Antarctic Free-drifting Icebergs Expedition May 26–June 30, 2008
See a PDF of the press release and fact sheet

This expedition has been made possible by National Science Foundation grant to Dr. Kenneth Smith (NSF ANT-0636813).

Antarctic Free-drifting Icebergs Expedition
Cruise dates: May 26, 2008 to June 30, 2008
Cruise location: Weddell Sea
Chief scientists: Ken Smith, MBARI, (Principal Investigator)
Bruce Robison, MBARI (Co-Principal Investigator)
Ship: R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer


Atmospheric warming has been associated with retreating glaciers, disintegrating ice shelves, and the increasing prevalence of icebergs in the Southern Ocean over the last decade. Our preliminary study of two icebergs in the NW Weddell Sea, an area of high iceberg concentration, showed significant delivery of terrestrial material accompanied by significant enhancement of phytoplankton and zooplankton/micronekton abundance, and primary production surrounding the icebergs. We hypothesize that nutrient enrichment by free-drifting icebergs will increase primary production and sedimentation of organic carbon, thus increasing the draw-down and sequestration of CO2 in the Southern Ocean and impacting the global carbon cycle. [photo of ship approximately here]

Our research addresses the following questions:
1) What is the relationship between the physical dynamics of free-drifting icebergs and the Fe and nutrient distributions of the surrounding water column?
2) What is the relationship between Fe and nutrient distributions associated with free-drifting icebergs and the organic carbon dynamics of the ice-attached and surrounding pelagic communities (microbes, zooplankton, micronekton)?
3) What is impact on the export flux of particulate organic carbon from the mixed layer?

An interdisciplinary approach is proposed to examine iceberg structure and dynamics, biogeochemical processes, and carbon cycling that includes measurement of trace element, nutrient and radionuclide distributions; organic carbon dynamics mediated by microbial, ice-attached and zooplankton communities; and particulate organic carbon export fluxes. Results from this project will further our understanding of the relationship between climate change and carbon sequestration in the Southern Ocean.

Our findings will be incorporated into the Antarctic Research division of the Ocean Exploration Center (OEC) as part of the SIOExplorer: Digital Library Project. The OEC allows users to access content, which is classified to one of four levels: entry (grade K-6), student (grade 6-12), college, and research. Graduate students, undergraduates, teachers, and volunteers are important participants in the proposed field and laboratory work. For the K-12 level, a professional writer of children's books will participate in cruises to produce an account of the expedition and a daily interactive website.

Cruise History

Please visit the PULSE 53: Pelagic-Benthic Coupling and the Carbon Cycle Cruise for more information on the history and background of this expedition.


From cruise participant and author, Nancy Etchemendy

In the darkness of Antarctic winter, a team of scientists on a lonely icebreaker will soon explore the mysterious icebergs of the Weddell Sea, with a twist. Children are invited.

Follow Me to Darkest Antarctica!
Through an unlikely series of events, I was recently invited to join two marine biology expeditions to Antarctica and write one or more children's books about them. On May 26, 2008, I will step out of the cozy room where I usually spin my tales, and will head south for the first of these expeditions, a month-long voyage aboard the National Science Foundation's icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer. Follow along as my adventure proceeds!

I have already begun posting to two blogs intended to provide interesting, informative, interactive reading for different age groups, and classroom opportunities and science facts for teachers. Click the links below to reach the blog that suits you best:

Blog for teens and adults:
Rime of the Modern Mariner
Subtitled "A Horror Writer's Journey to Darkest Antarctica," this blog targets teens and adults in a traditional blog format, with each day's events and science activities mingled with my observations as an award-winning horror writer and amateur naturalist.

Blog for young readers:
Unarctica: Gib Finney's sequel to The Power of Un
For children ages 8-12 (middle graders), this blog tells the story of the expedition from the point of view of the three middle-school protagonists of my novel The Power of Un. The blog weaves each day's factual and scientific events into an adventure story bound to hold the attention of even the most reluctant readers.