Research

FjordEco: Fjord Ecosystem Structure and Function on the West Antarctic Peninsula – Hotspots of Productivity and Biodiversity?

My dissertation research focused on the ecology of benthic communities within fjords (in particular, Andvord Bay) on the West Antarctic Peninsula. I am interested in how environmental processes shape the community structure of the benthos and how these patterns or processes change in both time and space. In a broader context, I am interested in how current environmental drivers affect the benthos, and how future changes will affect the structure and function of the overall ecosystem. Additionally, it is interesting to contrast this diverse and productive ecosystem with other high-latitude systems such as the Arctic. The FjordEco project was designed to address these very interests, and more.

The FjordEco project is an interdisciplinary investigation into the biological, chemical, and physical oceanography of Andvord Bay; a glacio-marine fjord located on the West Antarctic Peninsula. The project is led by Dr. Craig Smith (University of Hawai’i), along with co-investigators Dr. Brian Powell (University of Hawai’i), Dr. Mark Merrifield (University of Hawai’i/UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Dr. Maria Vernet (UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Dr. Peter Winsor (University of Alaska at Fairbanks/WWF Arctic Research Program) and Dr. Martin Truffer (University of Alaska at Fairbanks).  The project is guided by these fundamental questions:

  1. Is Andvord Bay (and, by inference, other sub-polar fjords) a
    substantial hotspot of productivity and biodiversity?
  2. What physical, biological, and chemical processes interact to enhance this productivity and biodiversity?
  3. How sensitive are these physical, chemical, and biological processes to changing glacial meltwater and sediment inputs?

In particular, I assessed:

  • how hard-substrate in the form of glacial dropstones influences the diversity of benthic communties in West Antarctic Peninsula fjords – see 2017 MEPS publication
  • the benthic food web in Andvord Bay compared to the outer peninsula via fatty acid and stable isotope techniques
  • dispersal of benthic megafaunal larvae using a particle tracking model – publication submitted to Integrative and Comparative Biology in 2020
  • pelagic-benthic coupling in Andvord Bay through the use of time-lapse camera imagery – publication submitted to Progress in Oceanography in 2020

For more background on the FjordEco project as well as blog entries from our three research cruises, please visit: https://fjordeco.wordpress.com and check out short cruise highlights on Twitter with #FjordEco.


Abyssal Baseline Project (Abyssline)

The Abyssline project is an international program that is using state of the art technology and analytical techniques to assess the biological baseline conditions of the polymetalic nodule exploration claim area licensed to UK Seabed Resources Ltd. This area is targeted as a potential deep-sea mining site for high-grade polymetalic nodules. This project brings together leading scientists from the University of Hawai’i, Hawai’i Pacific University, the Natural History Museum in London UK, the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton UK, Uni Research in Norway, the International Research Institute of Stavanger in Norway and Senckenberg am Meer in Germany. Our studies are addressing the following key questions:

  1. What are the baseline conditions of community structure and biodiversity for the key benthic biotic components of this ecosystem (megafauna, macrofauna, meiofauna and microbes)?
  2. How do community structure, sediment community respiration, and biodiversity vary as a function of environmental parameters (especially nodule cover) within and across three study areas (or “strata”) within the UK-1 Claim Area, and between years within one of these study areas?
  3. What is the connectivity at species and population levels between strata and across the CCZ for representative components of the biota?

For more information regarding the Abyssline project, please visit https://www.craigrsmithlab.com/abyssline. Information regarding polymetallic nodule mining can be found at https://www.isa.org.jm/

I worked as a graduate research assistant on the Abyssline project for over 1 year assessing the megafaunal community within the exploration claim site. To do so, I (along with Dr. Diva Amon; https://www.divaamon.com) analyzed benthic imagery collected via ROV and AUV. To aid in standardization of taxonomy and the identification of benthic megafauna from the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (where exploration claims are located) we compiled and published a set of “species atlases” which provide short descriptions and photographs of observed fauna. See the publications section of my CV for all authored papers associated with this project.

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