Researching the Earth's harshest environment
Take it from Portland State University Professor Dr. Brad Buckley, a marine biologist and expert in physiology: Polar environments are about the harshest you can find on the planet.
Buckley's work often takes him to Antarctica, where he studies varieties of cod icefish at the McMurdo Station research center. As part of Lake Oswego Reads, he'll talk about his experiences Monday at the Lake Oswego Public Library (706 Fourth St.).
Buckley, whose free presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m., says his life as a polar researcher relates well to the narrative in this year's Lake Oswego Reads novel, "Good Morning, Midnight," by Lily Brooks-Dalton.
"The fish of the southern ocean have these amazing adaptations to their cold environment," Buckley says. "They're extremely attractive to environmental physiologists like myself."
Buckley began researching marine biology in Antarctica in 1999, when he was a graduate student at the University of Miami School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
He's spent eight different seasons — September through December — in Antarctica studying how variations of a few degrees in temperature can affect marine life that has adapted to the extreme cold.
"Our oceans are warming at a scale and rate that we're worried that these fish won't be able to adapt," Buckley says. "Penguins, seals and whales all depend on these fish, so it's a very critical part of the food chain. The whole Antarctic ecosystem is going to be impacted by these fish."
That makes the PSU professor's work extremely important in illustrating the effects of climate change for policy makers and political leaders of the United States and beyond. On Monday, Buckley says he plans to talk about how warming seas affect the fish he studies, but he's also planning to discuss the environment and work setting in which his research takes place.
The average temperature at McMurdo Station between September and December is 5 degrees fahrenheit, with lows plunging well into negative double digits.
"It affects both your biology and your psychology," Buckley says. "It's cold, so you're facing extreme challenges relating to cold and wind. Also, the sun is up 24 hours a day, so your sleep patterns are thrown off."
When he read "Good Morning, Midnight," Buckley says he was pleased to find Brooks-Dalton's description of life in the Arctic very similar to the experiences he's had in the Antarctic. But he's excited to highlight some differences between the isolation that the character Augustine feels at his astronomy research post in the Arctic and the bustle of 1,200 people all on top of each other at Buckley's marine biology research station in the Antarctic.
"In September, that's when the summer is coming back up, coming out of winter, and there are many days where it's minus 40 degrees with 100-mph wind," Buckley says. "It's a situation where, not being too dramatic, you really are counting on the person next to you."
McMurdo Station is operated by the United States, but it functions with researchers and scientists from all over the globe, making it an international compound that is bursting with activity during the spring and summer months. Buckley describes it as a scientific utopia located in one of the world's harshest environments.
"I always describe it as looking like a mining town in Alaska, but with very technologically advanced laboratories," he says. "One of the cool things is you get to interact with folks who, in our typical academic life, we don't get to talk to as much as we should, but down there we're in the same boat, in close quarters."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 12th annual Lake Oswego Reads, featuring Lily Brooks-Dalton's post-apocalyptic novel "Good Morning, Midnight"
WHEN: More than 30 events are scheduled throughout the month of February, including a Feb. 13 presentation by Brooks-Dalton in the Lake Oswego High School auditorium (2501 Country Club Road)
NOTE: Brooks-Dalton's presentation, which begins at 7 p.m., is free but requires a ticket. Those without tickets will be seated as space allows.
LEARN MORE: Find a complete schedule of events and other program details online at www.lakeoswegoreads.org.