Scripps Oceanography to teach ‘citizen scientists’ in the wilds of Antarctica

A Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate student making her second trip to Antarctica will lead ecotourists in taking phytoplankton samples from fjords in one of the most pristine environments on Earth.

Allison Lee, a biological oceanographer, is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Argentina, where she’ll board the MS Hebridean Sky, a 296-foot cruise ship that will explore the Palmer Peninsula region.

Lee will deliver scientific lectures and turn the ecotourists into “citizen scientists” who will draw phytoplankton from the waters of the Southern Ocean. Phytoplankton fuel krill and represent an indispensable link in the marine ecosystem, providing food for many creatures, including whales, seals and penguins.

“I used to think of Antarctica as being flat and barren,” said Lee. “But it has amazing mountain ranges, glaciers and valleys covered with snow.”

The ship’s ecotour will begin this month and last into early January, meaning that Lee will be away from La Jolla during Christmas.

“But I’ll be in one of the most wintry-looking places you can imagine,” Lee said Monday as she prepared to leave the Scripps’ campus at UC San Diego.