Polar Gigantism in Antarctica


Now Archived! Antarctica Day Celebration event with Tim Dwyer and Dr. Art Woods live from McMurdo Station, Antarctica. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/archive

What Are They Doing?

A Weddell seal meets a cameraman under the sea ice near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Steve Rupp, Courtesy of Michael League.A Weddell seal meets a cameraman under the sea ice near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Steve Rupp, Courtesy of Michael League. Since the first expeditions to the poles, scientists have compiled a long list of polar taxa that have unusually large body sizes. This phenomenon is known as polar gigantism, and biologists have proposed many hypotheses to explain it. The most broadly-accepted idea is the ‘oxygen hypothesis,’ which states that polar gigantism stems from a combination of high oxygen availability in the ocean and low metabolic rates because of the extreme cold temperatures. In combination, these two factors are thought to allow animals to be giants by making it comparatively easy to get enough oxygen from the environment to support large bodies. The links between body size, environmental oxygen availability, and performance have been used to argue that as marine and aquatic environments warm, giants will be among the first to disappear. We are looking at these tradeoffs and the validity of the size-vulnerability hypothesis using Antarctic pycnogonids (sea spiders), which contain spectacular examples of polar gigantism. Visit the researcher's working group website to learn more information on this topic.

Where Are They?

A sea spider underwater near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Adam Marsh, Courtesy of Michael League.A sea spider underwater near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Adam Marsh, Courtesy of Michael League. The team is based in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. McMurdo Station is on Ross Island, a volcanic island (with the southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus) south of New Zealand in the Ross Sea. Researchers will take day trips from McMurdo Station to dive under the ice using SCUBA equipment at local sites.

Expedition Map


C-130 at Pegasus
Yours truly, grabbing a last snapshot with the Transantarctic Mountains and Winter Quarters Bay. Final departure from McMurdo Station happens more or less in the reverse order of arrival on Station. Having packed up our personal luggage, everything but Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear and a small carry on bag is weighed and dropped off with cargo handlers the night before our flight - the aptly named "Bag Drag." In full ECW gear the following morning, Art Woods, Bret Tobalske, Steve Lane, Caitlin Shishido, and I (Amy Moran remained behind for a couple of days to wrap up a few experiments)...
helicopter unloading
The team is lead out to our waiting Bell 212 "Twin Huey" helicopters for our flight to Granite Harbor. McMurdo Station Helicopter Operations - "Helo Ops" for short - flies five vehicles emblazoned with the red and blue color scheme of the US Antarctic Program. The three Bell 212 "Twin Hueys" and two AS-350-B2 "A-Stars" park on a volcanic gravel landing field just below Observation Hill at the southern end of the Station, their rotors tied down to the pad to hold them in place against the Antarctic winds. Helo Ops supports the 60 or so scientists who are working at field camps in...
Chalet flags
Thanks to all who participated in our Antarctica Day PolarConnect Event. If you missed it, you can watch it below!
Bret with Crary Truck
Closing down a field season and "checking out" of McMurdo is a multi-day, orchestrated frenzy of disassembly, packing, shipping, and inspection. All of this needs to go. Closing down a field season and "checking out" of McMurdo is a multi-day, orchestrated frenzy of disassembly, packing, shipping, and inspection. Over the previous nine weeks, the six of us have occupied dormitories, laboratories, environmental rooms, and dive locker space. Before we are cleared to "redeploy" to North America, all of these spaces need to look as though we were never there. With our December 3...
sea spider
Learn all about the Antarctic Treaty and sea spider research LIVE on Dec 1! Individuals and classrooms welcome! Pre-register here: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/register PolarConnect Antarctica Day Event with Tim Dwyer and the Team studying Polar Gigantism in Antarctica When: Thursday, 1 December 2016 at 8:00am AKST (9am PST, 10pm MST, 11am CST, 12pm EST) What: 1 hour event with Q&A at the end for teachers, students, and general audiences Register: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/register Join us for a special international day of activities including a live event...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

1 October 2016 to 4 December 2016
Location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research: Body size, oxygen, and vulnerability to climate change in Antarctic Pycnogonida

Meet the Team

Timothy Dwyer's picture
Spring Street International School
Friday Harbor, WA
United States

I teach biology, chemistry, AP environmental science and algebra, drawing heavily on my background as an experiential educator and marine ecologist to illustrate the process of science to my students. I developed a foundational interest in science education working with students aboard traditional sailing vessels with Living Classrooms Foundation in Maryland and Ocean Classroom Foundation in Maine. I expanded on this interest as a Marine Science Instructor with the Catalina Island Marine Institute in southern California, where I reveled in exploring temperate subtidal community ecology with middle and high school students. A native of Baltimore, I hold a BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from Bowdoin College and an MS in Biology (Research) from Northeastern University. When not teaching at Spring Street International School in Friday Harbor, Washington, I enjoy SCUBA diving, cycling, and sailing aboard my classic sloop Whistledown.

Art Woods's picture
University of Montana
Missoula, MT
United States

Dr. Woods studies climate change and the physiological ecology of invertebrates. The first major theme in his lab is temperature-oxygen interactions in marine invertebrates, focusing particularly on polar gigantism of sea slugs and sea spiders. He studied gigantism in sea slugs during field seasons at McMurdo in 2006 and 2007, and is currently funded to work on gigantism in sea spiders. The second major lab theme is the physiological ecology of plant-insect interactions, and he particularly focuses on climate change in the microhabitats where insects live. He is an associate professor at the University of Montana (Woods lab page).

Amy Moran's picture
University of Hawaii
Manoa, HI
United States

Dr. Moran studies the physiological ecology and evolutionary ecology of marine invertebrates, with a particular focus on early life history stages – embryos and larvae. One major area of emphasis is the effects of temperature on the energy dynamics of growth and development, and in recent years she has studied polar gigantism in both sea slugs and sea spiders. A second area of emphasis is the effects of temperature on growth, development, and success in many invertebrates including barnacles, sea urchins, worms, and snails; current work in Hawaii also looks at the effects of warm-water events and bleaching on the reproductive success of corals. She is an associate professor at the University of Hawaiʽi at Mānoa. (http://www.moranlab.org)

Bret Tobalske's picture
University of Montana
Missoula, MT
United States

Dr. Tobalske studies comparative biomechanics of and functional morphology of animals. His research involves laboratory and field-based methods to measure three-dimensional motion, fluid dynamics, muscle physiology, material properties and structural design. One major area of his research involves bird flight, with current studies on escape maneuvers in hummingbirds, high-speed maneuvering in swallows, and the development of locomotion in nestling and fledgling birds. His work with invertebrates has included studies of the cost of sexually-selected weapons in beetles, and he is currently funded to study the mechanical consequences of gigantism in sea spiders. He is an associate professor and the director of the Field Research Station at Fort Missoula at the University of Montana. Tobalske lab page

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Latest Comments

I have made a special little arctic bear and would like to put a picture on yr FB-We are all in awe of you guys doing the best for the world
Looking forward to it! On 11/29/16 3:29 PM, PolarTREC wrote:
Thanks, Judy! Ned is definitely one of the venerated "Old Antarctic Explorers" whose stories give even more color to the experience. On 11/30/16 8:23 AM, PolarTREC wrote:
You're welcome, Mike! Thanks to you and your class for following! Kate Miller's and Eric Thuma's expeditions launch soon! Tim On 11/29/16 7:04 AM, PolarTREC wrote: