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Polar Life


Polar bear sighting aboard USCGC Healy

A polar bear sighting off the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy during the 2015 Arctic GEOTRACES expedition. The Arctic has experienced the highest degree of warming on the planet, causing sea ice to thin and recede. The region’s iconic polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt, travel and mate.

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Oases in Sea Ice Are Essential to Life in Antarctica

This video explains the key physical, biological and ecological processes in oases on the Antarctic icy coast — polynyas. Researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Delaware are trying to unveil crucial connections among the physical and biological components in the polynyas and to understand how the Antarctic ecosystem responds to changes in the large-scale environment.

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March of the Penguins

Emperor penguins are some of the most striking and charismatic animals on Earth, but a new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that a warming climate may render them extinct by the end of this century. The study, which was part of an international collaboration between scientists, published Nov. 7, 2019, in the journal Global Change Biology.

The fate of the penguins is largely tied to the fate of sea ice, which the animals use as a home base for breeding, feeding and molting, she notes. Emperor penguins tend to build their colonies on ice with extremely specific conditions—it must be locked into the shoreline of the Antarctic continent, but close enough to open seawater to give the birds access to food for themselves and their young. As climate warms, however, that sea ice will gradually disappear, robbing the birds of their habitat, food sources, and ability to raise their chicks.

Jenouvrier and her team conducted the study by combining two existing computer models. The first, a global climate model created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), offered projections of where and when sea ice would form under different climate scenarios. The second, a model of the penguin population itself, calculated how colonies might react to changes in that ice habitat.

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Whale Blow Microbiome

Researchers from WHOI, NOAA Fisheries Southwest Science Center, SR3 Sealife, and the Vancouver Aquarium analyzed whale blow samples collected via drone to identify a core group of bacteria in the respiratory tract of healthy whales.

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Whale Biopsy Collection

A team gathers skin samples from healthy humpback whales in waters off the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Researchers obtain samples by releasing a biopsy-collecting dart, which bounces off the whales’ skin and into the water. The team then retrieves the floating dart and brings it back to a lab for analysis.

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A tipping point

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are the largest species of penguin and one of the most charismatic animals on Earth. Their…

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March of the penguins

New Zealand Geographic

If current warming trends continue, emperor penguins will be marching toward an 86 per cent population decline by the end of the century, at which point, “it is very unlikely for them to bounce back,” says study author Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Seal Spy

Marine ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is exploring new, non-invasive approaches to measuring the body mass of gray seals. Photo by Michelle Shero

Drones helps WHOI scientist measure the body mass of mother and pup seals during lactation

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Polar Life

By human standards, they are extreme environments. Yet life not only persists in the poles…it thrives.

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Emperor Penguins’ First Journey to Sea

Emperor Penguins' First Journey to Sea

The paper, published Jan. 17, 2019, in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, also highlights the unique connection between juvenile diving behaviors and a layer of the ocean, known as the thermocline, where warmer surface waters meet cooler deep waters below and where their prey likely gather in groups.

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Monitoring Bacteria on Whale Skin

Monitoring Bacteria on Whale Skin

Just like with humans, the skin on marine mammals serves as an important line of defense against pathogens in their environment. A new study sheds light on the skin microbiome – ”a group of microorganisms that live on skin – ”in healthy humpback whales, which could aid in future efforts to monitor their health.

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Specks in the Spectrometer

Specks in the Spectrometer

Mass spectrometer facilities can be a rite of passage for scientists—as well as for the samples analyzed inside the mass specs.

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Nereid Under Ice Vehicle: A Powerful New Tool for Polar Science

Scientists studying the harsh and rapidly changing Arctic environment now have a valuable new tool to advance their work—an innovative robot, designed and built at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) that is changing the way scientists can interact with and observe the polar environment.

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From Penguins to Polar Bears

From Penguins to Polar Bears

Polar ecosystems are especially vulnerable to climate change. They are also notably hard to study and to manage. Scientists came to WHOI recently for a Morss Colloquium to address the issues.

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