- Written by Chuck Amsler
In 1974, McWhinnie was the first woman named as the chief scientist at McMurdo Station. That season, she and another woman, Sister Mary Odile Cahoon, were the first women to winter at McMurdo Station.
Amsler herself is a part of Antarctica's history. After earning her undergraduate degree at DePaul, she pursued her master's degree and continued her Antarctic studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She went later with her husband and fellow researcher, Chuck Amsler, to the University of California Santa Barbara, where she was a staff research associate.
In 1985, Amsler was on the first-ever, U.S.-sponsored winter cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula. She was aboard an icebreaker, the research vessel Polar Duke, while working with researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Amsler's work during her first 12 expeditions to Antarctica followed the same path as her mentor, McWhinnie's: studying krill, a small, cold-water relative of the crayfish and the basis of the Antarctic oceanic food web. Since trip #13 (with one exception), she has worked alongside her husband, UAB biologist Chuck Amsler and her boss, UAB biologist Jim McClintock, initially studying the chemical defenses of marine plants and animals and currently the impacts of ocean acidification on clacifying organisms. She came to UAB in 1996 and has worked with McClintock since 2001.
Because of their numerous contributions to Antarctic science since 1980, in 2007 Maggie and Chuck Amsler were honored by the US Board of Geographic names with the designation of Amsler Island, which is approximately half a mile from Palmer Station. In doing so, they joined colleagues Jim McClintock and Bill Baker, who had points of land near McMurdo Station named for them in 1998.
As with her krill research, the fieldwork on the chemical ecology project includes diving. She has many dives in the frigid Antarctic waters studying both krill and chemical ecology. When not in or on the waters around Palmer Station, Amsler will be found running and cycling in the small gym and when possible cross-country skiing on the glacier; at night sleeping out in her bivy under the Antarctic sky.
Climatic changes along the Antarctic Peninsula are clearly evident with the lack of snow on the glacier coupled with a rapidly receding, vanishing glacier. Skiing and even nightly camping have become sporadic due to warmer air temperatures and moisture conditions. “I don’t go out when it is raining – too sloppy!” Dramatic changes aside, Antarctica remains an amazing environment to experience and continues to fascinate Amsler. Without hesitation, Maggie exclaims “I can’t wait to return!”