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DURHAM, N.C. – Nicolas Cassar, associate professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, set sail today (Dec. 20) on an international research expedition circumnavigating Antarctica.
He will lead a study aiming to understand Antarctic phytoplankton communities and their impact on carbon cycling and climate change.
During photosynthesis, plankton draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it to organic carbon, which then settles down to the ocean floor, where it is isolated from the atmosphere for thousands to millions of years. The process helps phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, regulate climate and support Antarctic ecosystems from krill to whales.
Cassar and his team will measure the net phytoplankton community carbon production and compare it to community characteristics as estimated through a collaboration with other projects on the expedition.
Cassar will be aboard the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) for its first leg as it navigates the southern Indian Ocean from Cape Town, South Africa, to Hobart, Australia.
The ACE, an unprecedented expedition around Antarctica, will then sail to Punta Arenas, Chile, before being scheduled to return to South Africa on March 19.
The expedition is the maiden project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly-created entity that aims to enhance international scientific relations and collaboration while also aiming to spark interest of a new generation of scientists and explorers in polar research.
Research teams from across the world boarded the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov today in Cape Town to begin the expedition. During the three-month voyage, they will conduct 22 different projects in a wide array of fields, including biology, climatology and oceanography.
Cassar focuses his research on environmental biogeochemistry and physiology. His current interests include ocean carbon cycles and productivity, and carbon acquisition mechanisms in marine phytoplankton.
For more information on the expedition, go here.
For more information on Cassar’s research, go here.
by Sergio Tovar, social media specialist