Palmer Long Term Ecological Research

Established in 1990, the Palmer LTER project is a multidisciplinary study of the pelagic marine ecosystem to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The study area extends south and north of the Palmer Basin from onshore to several hundred kilometers off shore. Palmer Station is one of the three United States research stations in Antarctica, located on Anvers Island midway down the Antarctic Peninsula. The Palmer LTER is one of 26 LTER research sites located throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Tahiti; each focused on a specific ecosystem.

Research foci include physical forcing (solar, atmospheric, oceanic, and sea ice) with an emphasis on the ecological consequences of annual and inter-annual variation, biological processes with an emphasis on microbial and primary production as well as life-history parameters of secondary producers (krill) and apex predators (penguins), biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen, ecosystem responses to climate migration, and modeling that links ecosystem processes to environmental variables. 


The central hypothesis of the Palmer LTER study states that the advance, retreat, and extent of sea ice are linked to carbon and oxygen dynamics; seasonal primary production; zooplankton abundance, distribution and recruitment, and foraging; and breeding success and survival of apex predators such as Adélie penguins. Our Zooplankton Ecology lab is focused on describing the local zooplankton assemblages, their role in carbon cycling, and the effects of climate change on community structure and functioning in this region. 


From October through March, we conduct regular field sampling and laboratory studies at Palmer Station from Zodiacs and remote-sensing platforms. In January, our research includes annual sampling of a grid of hydrographic stations along the western Antarctic Peninsula; studies of oceanographic process using moored sediment traps and moored and glider-based oceanographic sensors; and intensive seasonal studies in seabird colonies. Remote sensing of ocean color, sea-surface temperatures, and sea ice is also available. Observations and experimental results are integrated and synthesized using one- and three-dimensional ocean process models.

Our zooplankton ecology lab’s sampling includes standard oblique net tows to describe zooplankton community composition; MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System) tows to assess zooplankton vertical migration; various experiments to quantify zooplankton ingestion and excretion rates, and zooplankton fecal pellet sinking rates; and zooplankton lipid analysis. 

  • Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole
  • Columbia University/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
  • Polar Oceans Research
  • University of California San Diego/Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Rutgers University
  • British Antarctic Survey
  • University of California Santa Cruz
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
Funding and Support

Funding for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Polar Programs. Logistics support for all Antarctic activity of the United States is provided by Raytheon Polar Services. Annual grid sampling is conducted aboard the AR/SV Laurence M. Gould operated by Edison Chouest Offshore.