Developing a research project proposal is hard work. In order to receive funding for their project, scientists must be able to explain what they hope to learn and why their proposed question is worth answering. For Antarctic research, scientists must have their project selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which coordinates all United States research in Antarctica. As you can imagine, it's a competitive application process!
In 21st-century science, it's all about collaboration. The NSF knows that scientific discoveries are made when scientists with different skills team up to answer a question. Dr. Jo-Ann Mellish and her colleagues, Dr. Horning and Dr. Hindle, agree. This team of physiologists have worked together before and value the expertise each individual brings to the group. Without Dr. Horning's special knack for engineering instruments, Dr. Hindle's expertise in modeling data, or Dr. Mellish's skill at assessing animal health, this project would never have made it past the proposal stage.
In addition to the benefit of varying skill-sets, working as a team gives scientists a chance to bounce ideas off one another. Talking about ideas leads to better research questions - and to successful collaborations like this one, carried out with support from the National Science Foundation (award #1043779).
VIDEO: RESEARCH QUESTIONS
Dr. Allyson Hindle explains the team's research questions for the Weddell seal project. (1:23)
Understanding how changes in sea ice cover will impact polar seals hinges on a broader understanding of how different conditions change a seal's ability to thermoregulate. People have known for a long time that water and air have very different physical properties. One difference is in the way that water and air conduct heat. Scientists have calculated that water pulls heat away from a seal's body as much as 4.5 times faster than air. Brrrr! Knowing this, Dr. Hindle and the team believe that polar seals' ability to thermoregulate will be negatively affected if changing sea ice conditions alter the way these species budget the time they spend on ice and and in water.
Further, the team hypothesizes that changes in sea ice will affect some animals more than others. They expect that larger animals with more blubber will have a greater buffer against environmental change, while smaller, leaner animals may face more challenges.
VIDEO: RESEARCH METHODS
Dr. Jo-Ann Mellish describes why McMurdo Sound's Weddell seals were the perfect population to study to test the team's hypotheses. (1:33)
In order to test their hypotheses, the team needed to develop a plan. Among the questions they needed to answer were: How would they determine which seals to study and what tools would they use to study the seals once they'd chosen them? These challenges had to be carefully considered before the team traveled to the ice. After all, once you board the plane for Antarctica, there’s no going back for something you forgot!
WHO IS STUDYING SEALS?