This trip marks the first time in almost 10 years Margaret “Maggie” Amsler, M.S. will work at Palmer Station. The station has undergone renovation since the last time she was there and she's especially excited to see what's been done to the lab at Palmer, which is named for her undergraduate advisor and mentor at DePaul University, the late Mary Alice McWhinnie, Ph.D.
In 1974, McWhinnie became the first woman to be named as the chief scientist at McMurdo Station. That season, she and another woman, Sister Mary Odile Cahoon, became 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 at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and continued her Antarctic studies while there. She later went with her husband and fellow researcher, Chuck Amsler, to 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 in Antarctica has 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 food web. This trip, she will work with her husband, UAB biologist Chuck Amsler and her boss, UAB biologist Jim McClintock, studying the chemical defenses of marine plants and animals. She came to UAB in 1996 to work with McClintock.
The field work will include diving and though she has many dives in the frigid Antarctic waters studying krill, the diving this trip will be much different.
"All of the work I have done in Antarctica involved studying krill, which generally live deep the water," she said. "We towed nets from the ship to gather krill. In the winter however, when ice covered the surface of those same waters we had to dive in order to collect krill. Usually we found krill in the first few feet of water, feeding on microscopic plants growing on the ice so we did not have to dive deep.
“We were always tethered so if something happened, the weather turned bad or we got into trouble, we could be quickly pulled from beneath the ice. This time we won't be below ice-covered seas and I'll actually get to go to the bottom of the ocean."
An avid athlete, Amsler's hobbies include competing in triathlons.
"I have done two half-ironman distance races and have competed in more than two dozen other triathlons, mostly in the Southeast," she said.
Two weeks before departing for Antarctica, she ran in the Chicago Marathon.
"That was my first marathon, and I had such a good time. I'm glad I did it."
Amsler plans to continue her exercise regimen while in Antarctica, including working out on treadmills and stationary bikes at the station during harsh weather. She’ll also be skiing as much as possible and may even spend a night or two sleeping under the Antarctic sky.
"I started sleeping outside many years ago while working at Palmer. One day, I realized I hadn't been outside in four days the only free time I had seemed to be when I was asleep," she said. "So I checked out a sleeping bag and ground cloth from the supply room and found a nice flat rock at the base of the glacier. I drifted off to sleep, lulled by the sound of crackling ice and was awakened at dawn by squawking penguins.
“I could not resist such unique lodging, and my nightly ritual grew to include heading out with a thermos of hot water and a wedge of bread for breakfast, and a pair of skis for some morning exercise on the glacier."
Amsler adds that sleeping outside has become more popular in recent years at Palmer, and if there are too many people sleeping outside, she'll opt for sleeping indoors. But she'll still get in her pre-work skiing excursion.
"Even if there's no snow on the glacier, I'll go up and ski on the ice. The only problem there is that if I fall, it hurts. But, it won't be the first time I have come back to the station with bloody knuckles from falling while skiing on the ice.
“Being on skis on an Antarctic glacier is just such a great way to get the day going. I can't wait."
This expedition marks Amsler's 13th trip to the icy realm and she's hoping that this trip will be a research success.
"What can I say? This is lucky number 13!"