Forests of the Southern Ocean

12 July 2018

“This really couldn’t have come at a better time.”

This is University of Otago geology student, Michael Bollen’s reaction after receiving this year’s NZ Post Antarctic Scholarship.

“It means I could travel to Switzerland for the SCAR (Scientific Committee on Scientific Research) Open Science Conference, and to Stanford University, California, to complete my research”.

Michael is studying geology at the University of Otago and last year, was invited to sail to the Southern Ocean with an oceanography research group from Stanford University. Michael is studying the layers of life (microscopic algae called diatoms) that died and settled into the sediment over the last million years. These diatoms hold chemical fingerprints of what the oceans were like at the time they died. Michael is working on how to extract these ‘fingerprints’ and thereby more accurately reconstruct past conditions. He is working on core samples of the seabed obtained by the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI).

The NZ Post Antarctic Scholarship means Michael will travel to the Antarctic continent to look at life growing underneath sea ice with Associate Professor Ken Ryan from Victoria University of Wellington. It’s a dream come true for this second year masters student who is passionate about algae.

“Algae’s like the forest of the ocean. They’re a huge carbon dioxide sink – they remove it from the atmosphere, then take it down to the sea floor with them when they die. This is a way the Earth can regulate its greenhouse gas levels.”

Using core samples, Michael hopes to find out how carbon cycling has changed over the years.

“If we can understand what conditions diatoms like - like temperature, saltiness and sea ice cover - we can then look back in time, and effectively read a ‘book of history’ to see how it’s changed through time in that place … and that’s pretty neat!”

NZ Post has sponsored an Antarctic Scholarship for 15 years. Spokesman, Simon Allison, says NZ Post’s aim is to help attract and support new students in Antarctic science careers.

“NZ Post is proud to support these bright young minds in such an important area of study. We know it’s difficult for post graduates to find funding and we have enjoyed watching this scholarship help jump start careers” he says.

Michael’s supervisors are Dr Christina Riesselman and Dr Christian Ohneiser. He is one of three candidates to receive Antarctic Scholarships this year. Sheng Fan, also from Otago, and Florence Isaacs from Victoria University of Wellington, have both received Antarctica New Zealand Scholarships.


Michael is currently at Stanford University completing his research. He is available via email:

Michael is a keen science communicator and put together the following video from his trip to the Southern Ocean: You are welcome to use this.

Megan Martin
GM Communications
Antarctica New Zealand
027 2205 989