Human Impacts in Antarctica 2015


Archived! Antarctica Day Celebration!
Date: 1 December 2015
This 1 hour webinar with PolarTREC teacher Michelle Brown and the Human Impacts in Antarctica 2015 expedition is now archived here.

What Are They Doing?

Andrew Klein collects a sediment sample at Arrival Heights, Antarctica. Arrival Heights, Antarctica.Andrew Klein collects a sediment sample at Arrival Heights, Antarctica. Arrival Heights, Antarctica.

Humans have occupied the McMurdo Sound for over a hundred years. Early visitors had little impact on the region, but starting in the late 1950’s year-round, permanent buildings were established at McMurdo Station. Over the years thousands of humans have visited this area and have changed the landscape. Under its obligations to the Antarctic Treaty, the United States maintains a long-term monitoring program designed to track the environmental conditions in and around the station.

Each year, the research team conducts environmental monitoring and chemical, physical, and biological sampling in and around McMurdo Station. They collect samples from both marine and terrestrial habitats as measures of human impact. They take the samples back to the lab to look for contaminants.

The results of this research help document and minimize the impacts of future science and support operations in Antarctica. This information can be used to inform management decisions in and around McMurdo Station to help preserve the unique Antarctic environment.

Learn more about this project by visiting the official project website: Island to Ice.

Where Are They?

A view of McMurdo Station from above at the former grounds of the nuclear power plant. Looking out over the harbor and McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.A view of McMurdo Station from above at the former grounds of the nuclear power plant. Looking out over the harbor and McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

The research team was based out of Crary Laboratory at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. McMurdo is located at the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound. During the summer research season, McMurdo hosts the largest community in Antarctica, supporting up to 1,200 people. The team made day trips by foot and truck from McMurdo Station to their various marine and land sampling sites.

Expedition Map


Sun and snow in Antarctica
A Meaningful Journey Sunlight hits the sea ice looking toward the continent of Antarctica from Ross Island. Antarctica is so different from anywhere else I have been, that the moment I left the continent, it felt as if I had never been there. As I watched the sky outside the small window of the L-100 darken, my memories of Antarctica also changed and felt like a dream. I am left with photographs to prove that I have visited a place so pristine that it feels spiritual. Ice gets pushed upwards to form pressure ridges by Scott Base when sea ice and glacial ice meet. Mountains emerge from...
Michelle Brown at beach
A Day with the Spider Team in New Zealand I spent the day with Bret Tobalski, Caitlin Shishido and Steve Lane, scientists from McMurdo Station who also are heading home. We spent the morning in Sumner, a seaside suburb of Christchurch which is home to a scenic beach. Bret, Caitlin and Steve have been in McMurdo Station with other members of their research team since October to better understand the sea spider. They are interested in learning how the sea spider gets oxygen and withstands stresses such as strong currents. They also are trying to understand why sea spiders get so big in cold...
Michelle Brown in front of Cargo Plane
On the Plane I am writing this journal while sitting on a L-100 plane, flying over Antarctica and the Southern Ocean on my way to New Zealand. The plane I was supposed to head home on yesterday, a C-130 plane, had mechanical issues. Instead I am traveling home in a South African cargo plane. Michelle Brown stands in front of the cargo plane that will take her back to New Zealand. Scientists and staff from McMurdo Station and Scott Base board the South African cargo plane--note the logo is not in English. It is interesting to get to fly on different cargo planes. Unlike the C-17 plane...
Sampling above McMurdo
Research Update Today we collected samples around McMurdo Station. It was warm and sunny, so being outside and collecting sediment samples was a pleasure. In the morning our team sampled an area near Arrival Heights, where we had a great view of McMurdo Station below. After lunch we collected more samples in and around McMurdo Station and we even collected samples at the helicopter pad after dinner. Today was a little sad though, because unless my plane gets delayed tomorrow, I will leave my research team and head back home. From left to right, Steve Sweet, Terry Palmer and Andrew Klein...
Michelle at the Waste Water Treatment Plant
Research Update Our day began with a webinar about our research! We talked to thousands of students across the U.S. and beyond with the help of PolarTREC. Students asked great questions and it felt good to share the work we are doing with the public. Michelle Brown, Andrew Klein, Terry Palmer and Steve Sweet answer questions during the Antarctica Day Webinar. After the webinar, the research team collected sediment samples from around McMurdo Station. We went out to the area between Scott Base and McMurdo Station and collected sediment in areas where there has been development. After...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

1 November 2015 to 6 December 2015
Location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Toward Enhanced Monitoring of Human Impacts in Cold Regions

Meet the Team

Michelle Brown's picture
State College, PA
United States

Michelle is excited to return to the ice for a second time with the research team! Michelle is a former middle and high school science teacher and math/science instructional coach. She currently does consultant work in equity in education and is a remote curriculum specialist, while raising her 1 year old daughter. She plans to pursue a degree in equity in science education upon returning from Antarctica.

Andrew Klein's picture
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
United States

Dr. Andrew Klein is a professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University. He received a B.A. from Macalester College and a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Cornell University. He applies Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing techniques to examine the impact of humans in and around McMurdo Station, Antarctica and other aspects of the Cryosphere. Andrew's role is team leader and GIS specialist.

Stephen Sweet's picture
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
United States

Stephen Sweet is a geochemist from the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group at Texas A&M University. His research interests have focused on environmental monitoring and assessment. He has participated in a number of scientific research programs in Antarctica, with multiple deployments to both the Antarctic Peninsula and Ross Island investigating the spatial and temporal patterns of human disturbance. Steve's role on the project is analytical geochemistry.

Terry Palmer's picture
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi, TX
United States

Terry is a Research Associate who specializes in studying the effects of humans on marine and estuarine environments, especially the benthos (organisms on the sea floor). He been involved in marine and terrestrial environmental monitoring in Antarctica for 11 years. Terry's role in the team is a benthic ecologist and scientific diver.

Carl Green's picture
Texas A&M University

Carl Green is currently a Geography Masters student at Texas A&M University. He earned a B.S. in Geographic Information Systems from the University of Oklahoma. Carl will assist the project with field sample collection and GIS analysis.

Latest Comments

Dear Pauline, Yes--Dr. Kelley is an amazing scientist who would be happy to speak with you directly. You can email her at: and she is expecting your email. Thank you for reading...
Hello I am a volunteer at the Oceanic Insitute in Hawaii and I am very interested in how Amanda Kelley is approaching her observation of sea urchins - is there anyway that I can email her directly?
Thank you so much Janet! I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with this amazing team twice!!
Hi Michelle. I hope this finds you well. I was looking through past journals and randomly got this one, which I missed! Not sure how but I love it. You had a great team and your journals are...
status: 1 Hi Jeremiah, We are able to survive in the freezing cold by wearing lots of layers. We also are quite active, hiking a lot, which keeps us warm. Lastly, we get to sleep in warm dorm rooms...