Antarctica Krill Observations
Richard Veit, Professor of Biology
Back in 2002, Biology Professor Richard Viet was given a National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs grant, which is a four-year, $85,000 per year grant to research what the possible effects of large-scale krill harvesting would have on the environment. Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans that are eaten by whales, seals, seabirds, and other animals . Now, after four-years and hours upon hours of meticulous data analysis, trying research, and numerous trips to Antarctica, the project is finally coming to a close. The team from CSI was headed Veit, a bird ecologist and biostatistian, also served as a primary researcher. He was joined by Mathematics and Physics Professor Bala Sundaram and seven CSI students.
Here are some of the chief observations/results of the expedition:
There has been a definite climate change; global warming is impacting the environment and melting the icecaps, decreasing the water temperature a critical 3 to 4 degrees below normal. This is negatively affecting the survival of the cold-water krill and the ecosystem. The fewer krill there are, the less food there is.
Birds depend on the krill swarms and distribution patterns to catch the krill.
- All the animals co-depend on each other for survival. When a whale or a bird goes in for the catch, the others follow, competing for the catch.
- A large-scale krill harvesting would have a devastating affect on the ecosystem in Antarctica .
Prof. Veit predicts that in the future climate change and harvesting krill are inevitable.
The NSF has also provided another grant in collaboration with this project, focusing primarily on graph/data analysis and mathematical biology. Veit and his team are working on creating models that show what is currently happening and that can possibly predict what will happen with bird/krill migratory patterns and populations.
Possible future projects may involve putting transmitters on the birds and tracking them using equipment similar to those created by Microwave Telemetry.
Unlike most other expeditions, Dr. Veit's studies took a different approach, being conducted onboard a ship while out at sea. (The U.S. has only two ships that are capable of going out to Antarctica , the R/V Laurence M. Gould and the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer)
Many of the participants in Veit's research team were CSI graduate students, who took this opportunity to conduct some of their own research. Including:
- Jarrod Santora, who studied forging behavior by seabirds.
- Carol DeMartinez, who studied plankton in Antarctica and found that weather and temperature affects the lipid fat content in plankton.
- Cristina Rhodes, who kept a journal of the journey and some of her observations.
Other projects on which Veit and his colleagues are working include:
- The conservation of Birds in Nantucket , Mass. - studying how birds are coping with all of the development and destruction of their habitat.
- Land Birds of Staten Island - funded by Con Edison; chief CLT is Tom Brown. Studying the bird population on S.I., the effects of over development on the birds, and the possible migration of the avian flu.
- Grey Seals - studies the diet of the grey seals and their comeback from near extinction.
All CSI students have the opportunity and are encouraged to join in future research projects. "There are lots of important things to study at CSI," said Prof. Veit, "lots of things that students at CSI can do that influence what goes on in the world, and they can make a difference if they choose too."