By Sandi Scripa
“How cold is it outside?”
“Is it true that Antarctica used to be tropical?”
“How bad do the elephant seals smell?”
“How many people live in Antarctica? Are there penguins there?”
The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at Johnson Elementary School in Nahant had many exciting questions for Dr. William Detrich, as he chatted with the students via Skype earlier this week live from outside Palmer Research Station in Antarctica.
Highlights included seeing the outside of Palmer Station, located near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, as well as Detrich Island; an island that was named after Dr. Detrich earlier this year for his commitment and advances in Antarctic and polar research. Naturally, the students were very curious, and had plenty of questions ready for Dr. Detrich about his research in Antarctica and his experiences there.
The students thought it was especially cool when Michael Peters, a graduate student in Dr. Detrich’s lab, passed around vials of the white icefish blood. Notothenioids (icefish) do not produce red blood cells or hemoglobin, and Dr. Detrich has spent the past 25 years studying these unique fish and their genetics and evolutionary histories.
In addition to learning about his research, Dr. Detrich also challenged students to think about why studying icefish is important, and how these unique animals might be affected by climate change. One concern is that as waters warm, embryos develop and hatch earlier in the season, before food is readily available. Additionally, warmer temperatures make it more difficult for oxygen to dissolve through the fish’s skin.
As the call wrapped up the MSC and Johnson School staff and students thanked Dr. Detrich for the amazing and fun learning opportunity! Not many students get to go home and answer the question “What did you do at school today?” with “Oh, just chatted with a scientist on the other side of the word!”