In 1914, an ambitious trans-antarctic expedition was organized by scientist/explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton. But during the middle of winter, his ship, the Endurance, was caught and crushed in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. It wasn’t until 1988 that another ship ventured into that part of the ocean during the antarctic winter, this time with the goal of studying the delicate and complex food web of the region’s ice-edge zone, where the frozen and open ocean meet.

Thoughts of Shackleton’s misfortunes may have flashed through the minds of some of the researchers on the National Science Foundation’s 210-foot research vessel Polar Duke each time they got stuck in the pack ice earlier this year. But on every occasion, they successfully freed the ship. And the hearty multidisciplinary team of oceanographers also made some unanticipated discoveries about the fragile polar ecosystem.

During a 70-day research expedition conducted from June to...

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