Researchers and crew aboard the Laurence M. Gould.  Holding a sign at left, chief scientist Douglas Martinson.
Researchers and crew aboard the Laurence M. Gould. Holding a sign at left, chief scientist Douglas Martinson.

As the U.S. research vessel Laurence M. Gould laid anchor off Antarctica, 10,000 miles from Washington, a team of scientists led by Columbia University oceanographer Douglas Martinson held its own presidential inaugural celebration on Jan. 20. Stopped in desolate, icy seas for three days to conduct research, the scientists dubbed their temporary study area "Ocean Station Obama."

"We are excited to celebrate the Inauguration. The project scientists have decided to dedicate the station to President Obama and his administration to recognize their vital interest in the problem of climate change," said Martinson, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and chief scientist of the cruise. "The setting of our study, in an area of rapidly changing climate and ecology, is an appropriate spot and moment in our history to dedicate this sampling station to the events taking place in Washington," he wrote in an email message. "In doing so, we hope to bring ocean sciences and climate change research to the public's attention."

The three-day station is part of a seven-week oceanographic expedition, the 17th annual Palmer, Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research Project. Since 1993, cruises have surveyed a 200-by-500 kilometer-square region along the western Antarctic Peninsula to study geophysical and ecological relations among the region's climate, sea ice and marine ecosystem. The peninsula has warmed in winter by 6°C since 1950, causing a 90-day reduction in sea ice cover since 1978. The marine ecosystem is responding at all levels, from phytoplankton to penguins and seals. In particular, the population of an Adelie penguin colony near Palmer Station has declined by 80 percent since 1975 in response to climate warming. Scientists hypothesize that regional warming is migrating from north to south along the peninsula.

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During the cruise, which lasted from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21, the scientists conducted a special study to characterize physical and biological processes related to Adelie penguin foraging in the area, and investigated processes that store atmospheric carbon dioxide in the water as a result of marine biological activity. At station Obama, scientists conducted repeated sampling with electronic water samplers, zooplankton nets, submersible pumps and optical sensors. The ship followed a freely-drifting array that collects particles settling through the water column. They also deployed an undersea glider equipped with oceanographic sensors to profile the study region in greater detail. Meanwhile, part of the research team camped on nearby Avian Island, conducting censuses of penguins and other seabirds that forage in the Obama region.

Individual locations at sea where samples are taken are referred to as oceanographic stations. Oceanographers name such stations to facilitate future identification, and it is common to name them after people, events, animals or anything else to distinguish them. Station Obama is located in Marguerite Bay immediately south of Adelaide Island, in the eastern Bellingshausen Sea (approximately 67 deg 46 S, 68 deg 51 W).

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