21 November, 2001
I went out to the melt hole near our field camp with Dr. Jan Pawlowski and Dr. Steve Alexander. This melt hole was not for dive collection because of its 150-foot depth. (The divers are not allowed to dive more than 120 feet.) We refer to it as the "melt hole" because it was not blasted, but went through the drill/melt process. It took two days to melt this hole with the equipment that came in last week. A box corer was used to collect sediment with forams for Dr. Pawlowski. A huge Weddell seal popped its head up through the dive hole before we could even get the box corer in the water. It seemed curious as it looked up at us with big eyes. Antarctica tends to bring daily surprises.
The reason I wanted to come to Antarctica was to bring real science research into classrooms and to pull others into learning. It's not just "what" we learn, but "how" we learn that will encourage "true learners". Science teaches skills that enhance the process of learning. It teaches how to observe, ask questions, predict, investigate/test, and think. Science is not just "what" we learn in a book. It is constantly changing, and there are no set answers. What we learn may one day be disproved, or changed as technology improves, or when other investigations prove another theory. This is what makes science so exciting! Science is very much apart of our every day lives, whether someone is finding the cure for cancer or researching ways to protect the environment for future generations. The Earth is not frail, human civilization is. Life as we know it can be altered or changed if we do not understand the "science" to protect, or to make informative decisions to maintain a healthy environment for human habitation.
My joy of being in Antarctica is not just experiencing the continent, although it is quite beautiful, but rather the people that I've met here. It has been a real joy to talk to scientists about their projects in Antarctica. I have been so fortunate to be with six incredible scientists who are dedicated and enthusiastic about their work. I can't leave Antarctica without bringing their science to you. They amaze me with their knowledge, work ethics, and enthusiasm for their science research. Today, I would like to introduce you to Dr. Jan Pawlowski. He is one of the most dedicated people that I've ever met. Normally, he can be found at his microscope in his "Antarctic lab". Today, I had photos that captured him working in the field.
Dr. Pawlowski was born in western Poland. He immigrated to Switzerland in 1982 where he continued his study of biology. He received his basic knowledge of forams from a "geologist perspective". Geneva, Switzerland was a good place to study fossil forams at that time. He also spent six months in New York City learning about living forams. At present, Dr. Pawlowski works at the University of Geneva in collaboration with the Museum of Natural History. He spends 80% or more of his time doing research. He also teaches, organizes, and facilitates the learning of 10 students in his lab. Once a year, he gives a course on Molecular Systematics for PhD or higher levels from different universities in Switzerland. Dr. Pawlowski found and leads the Molecular Systematic Group (MSG), Department of Zoology and Animal Biology. Systematics is the scientific term for classification of living organisms. Instead of classifying through morphology and anatomy (external or internal characteristics or what an organism looks like), Dr. Pawlowski does the classification according to molecules. His focus is on DNA, which helps him identify the organism's ancestors, or whether organisms are related or not related. The systematic approach was made possible by a procedure referred to as PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). After foram DNA is extracted, the PCR procedure can multiply a fragment of a gene in order to get millions of copies of it. This makes it easier to read the DNA sequence to determine the genetic type. This process allows Dr. Pawlowski to build a "genealogical tree" in order to compare to other sequences and to infer a relationship between them. Being able to read the DNA sequence of an organism gives more information about the evolutionary history of the organisms. Dr Pawlowski's group studies molecular evolution of forams, but also the amoebas, animals (fishes, bats, and parasites) and green algae.
Humans, yeast, bacteria, forams, and other living organisms all share several of the same genes, but each has specific variable regions which allow to detect different organisms by using specific PCR primers. By getting the DNA, Dr. Pawlowski can identify, detect, and compare different species. Dr. Pawlowski worked for two years to identify the specific primer for forams. This makes it possible for Dr. Bowser to detect forams in the sediment collected in Explorers Cove without physically sorting them under the microscope. When sediment is sent back to his lab in New York, DNA testing can detect forams in the sediment by using the universal primer for forams. Dr. Pawlowski is building a database on the computer to identify DNA sequences for specific species of forams. This DNA approach can save valuable time by identifying forams in the sediment.
Dr. Pawlowski has traveled all over the world in his pursuit to study forams. He first came to Antarctica to study living forams in 1998, then again in 1999 and 2001. He has also gone to other Polar Regions, such as Iceland and Spitzenbergen (North of Norway). In doing so, he can make a comparison with the Arctic and Antarctic forams. Next summer, he will go to Greenland. In March, he will return to Antarctica, but travel aboard the German icebreaker (ship), the Polarstern, to the Weddell Sea. Other foram projects include work with temperate forams and coral reef forams. Part of his study is bio-geography, where he studies the distribution of organisms: how organisms are distributed and appear in the sea. He has traveled to Guam, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Nova Scotia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Mediterranean Coast in Africa, California, Florida, and along the East Coast in the United States.
Explorers Cove in Antarctica is unique in that it allows scuba accessibility to the bottom of the ocean that resembles the deep ocean. Dr. Pawlowski is looking for early forams to study the history of forams. His research has led him to conclude that single-chambered forams evolved before multi-chambered forams. This conclusion, based on research, infers that the single-celled forams, which are dominant in Explorers Cove, have ancestors dating back to the Pre-Cambrian period. All groups of forams with single chambers, such as Astrammina, must have ancient origins. Explorers Cove is one of the few places in the world where Astrammina rara can be found in abundance. Dr. Bowser and his team of divers are currently making comparisons in nearby locations, such as Marble Point and near the Herbertson Glacier. Dr. Pawlowski said that 50 species unique to this place are found at Explorers Cove. Dr. Bowser's research this year is to help determine the ecological conditions in Explorers Cove, which make Explorers Cove so unique. Discussions at the dinner table have led to questions in this search. Does the huge beach left by the retreating glaciers play a role in providing the perfect habitat for Astrammina? Is it unique because the currents are different? The water coming from under the Ross Ice Shelf is not rich in food items that forams can exploit directly. Diving in McMurdo indicates that there is more marine life in McMurdo, but no Astrammina. Explorers Cove has very little meiofauna (worms, ostrocods, and other things in the sediment). Meiofauna stirs up sediment and makes the area more active. Do the single-chambered organisms, like Astrammina rara, need calm conditions without much activity in order to thrive? Does algae, like what I'm finding in the moat area, provide periodic nutrients when washed back to sea? Questions are the basis of science. It's through questions that we discover answers.
Dr. Pawlowski is a "true learner". When I teach, my goal is to help students find this same passion and inquisitive nature. Dr. Pawlowski sums it up by stating that, "There is always something to be discovered. Read everything to get the background, but let you and your imagination, not the text books, guide you." Dr. Pawlowski has an abundance of knowledge on forams around the world, but what makes him so special is his excitement for making new discoveries. The more he learns, the more he questions. I, too, am just now realizing that the more I learn, the more I realize that I'll never learn it all. Life is constantly changing, and one investigation only leads to more questions. It's the pursuit of answers that make science feel like we're opening a special gift box. The real learning and joy is in the pursuit. Making a discovery is not the final answer, or the end result.it's always subject to change. The gift is learning how to find the answers to lead to new discoveries. Dr. Pawlowski is a wonderful role model in teaching me how this should be done.
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