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ESF researchers head for the bottom of the world

Antarctic holds and important key to climate change

(Syracuse) - "Scientifically, the polar regions are virtually unexplored. There is a tremendous amount we don't know about Antarctica and the uniqueness of the chemistry and biology of the region," said Dr. David Kieber, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor of chemistry.  He is preparing for his fifth visit to Antarctica to conduct chemical oceanography research for two months aboard the Research Vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP).

Kieber leads a team of SUNY-ESF graduate students traveling to the South Pole region to take advantage of spring and early summer weather in the Southern Hemisphere.  Kieber, ESF master’s degree candidate Jordan Brinkley and ESF undergraduate John Bisgrove will be aboard the NBP in the Ross Sea from late October until December 12, 2005 to study the biological and chemical transformations of the algal-derived sulfur compounds, DMSP and its breakdown product, the climatically-important trace gas, dimethyl sulfide (DMS).  They will conduct this study during a massive algae bloom that occurs in the Ross Sea as the ice breaks up and water temperature rises.

In the meantime, another ESF graduate student working for Kieber, George Westby will be at the U.S. Palmer Station in Antarctica from late October 2005 until February 2006.  Palmer Station is located at the edge of a glacier on Anvers Island and there are approximately 25 other scientists who will be there during the same period. Westby will be part of an international team studying how physical factors such as wind and sunlight affect the biological and chemical changes in DMS in the water column during the transition from the early spring to the late summer along the Antarctic Peninsula.

“I have been doing research in Antarctica since 1994,” explained Kieber, "The Antarctic is very sensitive to climate change.  Hundreds of labs from around the world are trying to understand the impact of these climate changes, whether natural or through human activity, on the biology, chemistry and physics of the Antarctic, including hotly debated topics such as the melting of the glaciers and sea level rise."  

Organic sulfur emissions from the world's oceans are thought to be important in climate regulation, and the Antarctic is a huge sulfur hot spot.  "There is a tremendous amount of sulfur produced by some algae in Antarctica," Kieber continued, "and we need to know how this affects climate."

Through the ESF in the High School program the SUNY-ESF researchers have partnered with science students at Nottingham High School, Cayuga Onondaga NewVision Program and Chittenango High School. Students will be able to follow the progress of the ESF research, ask questions and view pictures through www.esf.edu/antarctica. The high school students take an ESF course, “Global Environment,” and receive college credit. More information on ESF in the High School is available at www.esf.edu/outreach/about.htm.

The 2005 - 06 Antarctica research project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.

Kieber also said, "Personally, I like the cohesive and cooperative attitude of everyone involved in research activities in Antarctica. It's the bottom of the world version of Walden's Pond in that you are isolated from society as a whole, but at the same time you are with a small group of fantastic people from around the world dedicated to scientific exploration in an incredible and breathtaking environment."

The ESF research team is scheduled to leave for New Zealand October 19, 2005 where they will meet with other researchers from around the world and then either board the research vessel or travel to their research sites.