Researching climate change in sub-zero

After graduating from the University of Plymouth in 2007 with a Marine Biology degree, Terri Souster worked for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) for ten years as a Marine Biologist.

Terri's story

I started my PhD with the BAS in July 2014, and I spent 36 months living and working in Antarctica in order to explore the effects of climate change on animals that live on the sea floor.

"The research station had about 100 people in the summer months and 21 in the winter, so for seven months of the year there were just 21 of us."

A one-of-a-kind workplace

"First thing in the morning we would have a diving and boating meeting to assess the ice and weather conditions and what we could achieve that day in terms of research. On a normal day I would dive twice and either supervise another dive or carry out water sampling from the boat. When the sea froze in the winter, we had to cut holes through the ice using a chainsaw to access our research sites. 

"We always had to make the most of decent weather as winds can reach in excess of 100mph and visibility can reduce to nil. We would work inside the lab and aquarium when the weather was not good enough for boating, and as my office overlooked the bay and mountains, I would often see whales swimming or penguins walking past."

Out on the boats looking at new dive locations.

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</p><div><div>The Bonner Laboratory</div></div><br>

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The Bonner Laboratory at Rothera Research Station.
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Diving to collect samples through a dive hole in winter

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Diving through ice to collect samples in the winter.
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Walking near base

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On a walk near the base.

Large icebergs frozen in place by the sea ice during winter.

Climate change consequences

"My research into the effects of climate change found that the loss of sea ice and glacial retreat results in icebergs not being frozen in place for a large period of time each year, so they are free to move around with the wind and currents. This means they collide with the seafloor at great frequencies, causing scouring events and killing all the seafloor animals. 

"In terms of sea temperature, Antarctic marine animals have evolved to stable temperatures of between +1° in summer and -1.8° in winter. If this sea temperature warms by 1 degree, as is predicted within the next 100 years, this could have multiple consequences which would change the biodiversity of these ecosystems, such as certain species dying out or wildlife reproducing at the wrong time of year."

Antarctic opportunities

"While I was working there, I also involved with the filming for the Deadly 60 series (BBC Natural History Unit). As I was an experienced Antarctic diver and supervisor, I dived alongside presenter Steve Backshall and his cameraman while they filmed leopard seals, icebergs and marine seafloor organisms.

"An extraordinary memory was getting the opportunity to dive with hundreds of penguins. At this point I had done hundreds of dives in Antarctica and the odd penguin would swim past, but they were nervous if they were on their own. We dived just off the island of South Georgia where there is a king penguin colony of over 600,000 birds and we were completely surrounded. Because there were so many of them, the penguins were confident to swim around us and even pecked our dive masks. All you could see were penguins in every direction – it was amazing!"

Terri with an emperor penguin.

The natural beauty of the South Pole

What I miss is the solitude, Antarctica is one of the greatest wildernesses which have not been ruined by human beings yet and there are no permanent settlements. The wildlife will come very close to you as they have no fear of people.

"Because there is no light pollution, you get to see millions of stars in the sky."

Terri studied Marine Biology at Plymouth

The BSc (Hons) Marine Biology course, one of the best in the UK and with an international reputation, you’ll explore the diversity of marine life from coastal margins to the deep sea and gain an in-depth understanding of the biology of marine organisms.

Find out more about studying Marine Biology.