed and deployed a new information infrastructure with a relational database architecture to facilitate data distribution and sharing. The Education and Outreach program capitalizes on the public's fascination with Antarctica to promote scientific literacy from kindergarten students to adult citizens concerned with climate change and environmental sustainability. Through communicating results to the public and working with scientific assessment bodies (e.g., IPCC) and Antarctic Treaty parties to protect Earth's last frontier, PAL researchers contribute to the national scientific agenda and the greater public benefit.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Douglas Martinson


Ocean & Climate Physics (O&CP)



carbon climate migration nitrogen isotopes climate ecosystems regional warming sea ice climate and society education trace metals telecommunication