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TRacers Research Voyage

Professor Rob Dunbar is among the investigators leading the first ever research voyage to study Southern Ocean food supply as Antarctica transitions to winter

Learn more about the project.

As sea ice and rough oceans make their annual return to Antarctica, Stanford Earth Sciences Professor Rob Dunbar is helping lead an intrepid voyage to learn what happens to the food supply in the Ross Sea at the onset of winter. Funded by the NSF and employing its ice breaking research vessel the Nathaniel B. Palmer, the journey is the first ever seeking to trace the world’s largest phytoplankton bloom – so large it can be seen from space – in February and March when the days grow shorter and temperatures drop. The bloom is well documented in the height of summer when weather conditions are favorable, but no one knows what happens to all the organic carbon as the continent slips into winter.

“In the summer, the sun is up, the farm is open, and the phytoplankton that comprise the bottom of the food chain proliferate,” Dunbar said. “Then the ice forms and we don’t know what happens. How much is eaten? How much is re-mineralized? How much returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide? How much sinks to the ocean floor?”

Dunbar and his collaborators seek to answer those questions by sampling columns of water in a variety of locations, depths, and points in time. Some analysis will be conducted on board.

News

Photo gallery

Images of the Ross Sea from an ice breaker

Ice on the surface, sea cucumbers on the floor

Prof. Rob Dunbar's latest video from Antarctica features shipboard ice, water sampling and spectacular images of the Ross Sea floor

Blog by Cassandra Brooks for National Geographic

Articles and photos from the Ross Sea and Southern Ocean

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Link to submit questions for Prof. Rob Dunbar in the Comments box