Interview with Dr. Joseph Needoba on teaching oceanography in Antarctica

Joseph NeedobaDr. Joseph Needoba is the Assistant Professor, Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems at Oregon Health and Science University. He is joining the upcoming Antarctic Expedition to teach high school and university students about the impacts humans have on marine life, and what this means for the future health of our oceans and our planet.

Dr. Needoba is one of 17 educators and specialists joining SOI’s Antarctic Expedition this week to engage youth from around the world in multi-disciplinary workshops in science, art, history and politics in the greatest classrooms on earth – the Polar Regions.  This is what he has to say about the enriched learning experience he brings to the expedition and what he hopes students will take away with them…

Q:  Can you tell me a bit about the course you are teaching on expedition? 

The course is primarily concerned with oceanography, with an emphasis on marine phytoplankton and other microbes that live in the Southern Ocean. Phytoplankton are microscopic photosynthetic organisms that sustain nearly all marine food webs and have an important role in the global biogeochemical cycles of carbon and other nutrients. We will be surveying the near shore marine environment during the expedition and examining water properties and phytoplankton assemblages to gain a first-hand perspective of Antarctic food webs. In addition, we will be discussing the far reaching impacts of human activities, such as increased fertilizer use or fossil fuel burning, and how the oceans are responding to these global-scale perturbations to the environment.

Q:  How is the Antarctic environment incorporated into the learning experience? 

The students will measure surface ocean water properties and examine samples under a microscope to learn what kinds of organisms are present and how they are adapted to the Antarctic environment. We will discuss the sources of nutrients, the controls of growth and biomass of primary producers, and how they shape the food webs of Antarctica and influence global climate change.

Q:  What do you hope students will take away from your course? What impact would you like to see? 

This is an amazing opportunity to gain insight and perspective about the importance of the oceans, specifically the Southern Ocean, for many aspects of ecology and human well-being.  Human activities have far reaching effects, including for Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems.  Travelling to these environments is a great experience in itself, but I hope that by being active scientists while we are there will help to inspire and shape their career choices.

Q:  Is this your first Students on Ice expedition and what are you most looking forward to?

As an oceanographer I have participated in many research expeditions, but this is my first Antarctic expedition and my first experience with Students on Ice. I am really looking forward to sharing in the excitement of oceanographic field work with the students, and to learning about the Antarctic from all the other instructors and students on the trip.

Q: How did you connect with Students on Ice? And what is it that interests you about an SOI expedition? 

I have known about the Students on Ice expeditions since I was in graduate school at the University of British Columbia. An opportunity arose to participate in this expedition and I was thrilled to be able to participate through the sponsorship of my home institution, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon ( This is an exciting outreach activity that complements the research I am involved in at the Institute of Environmental Health (

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