For the first time in the Weddell seal population project's four and a half decade history, the 2013 field season hangs in the balance as the U.S. government shutdown may force the National Science Foundation to cancel the 2013 U.S. Antarctic program field research season, and evacuate the U.S. Antarctic research stations. A decision is expected very soon as to whether the cancellation of the 2013 U.S. Antarctica science season will take place due to the government shutdown.
The Weddell seal population study is made possible by the National Science Foundation and the United States Antarctic Program. Funding and logistical assistance from these two organizations are critical to the existence and work of the ongoing science study.
The Weddell seal population study project is currently in a situation with two members of the 2013 field team already in Antarctica, and four field team members preparing to leave New Zealand possibly as early as tomorrow for McMurdo Station, the main U.S. Antarctic base, to join up with the two researchers already on the ice. The two field team members already in Antarctica are field team leader Thierry Chambert and returning field researcher Darren Roberts. The field team members in New Zealand preparing for travel to Antarctica are returning field researcher Michael Yarnell, and new field team researchers Terrill Paterson, Brandi Skone, and Joel Forrest.
At stake if the 2013 Antarctic field season is cancelled is the continuity of a long-term population database unique in the field of population ecology. This 45 year study of a functioning population of Antarctic marine mammal helps scientists gain a better understanding of how changes in the marine environment effect this high level Antarctic marine predator. The study also gives scientists a better understanding of how a currently healthy population of high level predator in a nearly pristine marine environment functions. This information can be used to better understand and manage other populations of wildlife that are endangered or aren't doing as well.
Further, crucial to the Weddell seal population study is the training and development of the next generation of scientists. Graduate students and biological field research technicians are central to the Weddell seal population project--and have been over the 45 year history of the project--helping to ensure the development of our future generations of scientists.
One of the lead scientists on the project, Montana State University Ecologist Jay Rotella, states that, "This is a very important year as we have the current PhD student and field crew leader, Thierry Chambert, training the new PhD student, Terrill Paterson, who will work alongside him this year and take over as field crew leader next year."
Field team leader Thierry Chambert is in the final months of his work with the Weddell seal population study project having successfully defended his doctoral dissertation to earn his PhD from Montana State University. Rotella notes, "We are all excited that he has a great post-doctoral position at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of USGS. We are also excited to have Terrill Paterson joining us as the new PhD student. The hand-off from one field leader and graduate student to the next is very important as we do all possible to maintain the continuity and integrity of this long-term study."
We will update this blog as more is learned about possible cancellation of the 2013 U.S. Antarctic research field season.