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Miami scientists at the South Pole: Part two of four - Antarctica's wingless midge


Members of the 2010-2011 expedition to Palmer Station, Antarctica: Yuta Kawarasawki, zoology doctoral student; Pat Betteley , sixth grade teacher, Perry Middle School; Rick Lee, Distinguished Professor of Zoology, and Alena Kobelkova, postdoctoral researcher, Ohio State University.
This is the second in a four-part series on Miami researchers in Antarctica. December marks the 100th anniversary of the famous Race to the South Pole between Norwegian Roald Amundsen (reached Dec. 14, 1911) and Briton Robert Falcon Scott (reached Jan. 17, 1912). Part Three will describe the five-month expedition of Yuta Karawasaki, doctoral student of Richard Lee, at Palmer Station, Feb.-June. 2012. Read Part One Part One and Part Three.

Richard Lee, Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Miami University, will leave for his eighth research expedition to Palmer Station, Antarctica, on Dec. 26. Joining him will be Natalie Harr, a first grade teacher from Crestwood Primary School in Mantua, who will lead the team's educational outreach program to stimulate interest in Antarctic biology and research in younger students.

Also joining Lee will be co-principal investigator David Denlinger, Distinguished University Professor of Entomology at Ohio State University, and Shin Goto of the Graduate School of Science, Osaka City University, Osaka, Japan.

The team researches the physiological and biochemical mechanisms underlying the ecological success of the wingless midge, Belgica antarctica, the only true species of insect indigenous to the continent of Antarctica. The larvae of this species, only 2-7 mm long, represent the largest and the most complex form of terrestrial life on the continent (all Antarctic vertebrates are considered to be marine.)

Belgica is a model of success in adaptation to the environmental stresses of the Antarctic. It can: survive freezing of its body fluids; survive dehydration to 35 percent of its original body weight; tolerate wide swings in salinity and pH; survive lack of oxygen for two to four weeks; and can live for two years, giving it two growing seasons in which to accumulate the energy to reproduce.

“As climate changes in the Antarctic Peninsula, we expect to see more freeze-thaw events each year than we do now,” Lee said. “In the winter, more thaws could occur due to warm weather or a lack of insulating snow cover. In the summer, more freezes could occur during storms.”

Initial results from one of several investigations during his 2010-2011 expedition suggest that repeated swings between high and low temperatures could be harmful for Belgica. Survival decreased as the number of freeze-thaw cycles increased: while more than 80 percent of the Belgica frozen and thawed just once lived, fewer than 50 percent of the Belgica frozen and thawed five times lived.

Lee first visited the South Pole in 1980 as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Houston. His Antarctic research has been supported by the NSF since 2004. He has invited an Ohio public school teacher to join him on six expeditions; Harr, a graduate of Miami’s MAT in the biological sciences program, is the first elementary school teacher to join him.

Learn more about the current and past expeditions of Lee’s research team at the Antarctic Connection. And, read Harr’s blog at

Unlike the much larger McMurdo Station, which is the largest Antarctic Research Station and the research base of Rachael Morgan-Kiss, Palmer Station has a summer population of about 45, but is also “filled to capacity” says Lee. Yuta Karawasaki, doctoral student of zoology and part of Lee’s research team, will be part of a population of about 20 scientists during his expedition February through June.

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Palmer Station Research Station, Anvers Island, Antarctica.
Rick Lee


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