Human Impacts in Antarctica 2011


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Two Expeditions! Michelle Brown not only worked with researchers in McMurdo but she also worked with a team of researchers looking at space weather at the South Pole! You can learn more about her second expedition here.

What Are They Doing?

Humans have occupied the McMurdo Sound for over a hundred years. Early visitors had little impact on the region, but starting in the late 1950’s year-round, permanent buildings were established at McMurdo Station. Over the years thousands of humans have visited this area and have changed the landscape. Under its obligations to the Antarctic Treaty, the United States maintains a long-term monitoring program designed to track the environmental conditions in and around the station.

Each year, the research team conducts environmental monitoring and chemical, physical, and biological sampling in and around McMurdo Station. They collect samples from both marine and terrestrial habitats as measures of human impact. They take the samples back to the lab to look for contaminants.

The results of this research help document and minimize the impacts of future science and support operations in Antarctica. This information can be used to inform management decisions in and around McMurdo Station to help preserve the unique Antarctic environment.

Learn more about this project by visiting the official project website.

Where Are They?

Crary Lab at McMurdo, AntarcticaCrary Lab at McMurdo, Antarctica

The research team was based out of Crary Laboratory at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. McMurdo is located at the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound. During the summer research season, McMurdo hosts the largest community in Antarctica, supporting up to 1,200 people. The team made day trips by foot and truck from McMurdo Station to their various marine and land sampling sites.


Packing up to go home
Leaving McMurdo Today I packed up my bags to head to the South Pole, and then on to the AGO site I will be working with. My McMurdo team also packed up their bags, but they are heading back home via New Zealand tomorrow. The lab was packed up too and we are all waiting to leave. Our research group's number, B518, identifies our giant box of lab equipment that will be shipped back to Texas to be analyzed. Perhaps the Pole Although I am listed to fly to the South Pole tomorrow morning, nothing is certain in Antarctica. I have watched many people hope to leave, to find that their plane...
Cross at Ob Hill
Trekking to Ob Hill The end of my time at McMurdo is fast approaching, yet I have managed to hike up to Ob Hill--one of my goals during my visit. It is a 750 feet climb to the top of Ob Hill and it provides a beautiful view of McMurdo. Terry and I hiked up to the top of Ob Hill after dinner. There were pretty steep sections of the path, but it was worth it to get a great view of the station. Michelle Brown at the top of Ob Hill. The view of McMurdo Station, as seen from Ob Hill. Remembering Scott's Expedition At the top of Ob Hill is a cross to commemorate Robert F. Scott and his...
Michelle on the snowmobile
Visit to Shackleton's Hut Cancelled Sadly, our visit to Shackleton's hut on Cape Royds was cancelled today. We have been trying to get to Cape Royds to collect control samples for three days now, but the helicopters will not fly if the weather is bad. Luckily, we have plenty to do! The McMurdo ice runway Yesterday and today our research team has been zipping around on snow mobiles collecting snow samples from the McMurdo ice runway. The C-17 planes land on this runway early in the season when the sea ice is thick. However, as the temperatures rise, the sea ice becomes thinner until it is...
Shackleton and his men
Going to Cape Royds Our research team has been trying to get to Cape Royds to collect control samples, however poor weather has kept us from leaving. Hopefully we will make it there tomorrow! Historic Antarctic Expeditions I am eager to get to Cape Royds because it is the location of Ernest Shackleton's hut. In 1901 Shackleton accompanied Robert Scott in his Discovery Expedition to Antarctica. Unfortunately, Shackleton became ill and had to return home before reaching the South Pole. Shackleton returned to Antarctica seven years later in his own ship, the Nimrod. His team climbed Mt....
Adelie penguin
All about Adelies Yesterday I spent the afternoon at an Adelie penguin rookery at Cape Byrd. Adelie penguins are smaller than most penguins. They are approximately 18 - 30 inches tall and typically weigh 8 to 13 lbs. They have a white ring around each of their eyes and a long tail that makes their coat resemble a tuxedo. An Adelie penguin stands on the ice at Cape Bird. It was fun to watch the Adelies waddle and hop around their rookery. There were also some interesting interactions between the penguins. Watch the video below to see some of their behaviors.

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 6 November 2011 to 12 December 2011
Location: McMurdo Station

Meet the Team

Michelle Brown's picture
State College, PA
United States

Michelle is excited to return to the ice for a second time with the research team! Michelle is a former middle and high school science teacher and math/science instructional coach. She currently does consultant work in equity in education and is a remote curriculum specialist, while raising her 1 year old daughter. She plans to pursue a degree in equity in science education upon returning from Antarctica.

Mahlon Kennicutt II's picture
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
United States

Mahlon "Chuck" Kennicutt's research interests include environmental chemistry and organic geochemistry. His current research investigates the patterns of human disturbance at McMurdo Station. He has spent more than 575 days at sea and has deployed to Antarctica six times. Dr. Kennicutt serves as leader of the Sustainable Coastal Margins Program and is the United States delegate to, and the Vice President for, Scientific Affairs (USA) of the Scientific Committee of Antarctica Research (SCAR).

Andrew Klein's picture
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
United States

Dr. Andrew Klein is a professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University. He received a B.A. from Macalester College and a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Cornell University. He applies Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing techniques to examine the impact of humans in and around McMurdo Station, Antarctica and other aspects of the Cryosphere. Andrew's role is team leader and GIS specialist.

Terry Palmer's picture
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi, TX
United States

Terry is a Research Associate who specializes in studying the effects of humans on marine and estuarine environments, especially the benthos (organisms on the sea floor). He been involved in marine and terrestrial environmental monitoring in Antarctica for 11 years. Terry's role in the team is a benthic ecologist and scientific diver.

Stephen Sweet's picture
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
United States

Stephen Sweet is a geochemist from the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group at Texas A&M University. His research interests have focused on environmental monitoring and assessment. He has participated in a number of scientific research programs in Antarctica, with multiple deployments to both the Antarctic Peninsula and Ross Island investigating the spatial and temporal patterns of human disturbance. Steve's role on the project is analytical geochemistry.