This year, Daniele Bianchi will join SOI for his third expedition and first visit to Antarctica. During the past two Arctic expeditions, Daniele has become known for his enthusiasm and ability to make oceanography fun and exciting. We’re thrilled to have him back on the team, this time heading to Antarctica!
How did you get involved with SOI?
I got involved through Eric Galbraith, a professor of oceanography at McGill University who I met when I was in graduate school. Eric has been part of the SOI education team for many years and his enthusiasm for everything surrounding science and the oceans is contagious. Through Eric and his first-hand accounts of past expeditions I learned about SOI and their mission, and when I was offered the opportunity to join my first Arctic expedition I was thrilled to bits. It was a tremendous opportunity to join a group of amazing students and educators and visit pristine places that I had only heard about, and an incredible way to give back some of my love for oceanography and nature.
Are there any memories that stick out for you from your first two expeditions?
There are tons of memory and it’s hard to choose specific ones. I’m especially fond of the spontaneous moments of connection that form between the students and the local communities. I remember an afternoon in the town of Pangnirtung in the Canadian Arctic, when, after meeting and spending the day with the local community, we were left to explore and wander the streets of the village. In the outskirts, we met a few local kids and we started playing a goofy baseball game with improvised balls and bats. After few minutes everyone was running and laughing like old friends. The barriers that separated strangers from different cultures had magically dissolved. I have seen this happen countless times during the expeditions, through the generosity of local people and the enthusiasm and heart of the students. Even more than the stunning landscapes and wilderness that we encounter during the expeditions, it is these moments of generosity, friendship and connection that I have the fondest memories of.
Can you explain what your research is all about?
I have always loved nature and the ocean, and I am lucky to be able to spend all my time reading, thinking and talking about it. As an oceanographer, I am interested in understanding how the physical ocean environment shapes marine life. Winds at the surface push and stir the water and set currents in motion, which in turn transport nutrients to the sunlit surface, allowing tiny algae known as phytoplankton to thrive. This phytoplankton is so abundant and productive, that it is responsible to about half of all the photosynthesis that takes place on Earth. Phytoplankton are grazed by tiny animals, zooplankton, and these are eaten by creatures of increasing size, up to fish and whales. When these organisms are eaten and die, they sinks to the abyss, where the nutrients locked in their bodies wait hundreds of years until currents bring them back to the surface, where the cycle restarts.
In my research, I use numerical models of these physical and biological processes, together with data from all over the oceans, to understand how marine ecosystems work, and how they respond to changes, both natural and caused by humans.
Will this be your first visit to Antarctica? And if so, what are you most excited about?
The Southern Ocean is a special place for oceanography, because of its role in shaping the climate of our planet, and life in the rest of the oceans. After many years of reading about it in scientific books and articles, I can hardly believe that we will cross it and explore it on our way to Antarctica.
What makes the Southern Ocean interesting to you?
Despite being the most remote and less studied of all the oceans, the Southern Ocean plays a fundamental role in regulating Earth’s climate. It hosts the largest ocean current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which is stronger than hundred times all the river on Earth put together. Because of this current, the Southern Ocean is the main place where deep waters from the abyss are brought back to the surface through upwelling, and are redistributed all around the other oceans. The Southern Ocean is a crossroad of global currents, and the main door that connects the atmosphere to the vast ocean interior. Despite its small surface, the Southern Ocean mitigates global warming by taking up heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and supplies the rest of the oceans with nutrients that are essential for marine life.
Which part of the education program are you most excited for, and what do you think about the fact that there will be both high school and University students on this expedition?
I am looking forward to meeting the new students and join them in the expedition! I am especially thrilled by the opportunity of taking the students on zodiac cruises where we will sample phytoplankton and zooplankton as part of our marine biology workshops. The variety and beauty of the organisms found in polar waters is fascinating, and never ceases to amaze me. It is great to step out of the laboratory and spend days at sea surrounded by students. In my experience, all of the students are exceptionally curious, enthusiastic and thoughtful. University students, with more experience and knowledge, often take leading roles in engaging high school students during activities and workshops, which makes for an incredibly stimulating teaching and learning environment.
The Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition is taking place December 26th, 2014 to January 8th, 2015. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.