Microscopic marine algae, frozen ice tongues and superstar scholarship students

Scholarship students
5 July 2021

Two important components of the Antarctic ocean system form the basis of this year’s Antarctica New Zealand scholarship projects.

Today we are delighted to announce the recipients of the Sir Robin Irvine Doctoral Scholarships.

They are Victoria University of Wellington researcher Jacqui Stuart and University of Canterbury student Rodrigo Gomez Fell.

Each have received $20,000 to help support their PhD studies.

Jacqui Stuart

“If you love whales and you love dolphins….. and even if you love breathing, you’ve got to love phytoplankton!”

Jacqui is passionate about the key role this microscopic marine algae plays in the food chain.

“Basically, these little guys are the base of the food chain, if something goes wrong with them you’ll get problems with larger species further up, so you have to care about the little guys,” she says.

Her research focuses on plankton from Rarotonga, New Zealand and Antarctica using molecular techniques to see what influences their diversity and distribution.

Jacqui says its about establishing a baseline of information, and she’s gone big with the different geographic location being looked at.

“I’m super excited about this scholarship and the support from Antarctica New Zealand, it means I can look at the important polar aspect of this project.

“There are some hardy species down in Antarctica, that can tell us so much about climate change and the food chain,” she says.

The phytoplankton will be collected from sea water samples and analysed at the Cawthron Institute in Nelson.

Rodrigo Gomez Fell

Modern satellite technology allows scientists to study what’s happening with Antarctic ice, without having to travel to the ice.

Our scholarship student Rodrigo is doing exactly this, all from his office at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

By using satellite remote sensing, he is looking at how the ice tongues are changing. If they are stable or retreating in the Western Ross Sea.

An ice tongue is a long and thin section of ice that extends from a glacier valley out into the ocean.

“The collapse or retreat of ice tongues is likely to be an indicator of climate and oceanic changes.

“About 75% of the Antarctic coastline ends in either ice shelves or ice tongues, and all the ice from the interior of the Antarctic drains through them. Understanding the drivers of stability of these ice masses will help modellers to better constrain future ice changes.

“I am very thrilled about this scholarship, this will let me focus solely on my research. This scholarship is also an amazing opportunity to boost and highlight Antarctic research of early-career scientists,” he says.

Antarctica New Zealand Chief Scientific Advisor John Cottle says the diversity of this year’s scholarship projects is exciting.

“It’s great to see such enthusiasm, talent and passion for Antarctic research across a range of fields.

“At Antarctica New Zealand we’re proud to support researchers during these early stages of their career, and hope to continue to work with the team for years to come following their PhD studies as well.

“I was fortunate to start my own research career in Antarctica, and as a young scientist this really inspired me to focus my efforts on understanding a critical region of our planet.

“I’m hopeful that these scholarships will similarly encourage Aotearoa’s next generation of Antarctic scientists to explore the unknown and make their own unique and valuable contributions,” he says.