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UAB in Antarctica
Mission Co-investigator/Field Team Leader
Professor, UAB Department Of Biology

When Chuck Amsler arrives in Palmer Station in December 2022 on his 24th expedition to Antarctica, he will be going back to a place with many fond memories.

Amsler, 63, is a marine algal ecophysiologist, meaning he is a biologist who studies, among other things, the physiological adaptations of algae to their environments. That includes macroalgae, large marine plants also known as seaweeds. He also studies the animals that live in association with macroalgae. Amsler made his first trip to Palmer from December 1985 to March 1986 as a volunteer field assistant with a team of researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara. That team included Amsler’s wife, Maggie, a biologist who was then making her fourth trip to Antarctica. She is also a member of the current UAB team on her 32nd Antarctic research expedition.

“I wanted to find out why my wife kept leaving me for three or four months a year,” Amsler said with a laugh. Besides giving him a common ground with his wife, Antarctica grabbed the young researcher’s imagination. “I became excited about the scientific opportunities there on that trip and immediately began trying to get back to do my own work.”

He returned to Palmer in 1989 at the behest of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assess the damage caused by a shipwreck and oil spill off the coast. Since then, he has led or co-led 16 expeditions to Palmer Station between 2000 and the current 2022-23 expedition looking at the chemical defenses of marine organisms and the effects of increasing sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification on marine organisms. On 13 of those expeditions including the current one, he has also served as the overall Station Science Leader. In 2019 he served as Chief Scientist on the research vessel Laurence M. Gould off the Antarctic coast studying the influence of changing sea ice on seafloor communities like those the group studies at Palmer Station.

In 2007 the US Board of Geographic names designated an island close to Palmer Station as Amsler Island in honor of Maggie and Chuck Amsler's contributions to marine science in Antarctica over the past three decades.

In the 11 years between his second and third visits to Palmer, Amsler was part of three research expeditions to McMurdo Station Antarctica. Two of the trips to McMurdo, in 1997 and 1998, studied the chemical ecology of invertebrates, algae, and bacteria, The third trip, soon after Amsler came to UAB in 1994, studied the ecophysiology of microalgae that live in sea ice. He was back at McMurdo in 2005 as a member of the United States Antarctic Program Scientific Diving Control Board and made two trips to McMurdo as the rotating Program Director for the NSF Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program which he headed from June 2013 to July 2015. Throughout his years at Palmer and McMurdo, Amsler has made over 1000 research scuba dives studying the ecology of marine macroalgae and invertebrates. He is one of only three US Antarctic Program divers to have reached 1000 Antarctic dives, and the only grantee (scientist) to do so.

Amsler looks forward to his upcoming trip back to Palmer. With a maximum of 44 staff and researchers in residence, Palmer is “another world from McMurdo,” a station with sometimes over 1,000 people living there. “Both Palmer and McMurdo are wondrous places to live and to do marine biology,” Amsler said, “but they are about as different from one another as two places can be. I'm very much looking forward to being back at Palmer for another season.”