(Corrected, June 27)
Just back from a monthlong expedition in the waters off Antarctica, the research is far from over for a team from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography studying the tiny, shrimp-like sea animal called krill, the focus of the expedition.
The URI graduate school still has two years left on $1.1 million in research funding from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs. That three-year grant helped cover some of the costs for the URI team of six faculty and 11 graduate and undergraduate students who worked in collaboration with six scientists from the University of Massachusetts Boston on the Antarctica cruise aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 308-foot research ship with ice-breaking capabilities. The ship costs were covered separately by the NSF.
The New England scientists are examining krill preferences and behaviors as part of a web of scientific issues much larger than the plentiful little crustacean.
“The lowly krill averages only about two inches in length, but it represents a giant-sized link in the global food chain,” according to the National Geographic website on invertebrates. “These small, shrimp-like crustaceans are essentially the fuel that runs the engine of the Earth’s marine ecosystems.”
The expedition braved winter in Antarctica, where the coldest temperature the scientists faced was minus-10 degrees Celsius, which is 14 degrees Fahrenheit, no different than many winter days in New England.
“The bigger problem was that it was very dark. We had about four hours of daylight,” said Susanne Menden-Deuer, associate professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. “We want to know where the krill may be finding food and how they survive the long winter.
“We will go back in spring or summer and compare how the ecosystem functions in the different seasons,” she said. “That will tell us some fundamentals about how the ocean works in this very important region.
“We have a lot of samples and there are some things you can’t do on a ship, like operate a centrifuge,” said Menden-Deuer. Those samples will be used in extensive follow-up research.