About FjordPhyto

Sharing Science

Image of Antartica
Bringing science to the public is very important to us! Adventurous polar visitors not only get to see the amazing beauty and wildlife of these remote regions, they get to contribute to the legacy of polar research through hands-on citizen science. Expert polar guides teach passengers about the changing ecosystems, providing a perspective on ocean life they may not have previously considered.

Community Effort

Sample being deposited in container.

FjordPhyto brings polar travelers and scientists together for a Citizen Science approach to understanding changes in marine ecosystems within fjords along in the Arctic and along the west Antarctic Peninsula.

We Love Challenges

Steep slopes of fjords

The polar regions are vast and difficult to access year round. Some scientific monitoring occurs, but there is still so much to learn. Luckily, there is a vibrant ship-based community of travelers ready to engage in science. These ships visit polar fjords throughout the northern and austral summers.

Scientific Questions

Glacial Meltwater

Image of Antartica
Polar regions are experiencing rapid rates of temperature rise and glacial ice melting. Which fjords experience a greater influx of this melted glacial water?
Phytoplankton Community
Sample being deposited in container.

Just like wildflowers blooming in a field, not all wildflowers or fields are the same. What types of phytoplankton communities do we see amongst various fjords and how do they differ?

Long Term

Steep slopes of fjords
Monitoring change within the dynamic polar regions, requires long-term observations. With the help of polar passengers, FjordPhyto focuses on monitoring changes in fjord phytoplankton communities week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year.

Why does this matter?

Antarctic Ecosystems

Researchers are discovering that fjords along the west Antarctic Peninsula are hotspots of biological activity and biodiversity. Intense phytoplankton blooms occur throughout the summer feeding animals that live in the water and on the seafloor. One of the most crucial animals to the Antarctic ecosystem are krill. Krill feed penguins, seals, and whales. Antarctica remains the most pristine region in the world. Yet, despite it’s remoteness, it is experiencing the most rapid rates of warming due to climate change.

Arctic Ecosystems

The Arctic is an ocean covered with drifting ice, hemmed in by surrounding continents. In winter new ice forms and snow accumulates. In summer, the ice melts rapidly, winds and currents keep the pack ice in forever motion, forming great pressure ridges. Fjords in the Arctic are not thought to be biodiversity hotspots like those in Antarctica.


The FjordPhyto collaboration between scientists, tour operators, polar guides, and travelers all started with an email and a serendipitous rendez-vous in the Antarctic.

  • 2015, May – First email contact between polar guides (Robert Gilmore at Polar Latitudes) and FjordEco researchers (Dr. Maria Vernet).
  • 2015, Dec – Serendipitous rendez-vous between Robert Gilmore and FjordEco team in the Antarctic. Dr. Maria Vernet gives Robert bottles to help collect phytoplankton samples from tour ships.
  • 2016, Feb/March – First trial sampling season of FjordPhyto begins (aboard Polar Latitudes ship, analyzed by graduate student Martina Mascioni using microscopy).
  • 2016, Fall – Graduate student Allison Cusick arrives at Scripps Oceanography for a Masters program and joins forces with Dr. Maria Vernet to design a full program for FjordPhyto citizen science project. Samples collected by polar guides and travelers visiting Antarctica contribute data to Allison and Martina’s PhD dissertations.
  • 2016 – 2017 – Second sampling season of FjordPhyto (aboard Polar Latitudes and G Adventures ships – Martina analyzes samples using microscopy –  results from this first season are published in 2019 here).
  • 2017, March – FjordPhyto citizen science concept presented at GRC: Polar Marine Science conference, California.
  • 2017, May – FjordPhyto introduced at the Citizen Science Association Conference, Minnesota.
  • 2017, June – Full FjordPhyto sampling plan developed and submitted to the National Science Foundation for funding. Allison Cusick  receives her Master’s degree in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Martina Mascioni continues to analyze collected samples using microscopy.
  • 2017, Sept – FjordPhyto receives launch support from the National Science Foundation through a grant entitled Public Participation in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) Research (PPSR). This allows Allison Cusick to begin the PhD program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and continue efforts expanding the program.
  • 2017, Oct – FjordPhyto team meets the Polar Guiding community! Spends time training polar guides at the AECO/IAATO Polar Field Guide Staff conference, Iceland.
  • 2017 – 2018 – Third sampling season of FjordPhyto (Polar Latitudes, G Adventures, Antarctica21, Hanse Explorer, Lindblad Expeditions, Quixote Expeditions – samples are analyzed using microscopy and next generation sequencing tools).
  • 2017, Dec – Allison joins Antarctica21 M/V Hebridean Sky as Guest Scientist to meet guides and travelers, improve FjordPhyto logistics, and learn more about the region. Allison collects additional samples for her and Martina Mascioni’s PhD theses.
  • 2018, Spring – FjordPhyto samples continue to be processed and analyzed by Martina and Allison.
  • 2018, May – FjordPhyto presented at Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) International Online Conference.
  • 2018, June – FjordPhyto presents at POLAR 2018 Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) conference, Switzerland.
  • 2018 – 2019 – Fourth sampling season of FjordPhyto (Polar Latitudes, G Adventures, Antarctica21, Hurtigruten, Ocean Expeditions, Quixote Expeditions, Cheesemans’ Ecological Safaris). Allison Cusick joins Antarctica21 M/V Ocean Nova and Cheesemans’ Ecological Safaris M/V Ioffe as Lecturer (Dec – Mar).
  • 2019 Mar – FjordPhyto presented at Citizen Science Association’s CitSci2019 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina
  • 2019 Apr – FjordPhyto presented at SCAR Humanities & Social Sciences (SC- HASS) conference in Ushuaia, Argentina
  • 2019 June – FjordPhyto attends the Building the NASA Citizen Science Community Workshop in Tuscon, Arizona
  • 2019 July, – Martina Mascioni from Argentina receives inaugural IAATO Antarctic Fellowship  to join the Vernet Lab in the USA summer of 2020 (postponed until further notice due to COVID global pandemic)
  • 2019 Aug – FIRST PUBLICATION HOT OFF THE PRESS – Mascioni et al., 2019  – Mascioni, M., Almandoz, G.O., Cefarelli, A.O., Cusick, A.M., Ferrario, M.E., Vernet, M. (2019). Phytoplankton composition and bloom formation in unexplored nearshore waters of the western Antarctic Peninsula. Polar Biology 1-14.
  • 2019 Sept – FjordPhyto presented at AECO/IAATO Field Staff Conference, Sturbridge, MA.
  • 2019 Oct/Nov – FjordPhyto joins with Hurtigruten for Molecular Learning Lab Allison Cusick joins on board new M/S Roald Amundsen 
  • 2019 – 2020 –  Fifth sampling season of FjordPhyto (Polar Latitudes, G Adventures, Antarctica21, Hurtigruten, Quixote Expeditions). Allison Cusick joins Antarctica21 M/V Magellan and M/V Ocean Nova as Lecturer (Nov – Feb).
  • 2020 Jan – SECOND PUBLICATION HOT OFF THE PRESS – Cusick et al., 2020  – Cusick, A. M., Gilmore, R., Bombosch, A., Mascioni, M., Almandoz, G. O., & Vernet, M. (2020). POLAR TOURISM AS AN EFFECTIVE RESEARCH TOOL. Oceanography33(1), 50-61.
  • 2020 Feb – FjordPhyto presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting Conference, San Diego, CA (with over 6300 attendees).
  • 2020 March – Global Pandemic strikes. Polar guides and Antarctic researchers prioritize getting home swiftly and safely. Samples and gear are kept safe by trusted polar guides until the world re-opens.
  • 2020 March  – FjordPhyto welcomes two new members: Gabriela Lamanna and Celeste Kroeger Campodonico, two Masters students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who had to pivot their original Capstone plans and decided to make more FjordPhyto visions come true (meet them in the Contact Us)! Gabriela created a short video documentary piece about FjordPhyto (coming soon!) and Celeste is creating a phytoplankton photo identification guide using microscopy images Martina has taken from samples collected by citizen scientists. Stay tuned!
  • 2020 Summer – Martina postpones her summer 2020 IAATO Fellowship plans visit to Vernet Lab in USA until further notice. Allison is able to start working in the lab to process genetic samples. FjordPhyto attends NASA CitSci 2020 webinar series.
  •  2020 Aug – FjordPhyto presents at SCAR 2020 Online conference (free) – Dr. Vernet (video presentation), Martina (poster session and video presentation), and Allison (Slack discussion and poster session). Originally scheduled to be in Hobart, Tasmania.


Check out our blog link for more in depth stories!