Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Antarctic Expedition 2009
March 6 - April 15, 2009
Northwestern Weddell Sea

Ask a scientist

To ask one of the scientists on the expedition a question send us an email with your name and the question you wish to ask. Select questions will be posted along with the researchers answers as soon as possible.


Hello, My name is Jeremy and I am a 3rd grader at Chapman Elementary. I would like to know if striped icebergs are striped under water and also how common are they?

Jeremy Erickson
Dublin, OH


Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for your questions about striped icebergs. The many different colors and shapes of stripes that we've seen in the icebergs during this expedition have been quite interesting. We were fortunate to be using the remotely operated vehicle IceCUBE to take pictures of icebergs below the surface. These pictures show that the stripes do continue on the iceberg underwater and I've posted an example as a "picture of the day" on the website for today.

Debbie Nail MeyerAs for how common the stripes are, that is a tougher question. Most of the large icebergs have horizontal stripe layers that are created each year as the iceberg melts and refreezes, similar to annual growth rings on a tree. But the more dramatic and colorful stripes that we've seen on several small-to-medium-sized icebergs seem to be common as well, at least in the area of the Weddell Sea where we have been studying.

Thank you again for sending your questions.

Debbie Nail Meyer


We are a fifth grade class in Coronado, CA, Diane Chakos hometown.  We are involved in a yearlong study about our oceans.  We were wondering if you are seeing much trash – specifically plastics floating at sea?  We are also interested to know about global warming.  Do you see it negatively impacting species in the waters off Antarctica? Are populations decreasing?  What is the most interesting animal you have seen?  Most frequent animal seen?  
Thank you for answering our questions.
Amy Steward and CLASS!


1) Are we seeing trash?
Luckily, we are not seeing any plastics or trash in the ocean. This is because people do not live nearby and the trash from other places does not generally make it this far south into the Southern Ocean. We are happy to be conducting our research in this pristine environment.

2) Is global warming negatively impacting the species in the waters off of Antarctica?
During this cruise we are studying the effects of icebergs on populations of plants and animals in the surrounding water column. We are not studying global warming directly, but we think that the increasing number of icebergs may be due to the global increase in air temperature that melts ice and glaciers.

3) What is the most interesting animal we have seen?
We have been lucky to see several humpback whales, a few fin whales, and many birds that are specific to Antarctica. We most commonly can see the blow from the blowhole (the hole on top of the whale’s head through which the animal breathes air), and sometime we are lucky enough to see the fluke of a humpback whale as it dives back down deep into the water. They can be quite close to the ship, 50 or 60 meters away. The birds fly over the ship looking for food.

4) Most frequent animal seen?
As far as frequency, we can look at this in a few ways. The most common animal that we can see with our naked eye is the Cape Petrel. This is a common sea bird of the Southern Ocean and it breeds on numerous islands surrounding Antarctica. By towing nets, we are studying smaller marine animals (zooplankton) that we would not otherwise see. In these nets the most common organisms we are seeing are Antarctic krill, shrimp-like invertebrates, and salps, gelatinous animals that float through the water. And even smaller yet, the most common phytoplankton we are seeing is Corethron coriophilum, 100 times smaller that zooplankton and are viewed under a microscope that Diane Chakoswe have on the ship.

You can see pictures of most of these organisms on the MBARI website. Thank you for your questions and good luck with your play.

- Diane Chakos


Hi Aunt Stephanie!

We saw you rubbing the statue in Chile. We wanted to know if rubbing the toe has brought you any good luck - and if you have seen any penguins yet? Also you mentioned going to look for icebergs as big as cities - are you thinking of cities the size of La Grande - or cities the size of Portland?

Have fun!
Ben, Scott, Adam and John


Hi Ben, Scott, Adam, and John!

Yes, rubbing the statue's toe has brought me lots of luck. We have a great group of people out here, so the cruise has been fun along with the hard work. Also, the ship rides through the water well, so it has been easy to get my "sea legs" (get used to moving and working on a rolling ship).

Unfortunately, I haven't seen any penguins yet, but others saw some chin-strap and gentoo penguins on a small iceberg that had a flat, sloping area that was close enough to the water for them to jump onto it.

Stephanie BushThe iceberg that we are currently studying is approximately 20,500 acres. You can look up the area of La Grande to see if it is bigger or smaller (and let me know). And just think, that doesn't even account for the height of the iceberg above and below the water surface. That's a big piece of ice!

Miss you!
Aunt Stephanie


Hello. I saw that you mentioned you may have a good chance to see a "meltwater signature" from a melting iceberg. What is that, why does it happen, and how do you detect this melting?

-Mr. Pennelly
San Luis Obispo, Ca


Dear Mr. Pennelly,

Your question hits upon a key aspect of our current research project. As icebergs melt, the waters that mix with the surrounding ocean have a distinctive signature, a set of unique physical and chemical properties. The primary property that we use to distinguish iceberg-derived water from the surrounding seawater is its salinity--it’s “saltiness.” Salinity is what scientists call a “conservative property,” meaning that its values are not changed by biological processes. As an iceberg melts, it releases fresher, less saline water into the sea. Melting can be caused by sun, warmer air temperatures, and warmer seawater temperatures, especially for icebergs that are moving north into warmer areas. The scientists involved in this study are interested in how iceberg meltwater affects the physical and biogeochemical cycles of the surrounding waters. They detect it by measuring the area around the iceberg and comparing it to areas farther away.


Doctor Cole R. Hexel:

I am requesting that Doctor Hexel answer a question concerning the collection and measuring of radium 226 (226Ra).  I understand that you are attempting to measure the flux of this terrestrial material as it is expelled from the icebergs during fusion.  I’m sure you are quite aware that Radium 226 (226Ra) is a naturally occurring element commonly found in Musa acuminata or Paradisiaca.  Is it possible that your promoted disfavor for this source and likely disposal of the same may be skewing your results?  

Phil McKrackin


Mr. McKrackin,

Thank you for your question. It is nice to know individuals, such as yourself, are following the current research so closely. Since radium 226 has a half-life of 1600 years, and the residence time of the ocean is approximately 1000 years, it would not be appropriate to use radium 226 as tracer in this case. Radium 224 on the other hand has a half-life of 3.66 days, is conservative and mobile in aquatic system. Thus, this isotope can be used to determine flux on small time scales like measuring the flux of terrestrial material from free-drifting icebergs. The icebergs being currently studied are located in deep water (>1000 m), and away from land influence. Any radium 224 measured in the water had Cole Hexelto come from the iceberg. We can quickly measure radium 224 shipboard using with a MnO2 pre-concentration method and delayed coincidence counter develop by Dr. Moore at University of South Carolina (Please see these references for more information; Moore, 1964, and Moore, 1996).

-Cole R. Hexel

IceburgExpedition Homepage
Find out why our scientists and equipment are in the Antarctic.

Unmanned Aerial VehicleDaily Expedition Logs
Find out what the scientists are doing daily out in the antarctic.

ResearchersLife on the Ship
Find out what it's like to be on a research ship out in the antarctic.

ROV PhantomExpedition Equipment
A detailed look and description of the equipment used on this cruise.

Ken SmithResearch Team
Meet and see photos of the scientists on this cruise.

Google EarthFollow the ship's voyage
A link to the expedition's voyage on Google Earth.

phytoplanktonExploratorium's Ice Stories
Antarctica's Iceberg Phytoplankton

Additional Links