Limpets, snails and algae join the UAB Antarctic mission

*This is an email recently sent by Maggie Amsler, research associate and co-leader of the NSF-sponsored UAB Antarctica team.

Happy March!

The days have sped by and each has been happy and productive. I hope the same is true for you.

The project progress on setting up the ocean acidification experiment has been fast paced. Briefly (hah!), the experimental setup includes 4 Plexiglas shallow aquaria each with 18 smaller Tupperware aquaria.

A mathematical digression: this calculates out to 72 Tupperware for the entire experiment. Each will be compartmented into 4 suites to house: a single limpet, 5 snails, a rock with one species of coralline algae, and a rock with another species of coralline algae. And this factors up to 72 limpets, 72 rocks per algal species and 375 snails plus extras needed for backup and initial studies!

The plexi aquaria are each plumbed to a recirculating water bath to bathe each Tupperware and their contents at the desired temperature. Each Tupperware container will have an airline for bubbling air and another for bubbling in carbon dioxide (CO2).

A chemistry digression: atmospheric CO2 gets absorbed by seawater and changes the pH of the ocean making it more acidic – hence ocean acidification (a by-product of global climate change). Each Tupperware will have numerous sensors to control conditions. Suffice it to say, the experimental setup is beastly complex with a nightmarish web of wires and tubes – think of Orphan Annie having a bad hair day.

(Pictured above: the rig, named Thetis after the mythical sea goddess, that controls conditions in the aquaria, Kate Schoenrock pictured inside Thetis, Julie Schram in foreground)

My role is assisting with collecting the critters that will be ensconced a la Tupperware. Those critters include a pretty little (less than 0.5 in) pearly sheened snail (pictured below) with the scientific name of Margarella antarctica (I never forget meeting a Margaret or derivative!), the flat shelled limpet and two types of algae. The snails were easy to collect as a diver can simply brush them off an alga into a fine mesh collecting bag. The limpets are more troublesome because as soon as change occurs near it’s environment, the limpet sucks itself firm against the rock or whatever it is on and it is nearly impossible to break their grip without damaging their shell. Much care must be taken collecting, handling and maintaining our critters so as not to inflict physical damage which might affect their behavior or physiology.

Collecting the algae for this experiment really broadened my view and my skill set. I enjoy geology but never expected to someday collect rocks, albeit small ones, underwater. That is where the algae for this experiment live though. And my collecting bag has never been so heavy!

I leave this letter to the ether and get some sleep is what I should do now. Regrettably, another windy rainy night will keep me inside tonight. Maybe tomorrow night will be dry and peaceful and I can find comfort with the Southern Cross overhead.



Kevin, UAB News Blog, 2 March 2012. Article.

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