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Citizen Science: Microscopic Creatures Hold the Key to the Future

Your donation helps support polar science, engage more people in the process, and expand the FjordPhyto project to make an even bigger impact in our understanding of the polar regions, so THANK YOU! To learn about the project, be sure and watch our one-minute trailer video.

FjordPhyto is an international project between scientists in the Vernet Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego (USA) and at Universidad Nacional de la Plata (Argentina) in collaboration with Tour Operators visiting the Antarctic Peninsula. Every year we train Expedition Guides to engage travelers in collecting water measurements and phytoplankton samples that help us monitor how melting glaciers influence phytoplankton populations on the Antarctic coast.

To learn more about the specific ways your donation supports the FjordPhyto project, read more below.

Why Polar? Polar regions are changing FAST

The Antarctic and Arctic are experiencing the most rapid rates of warming compared to any other regions in the world. As air and ocean temperatures rise, glaciers begin to melt. This melted glacial water enters the coastal ocean and can change the marine ecosystem. The first organisms to experience change are the phytoplankton: microscopic plant-like creatures that drift in the ocean. We are interested in understanding how they respond to increased meltwater in the polar regions, potentially providing a key to mitigate change in the future.

Why Phytoplankton? They are the foundation of life

#1 -Phytoplankton provide food for the rest of the animals in the ocean.

#2 - They produce over half of the Earth's oxygen yearly supply – same as plants and trees on land!

#3 - They regulate global biogeochemistry, such as drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sending it to the deep ocean.

More details on how FjordPhyto is making changes.

Since 2016, we have partnered with select tour operators who are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and also with the Polar Citizen Science Collective to facilitate online training of multiple Polar Expedition Guides in rigorous sampling methods, as they are the facilitators in the field who carry out the project with travelers during the Antarctic austral summer. Every year, from November through March, they engage with travelers onboard tour ships to collect phytoplankton samples while visiting various fjords along the coast. Travelers gain real life experience in polar research as Citizen Scientists and on board enjoy educational lectures about polar ecosystems to tie the story together. This immersive environment enhances the traveler experience and provides a new perspective on ocean life to consider and share with friends back at home. We hope that by participating in FjordPhyto, people go home as Antarctic Ambassadors. Hundreds of samples and thousands of people have thus far contributed an amazing time-series data set which contributes to the research of young graduate students and post-doctoral researchers such as Allison Cusick at Scripps Oceanography (USA) and Dr. Martina Mascioni at Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina). The team works hard to process samples, analyze data, and publish findings in a timely manner. We want to bring on more students to help analyze data coming from this exceptional project and continue fostering the growth of young scientists and underrepresented minorities into the field of polar research (see our full team here at

Donation levels:*

  • Support a student (tuition and stipend) ~$70,000
  • Support the purchase of 1 kit of gear (good for use on 1 ship) ~$30,000
  • Support the lab costs for processing 100 samples and doing next-generation genomics sequencing per year $20,000
  • Support one student traveling to international conferences each year to share our work with the scientific community ~$5000
  • Support our publication costs to print one scientific manuscript in peer-reviewed journal, ~$3500
  • Support the design of our phytoplankton identification book (created by a team of international artists and educators) ~$1000
  • General support to the project - Any Amount

*Donations go directly to the Vernet Lab AND this is a tax-deductible donation with an official letter that will be sent upon donation by the University of California San Diego. The receipt you will receive is intended to comply with the IRS requirements regarding written donor acknowledgment of gifts. For complete disclosures and tax ID numbers, please visit UC San Diego Gift and Electronic Receipt Disclosures..

The power of monitoring change in the polar regions comes from data gathered by travelers year after year. Your donation helps FjordPhyto make this large-scale monitoring effort sustainable.

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“With more information I can create more connections between global events and tell other people.” ~ FjordPhyto Citizen Scientist

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