Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi

Terry Palmer

An Outstanding Islander

Outline photo of Terry Palmer

Adventures in Antarctica

New Zealand native Terry Palmer is part of a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi team of scientists that recently conducted environmental monitoring at McMurdo Station on the frozen continent of Antarctica.

During his Antarctic trip funded by the National Science Foundation, the team spent four weeks enduring a wind chill of -10 F and experiencing the effects of a sun that never set. As part of the project, Palmer logged daily journal entries on the “Island to Ice 2011” educational blog, interacted with students, and answered their questions. In collaboration with researchers from Texas A&M University, the team monitored the chemistry, macrofauna communities, sediment toxicity and animal tissue chemistry to determine if polluted areas of Antarctica are showing improvement.

“Antarctica provides such a surreal landscape and environment that is kind of overwhelming, but in a good way,” said Palmer, an HRI research associate for Dr. Paul Montagna since 2006. “It’s extremely cold and dry. There are no plants or insects, and very few animals.”

Palmer says that the bitter cold causes contaminants on land and water to break down slowly. He studies how human-induced physical changes affect benthic macrofauna communities, animals on and in the bottom of seas and estuaries. At McMurdo station, he collected ocean floor sediment and tissue from organisms to analyze the effects of contamination.

“The isolated and concentrated contamination we see now are the result of ocean and land dumping between the 1950s and 1960s,” he said. “We extracted sediment that still smells of oil after all these years. We brought back all the samples with us to determine if the contamination is decreasing and whether contaminants are going up the food chain.”

After samples are preserved, they are shipped to Palmer’s lab to be identified.

While this was Palmer’s eighth trip to the world’s fifth-largest continent, it was the first time he has experienced diving into the frigid waters of Antarctica.

“I was excited and nervous, but I was able to find bigger, more colorful versions of organisms such as sea anemones, starfish, and sea spiders than I would find in other parts of the world,” he said.


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