Science at the ends of the Earth

To learn more about how changing ocean conditions affect marine organisms, Gretchen Hofmann’s research has brought her to one of the most inhospitable places on the planet: Antarctica.

But while Antarctica may not be suited for humans, its frigid waters are perfect for certain creatures, like Limacina helicina. In fact, because of the narrow range of temperature and acidity that helicina likes, Antarctica is one of the only places it can live. Thousands of them can inhabit just one cubic meter of Antarctic seawater, and they make up a huge proportion of available food for other animals. As ocean temperature and acidity increase, however, the minerals they need to construct their shells are becoming more scarce. Hofmann is trying to find out how much more change these animals can cope with, and what will happen when they reach their limits.

Want to know more about ocean warming and acidification, and what they mean for the organisms that live in them? Do you have questions about being an eco-physiologist? Leave them here for Gretchen Hofmann, and check back on Science Buzz for the answers!

Getting around in Antarctica requires some special vehicles.
Getting around in Antarctica requires some special vehicles.
Courtesy Gretchen Hofmann
Studying organisms like L. helicina under a microscope can help Hofmann and her colleagues understand how ocean acidification affects individual animals.
Studying organisms like L. helicina under a microscope can help Hofmann and her colleagues understand how ocean acidification affects individual animals.
Courtesy Gretchen Hofmann