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  1. Meir, J.U., G.R. Scott, L.A. Hawkes, P.B. Frappell, W.K. Milsom 2011. Rebuttal to Counterpoint: High Altitude is not for the Birds!. Journal of Applied Physiology 111 (5), 1518
  2. Ponganis, P.J., J.U. Meir, and C.L. Williams 2011. In pursuit of Irving and Scholander: a review of oxygen store management in seals and penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 3325-3339
  3. Scott, G.R., J.U. Meir, L.A. Hawkes, P.B. Frappell, W.K. Milsom 2011. Point: High Altitude is for the Birds!. Journal of Applied Physiology 111(5), 1514-1515
  4. Williams, C.L., Meir, J.U., and Ponganis, P.J 2011. What triggers the aerobic dive limit? Patterns of muscle oxygen depletion during dives of emperor penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology In press
  5. Meir, J.U. and Ponganis, P.J 2010. Blood temperature profiles of diving elephant seals. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 83(3): 531-540


Jessica U. Meir

Post-doctoral researcher (NSF International Research Post-doctoral Fellow)

Office phone: 604.822.5990
Research area: Comparative Physiology
Supervisor: W. Milsom
History: Ph.D. Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD), La Jolla, CA, USA (Marine Biology)
M.S. International Space University, Strasbourg, France (Space Studies)
B.A. Brown University, Providence, RI, USA (Biology)

Displayed in extraordinary feats such as trans-global migrations or dives to incredible depths in the ocean, the diversity of form and function in the animal kingdom is astounding. As a comparative physiologist, I aim to reveal the mechanisms which underlie this remarkable biodiversity.

I am fascinated by the physiology and adaptations of vertebrates in extreme environments, especially in how animals obtain and manage their oxygen stores. Studying various organisms which thrive under similar constraints, yet in diverse habitats can reveal what is shared or unique among different species. This can expose a great deal about an animal's physiology and their role in a particular ecosystem.

I assisted in human physiology research at the NASA Johnson Space Center, with the aim of understanding the effects of space flight and microgravity on the human body. These experiments were conducted on astronauts on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, on people (including myself!) on NASA's parabolic flight aircraft (capable of achieving repetitive ~30 second periods of 'weightlessness'), and as a crewmember in an underwater saturation diving habitat (Aquarius). These experiments help us understand the human body in all environments, and provide valuable input for the planning and management of human space travel.

My Ph.D. work focused on the diving physiology of marine mammals and birds, mainly in the emperor penguin and the elephant seal. These animals can dive to unspeakable depths, for unimaginable durations. By deploying biologgers on these animals in the wild and assessing other parameters in the lab, we've learned a lot about how they manage their oxygen stores. For example, my research revealed that emperor penguin hemoglobin has an enhanced affinity for oxygen, and that elephant seals have an exceptional tolerance to extremely low levels of oxygen. These characteristics assist them in accomplishing such incredible dives.

Bar-headed geese migrate twice a year over the Himalayan Mountains, flying at altitudes around 6,000 meters, and even being spotted over the summit of Mt. Everest. At these altitudes, oxygen levels are only 1/2 to 1/3 those at sea-level. Currently, I am studying how these birds manage to deal (and even fly!) with the low oxygen conditions experienced during their migration. I'm training these birds to fly in a wind tunnel and will measure various aspects of their physiology (heart rate, oxygen usage, blood oxygen levels, and temperature) while they are flying under normal and reduced levels of oxygen. We hope these experiments will provide insight into how these birds manage their extraordinary migration.

For the media's perspective on my research, take a look at the links below:

Discovery Channel, Daily Planet TV series feature (bar-headed goose project), Sept. 27, 2011 Episode, online at:

“Into thin air: How do bar-headed geese manage to migrate over the Himalaya?”, Livescience.com Discoveries feature (Feb. 2011): http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=118659

“Secrets of the world’s extreme divers”: Science News for Kids (March 2011)

“Earthguide: Elephant seals”: primary science contributor for educational/outreach website: http://earthguide.ucsd.edu/elephantseals/

“How Penguins and Seals Survive Deep Dives”: invited article for Livescience.com website:

“Women Working in Antarctica”: project by video journalist Mary Lynn Price, 2008

“The Beat Goes On . . .Barely”, Explorations Magazine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 2008

“Emperor Penguins Underwater for Nearly 20 Minutes” OceanLines: Passagemaking & Marine Science News, 2008



American Physiological Society International Early Career Physiologist Travel Award

For Research


International Hypoxia Symposia 2011 “Best post-doc/trainee presentation”, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

For Research


National Science Foundation NSF RAPID grant

For Research


American Physiological Society Comparative & Evolutionary Physiology 2010 “Outstanding Oral Presentation”, Denver, Colorado

For Research


National Science Foundation International Research Post-doctoral Fellowship

For Research

Last updated 26 June 2013