If you asked any Rhode Islander what their favorite season is, nine times out of ten they would answer the fall. Why? Because the scorching heat of the summer has passed and the freezing cold of the winter has yet to come upon us. While most folks are trying to escape these extreme temperatures, Brad Seibel is fascinated by them. As an associate professor of biological sciences, Brad studies the responses of marine animals to extreme environments. He’s concerned with these animals’ responses to low oxygen levels, elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and extreme temperatures. The animals he studies are adapted to live in areas that are fatal to most humans.
His adventures have taken him to Antarctica, the Red Sea, the Eastern Tropical Pacific (hundreds of miles off the coast of Central America) and deep-sea canyons off Monterey, California, to name a few. “I love being out at sea, in or on the ocean. I love just observing and trying to figure out how things (animals and the environment) work,” he says. “I’m constantly amazed by the ability of animals to find ways around apparent constraints. Conditions that seem completely inhospitable to humans are normal for most animals.”
He’ll be heading to Antarctica this January to study krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean, and how they deal with rising temperatures and increasing levels of CO2. The temperature throughout most of the ocean surrounding Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, is permanently below zero and most animals that live there die if temperatures warm by just a few degrees. The Antarctic Peninsula has been warming steadily and faster than anyplace else on the planet.
While his research adds to the climate change conversation, he can also dial down and add to the knowledge base of rarely seen deep water species. For example, while exploring a deep-sea canyon off Monterey, California using submersibles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, he happened upon a rocky outcrop that had numerous octopuses brooding eggs. He was able to ret
urn to that site about once every month or two, and found the same octopus sitting in the same spot with the same eggs for 4.3 years. “I think this discovery strains what was previously known for the limits of animal endurance (we believe the mother octopus didn’t eat for 4.3 years) and tells something about what is important for deep-sea animals,” Brad explains. “It is important to create large, well-developed offspring that can immediately start foraging on large prey because the deep-sea has relatively little food.”
So the next time you’re watching the Discovery Channel and wondering, “who are these scientists that go to the remote expanses of our planet?” You can say, “Brad Seibel. And he works in at the University of Rhode Island.”