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UAB in Antarctica
Maggie Amsler
Research Associate 
UAB Department Of Biology

This trip marks the 32nd time since January 1980 Margaret "Maggie" Amsler, M.S. will work in Antarctica with many of those expeditions based at Palmer Station. Palmer is a special place to her for many reasons. The lab at Palmer is named for her undergraduate advisor and mentor at DePaul University, the late Dr. Mary Alice McWhinnie. Amsler's first trip was as part of McWhinnie's team.

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. A career move brought her husband and fellow researcher, Chuck Amsler, to the University of California Santa Barbara, where as a staff research associate, she participated in an additional ten expeditions in Antarctica.

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, collaborating with researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In 2017, Amsler was on one of the first-ever cruises using manned submersibles to document sea floor communities in Antarctica. It is likely that she became the first woman ever to make a submersible dive there.

In 2021, Maggie’s adventurous scientific spirit was recognized by The Explorers Club naming her to the inaugural EC50 cohort - “Fifty people the world should know about”.

Amsler's work during her first 12 expeditions to Antarctica followed the same path as her mentor, McWhinnie's: studying krill, a small, shrimp-like critter and the basis of the Antarctic oceanic food web. Since trip #13, she has often 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 but more recently also the impacts of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms and the distribution of deep sea crabs that may be invading shallow waters as a consequence of ocean warming.

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 colleague Jim McClintock, who had point of land near McMurdo Station named for him in 1998.

Maggie has been author or co-author with her polar colleagues on over 50 publications. In recognition of her zeal to share science with the professional community and lay community alike through numerous outreach efforts, in 2022 Amsler was named a Sigma Xi Fellow.

Most of Maggie’s Antarctic fieldwork has involved scuba diving. She has logged over 500 dives in the icy waters studying krill, chemical ecology, and ocean acidification. When not in or on the waters around Palmer Station, Amsler will be found doing yoga or 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, without hesitation, Maggie exclaims “Antarctica’s terrestrial and marine environments are simply amazing to experience and continue to fascinate me. I can’t wait to return!”