Maggie Amsler, a benthic ecologist and researcher in the Department of Biology and longtime member of UAB’s Antarctic research team, has been selected as a member of The Explorers Club inaugural Explorers 50 program, which recognizes 50 remarkable people working to change the world and extend the meaning and impact of exploration. The Explorers Club, established in 1904, is an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to advancing field research and preserving the instinct to explore.
Amsler has trekked to Antarctica nearly 30 times in more than 35 years, studying everything from its krill population to the effects of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms. In 1985, she was aboard the icebreaker research vessel Polar Duke on the first winter cruise along the peninsula while working with researchers from UC Santa Barbara, and since 2001, she and her husband, UAB Professor Chuck Amsler, Ph.D., also an Antarctic researcher, and Jim McClintock, Ph.D., Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology, have studied the chemical defenses of marine plants and animals, the effects of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms and the movement of deep-sea crabs into shallow waters as a consequence of ocean warming.
“Science, by its very nature, expands the definition of exploration as the search to understand basic concepts governing the natural world; it’s an endless journey,” Amsler said. “For instance, as a young scientist, I never fathomed that technology, much less opportunity, would enable me to be among the first scientists to explore Antarctica’s depths in a submersible. Science knows no boundaries — a concept I strive to engender in young minds when I speak to school groups about my explorations in Antarctica.
“Science is a process as meticulous as outfitting a team for a trek into the unknown,” she continued. “Indeed, scientists make discoveries about the natural world with the same courage, sacrifice and devotion typical of any dedicated explorer.”
Boat photo courtesy of Nell Herrmann; photo with McClintock courtesy of Jim McClintock
Clockwise from top left: In 2007, Amsler and husband Chuck, a professor in the Department of Biology, were honored by the U.S. Board of Geographic names with the designation of Amsler Island; Antarctic research teams often travel by inflatable boat, like the one Amsler is riding; Amsler (left) with husband Chuck; Amsler (left) with Chuck (right) and Jim McClintock, Ph.D., Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology (top); Amsler in Antarctica; Amsler with mentor Mary Alice McWinnie’s McWinnie's portrait in the biology lab in Antarctica’s Palmer Station; an aerial view of Amsler Island.
Amsler was selected from more than 400 applicants across the globe; they hail from 17 different countries and conduct exploration and research in 46. The 50 explorers chosen represent a diverse range of scientific work and backgrounds, said Richard Weise, club president.
“Every honoree is exploring, inspiring and creating the future — the future of the planet, sustainability, paleontology, biology, what our communities should look like and so much more,” Weise told Amsler.
Amsler credits her adviser and mentor, renowned biologist DePaul University Professor Mary Alice McWhinnie, Ph.D., as an inspiration for her own explorations. In 1974, McWhinnie became the first woman chief scientist at McMurdo Station, situated on the south tip of Ross Island on the continent’s northeast coast.
“In every presentation I give to school groups about doing science in Antarctica, I acknowledge my mentor, hailing her as my science hero,” Amsler explained. “She refused that her science be limited by unnatural obstacles.”
In 2007, Amsler and Chuck were honored by the U.S. Board of Geographic names with the designation of Amsler Island, located about half a mile from Palmer Station. In 2017, Amsler sailed on one of the first cruises using submarines to document seafloor communities in Antarctica, and it’s likely she was the first woman ever to make a submersible dive there.