Short Name:

LTER Palmer, Antarctica (PAL): Land-Shelf-Ocean Connectivity, Ecosystem Resilience and Transformation in a Sea-Ice Influenced Pelagic Ecosystem

The Palmer Antarctica LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) site has been in operation since 1990. The goal of all the LTER sites is to conduct policy-relevant research on ecological questions that require tens of years of data, and cover large geographical areas. For the Palmer Antarctica LTER, the questions are centered around how the marine ecosystem west of the Antarctica peninsula is responding to a climate that is changing as rapidly as any place on the Earth. For example, satellite observations over the past 35 years indicate the average duration of sea ice cover is now ~90 days (3 months!) shorter than it was. The extended period of open water has implications for many aspects of ecosystem research, with the concurrent decrease of Adelie penguins within this region regularly cited as an exemplar of climate change impacts in Antarctica. Cutting edge technologies such as autonomous underwater (and possibly airborne) vehicles, seafloor moorings, and numerical modeling, coupled with annual oceanographic cruises, and weekly environmental sampling, enables the Palmer Antarctica LTER to expand and bridge the time and space scales needed to assess climatic impacts. This award includes for the first time study of the roles of whales as major predators in the seasonal sea ice zone ecosystem. The team will also focus on submarine canyons, special regions of enhanced biological activity, along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). The current award's overarching research question is: How do seasonality, interannual variability, and long term trends in sea ice extent and duration influence the structure and dynamics of marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycling? Specific foci within the broad question include: 1. Long-term change and ecosystem transitions. What is the sensitivity or resilience of the ecosystem to external perturbations as a function of the ecosystem state? 2. Lateral connectivity and vertical stratification. What are the effects of lateral transports of freshwater, heat and nutrients on local ocean stratification and productivity and how do they drive changes in the ecosystem? 3. Top-down controls and shifting baselines. How is the ecosystem responding to the cessation of whaling and subsequent long-term recovery of whale stocks? 4. Foodweb structure and biogeochemical processes. How do temporal and spatial variations in foodweb structure influence carbon and nutrient cycling, export, and storage? The broader impacts of the award leverage local educational partnerships including the Sandwich, MA STEM Academy, the New England Aquarium, and the NSF funded Polar Learning and Responding (PoLAR) Climate Change Education Partnership at Columbia's Earth Institute to build new synergies between Arctic and Antarctic, marine and terrestrial scientists and students, governments and NGOs. The Palmer Antarctic LTER will also conduct appropriate cross LTER site comparisons, and serve as a leader in information management to enable knowledge-building within and beyond the Antarctic, oceanographic, and LTER communities.

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