Carrie Thomas ~ Catalyst for Engagement

Dave and Carrie in Antartica

Impacts of Climate Change

Dr. Thomas's Antarctica research focuses on potential shifts in food webs as climate change occurs. She is part of a team of researchers working on the West Antarctic Peninsula, an area that is experiencing some of the most rapid warming on Earth and where visible impacts of warming on the ecosystem are already apparent. "There's a lot of theory out there regarding how phytoplankton populations will shift as the hydrography and ice coverage changes," says Carrie. "What we are interested in is how any changes in phytoplankton structure will impact animals at the bottom of the sea who depend on the phyto detritus for food."

Looking at the surface waters provides snapshots that may not be communicating what's really going on in the ecosystem. Looking at how the benthic community responds to the changes in phytoplankton will provide a much more systematic picture than what's happening at the surface. "We are starting to see a change in the ecology of the system," says Carrie. "Our study uses the benthos, the animals on the bottom, as an integrator of everything that happens on the surface waters."

The team has established five stations, ranging over hundreds of kilometers. They are looking for characteristics in the benthic ecology at each station, with the idea that as change occurs, the southernmost stations will become more northern-like. "The phytoplankton are changing, and the benthos that are integrating all of the debris floating down will begin to look more like their counterparts to the north," says team member Dave DeMaster, "thus making it possible to document climate change and ecological response to that change in a systematic fashion."