Impacts of the Larsen Ice Shelf System on the Weddell Sea


Archived PolarConnect Event!
Monday 9 April 2012: Amber Lancaster and the LARISSA Project Team
This event is available in the PolarConnect Event Archives

What Are They Doing?

Trawling for organisms off the Antarctic peninsulaTrawling for organisms off the Antarctic peninsula This project was an international, interdisciplinary effort to address the rapid environmental changes occurring in the Antarctic Peninsula region as a consequence of the abrupt collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in the fall of 2002. As a result of this collapse, a profound transformation in ecosystem structure and function has been seen in the coastal waters of the western Weddell Sea. This transformation appears to be redistributing the flow of energy between organisms, and to be causing a rapid change in the ecosystem beneath the ice shelf. For instance, the previously dark waters of the Larsen B embayment now support a thriving phototrophic community, with production rates and phytoplankton composition similar to other productive areas of the Weddell Sea.

The overarching goal of the LARISSA (LARsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica) project was to describe and understand the basic physical, geological, and biological processes active in the Larsen embayment that contributed to the present phase of massive, rapid environmental change. Dr. Vernet's research group worked to determine abundance, diversity, and production of marine phytoplankton in the Larsen B region. The team used shipboard samplers and moored sediment traps to sample from the water column up to depths of approximately 600 m. They did this to determine how much production is supported in the region, its distribution in space and time, and how the organic matter transfers into higher trophic levels and reaches the sediments. Time on board the ship was spent selecting sampling locations, collecting water, filtering samples for analysis, and analyzing samples on board. They also collected water to isolate diatom species and brought them back to the lab for further experimentation. Results from this research allowed scientists to predict the likely consequences on marine ecosystems of ice-shelf collapse in other regions of Antarctica vulnerable to climate change.

Where Are They?

Larsen Ice Shelf, AntarcticaLarsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica The research team flew to Punta Arenas, Chile and then traveled by ship to the Larsen B Ice Shelf. The team spent approximately 40 days on board the ship working in the northwest Weddell Sea, located near the eastern Antarctic Peninsula.

Expedition Map


Dinner in Punta Arenas
For the first time in 6 weeks, I don’t get to start my journal with a speed, course, and location heading. My luggage and I arrived safely back in San Francisco this morning after leaving on Saturday afternoon. It took 3 flights for me to get to California and some of the researchers had to catch 4 different planes. San Francisco welcomed me with beautiful bright, sunny weather that made me smile. Then again, even if it had been our usual cold, foggy weather it would have felt warm compared to some of the temperatures we had been experiencing. Punta Arenas We pulled into Punta Arenas on...
Engine room tour
Speed 12.4 knots Course 226° Location Straits of Magellan (-53.07429833, -70.698715) Sorry for my absence the last couple days. The ship turned into a ghost town as we crossed the Drake Passage and everyone curled up in their bunks to deal with being tossed around by the rough sea. Sometime this evening, we will be arriving back in Punta Arenas, Chile. It has been an amazing time and I feel so lucky to have been a part of this cruise. Some of you were able to watch the PolarConnect event (it’s archived on the PolarTREC website if you haven’t seen it yet). My students and I were able to...
Ikaite in sediment
Speed 12.3 knots Course 321° Location Bransfield Strait (-62.27022167, -56.72387333) Depth 1193 meters Although we didn’t make a lot of progress through the ice yesterday, we finally made it out into mostly open water today. The landscape has changed dramatically from solid ice everywhere to little chunks of ice. We are headed into the Drake Passage, which means pretty rough waters for a few days so my updates may disappear while I deal with the big waves. Ikaite One of the more exciting finds in recent days was a mineral called ikaite. Ikaite (pronounced icky-ite) is made up of...
Current cruise map
Speed 0.8 knots Course 240° Location Bransfield Strait (-62.56427333, -55.98799167) Depth 253 meters Yesterday we finished all scientific operations and we began our journey north back towards Chile. We are slowly maneuvering through lots and lots of ice and hopefully we'll make it back home on time. From the picture below you can see where we've been so far on this cruise. We are currently at the end of the red line headed back towards Chile. It'll take us a few days to get there, maybe more if the ice continues to be heavy. Current cruise map (courtesy of NBP) Jumbo Piston Core...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

2 March 2012 to 18 April 2012
Location: North-West Weddell Sea, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research in IPY: Abrupt Environmental Change in the Larsen Ice Shelf System, a Multidisciplinary Approach - Marine Ecosystems

Meet the Team

Amber Lancaster's picture
June Jordan School for Equity
San Francisco, CA
United States

Because she excelled in her math and science courses, everyone pushed Amber Lancaster towards pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California. Although she really enjoyed making robots, she decided to spend the next few years teaching English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. Upon her return to the United States, she knew she wanted to continue teaching, but she switched to teaching science, her true passion. She received her Master’s in Education from the University of California– Berkeley in 2009 and has been teaching high school Biology at the June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco, California ever since.

Maria Vernet's picture
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
La Jolla, CA
United States

Dr. Maria Vernet is a Senior Research Biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the foremost oceanographic institutions in the world. Oceanography is an international arena and as such, Dr. Vernet has conducted research in international settings since 1987 when she first traveled to the Arctic and in 1988 to Antarctica. She participated in one of the first research teams to study the effect of ultraviolet radiation on marine phytoplankton after the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985. Since then she has participated in a variety of multi- and interdisciplinary research projects, both national and international. Her field expeditions have taken her into the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Southern Oceans with a variety of internationally assembled research teams. She presently participates in two Antarctic research projects studying the effects of global change in Antarctica, one on free-floating icebergs that have increased in abundance in the last decade and a second on the ecosystems of the Larsen B Ice Shelf on which she will host Amber Lancaster as a PolarTREC teacher. You can read more about Dr. Vernet and her research here [] and about the LARISSA project here []