As a young girl growing up in Ocean City, Rachael Young was fascinated by the beach and sea life. Now, the 21-year-old is on her way to Antarctica for a three-month research mission to study marine food webs and climate change.
“I’m looking forward to just actually being there and experiencing such a different environment — that extreme environment,” Young said Monday night, less than 24 hours before she was scheduled to leave on her journey.
Young graduated from Ocean City High School in 2014. She is currently a senior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick studying marine biology.
Because of her interests as a child, Young decided to take a class called Oceanography House as a freshman at Rutgers.
“It’s basically a class you can take if you’re interested in something. It’s more discussion-based,” Young said. “There were three professors that really had this passion for marine science that sort of transferred onto me.”
That class, taught by Oscar Schofield, Scott Glenn and Josh Kohut, is where Young also met her friend and roommate, Taylor Dodge, of Woodstown. Coincidentally, Dodge is also embarking on a trip to Antarctica at the same time — but to a different area of the continent.
Young said she knew going to Antarctica was a possibility for undergraduates at Rutgers, but “never in a million years” would have guessed she would be selected to go.
Her previous research experience includes work with her mentor, Professor Grace Saba, on a fisheries-focused project on black sea bass and spiny dogfish at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s laboratory at Sandy Hook.
Young said she wants to be able to make an impact on the environment through science. She found out in June she had been selected and underwent a physical qualification test that included — among other things — making sure wisdom teeth were removed.
“You have to get a physical, bloodwork done, all your vaccinations have to be up to date. Your wisdom teeth have to be removed,” Young said, adding hers were “fortunately” already gone.
Young said she and the other researchers will measure phytoplankton and zooplankton in the Terra Nova Bay in the western Ross Sea, close to the International Date Line.
In addition to the scientists, accompanying Young will be postdoctoral fellow Corie Charpentier.
Young said the work she is participating in will help researchers and scientists in two ways.
“It will definitely improve our technology for gathering data and making that data acquisition process easier,” Young said.
It also will provide a baseline for future climate research.
“The food web structure down there hasn’t been studied as much as in other areas where climate change has been faster,” she said.
As for the frigid weather, temperatures during the Antarctic summer have been hovering around 25 degrees for the last few days, so Young isn’t too concerned.
“Technically summer, so it’s not too brutal. You still need a lot of cold gear to keep you warm,” Young said.
Young said she is really looking forward to learning new skills and working with different scientists as part of this “invaluable experience.” She will return from the trip in early March.