December 2011 Archives

Life on the Ice

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I've officially been a Palmer Station resident for 5 days now!  The ship left on Monday evening to head north back to Punta Arenas.  It was definitely a strange feeling standing on the pier and watching the ship leave.  However, I didn't have very long to spend thinking about this as it's traditional to do a polar plunge when the ship leaves the station.  Jumping in the Antarctic water definitely erased any thoughts of the ship from my mind.


There are currently 33 people at Palmer, about half scientists- half support staff  (station manager, administrative, instrument tech, power plant, chefs, boating coordinator, cargo and supply, etc.)  Notice that I did not mention maintenace in that list.  Very similarly to GMRI, there is no maintenance staff at Palmer.  Everyone is responsible for helping to clean.


While it is light all day, I have not actually seen the sun since last weekend.  In true Antarctic form, our weather has been overcast, windy and rainy all week.  The typical wind the last few days has been around 20-25 knots (~23-29 mph) with gusts around 35 knots (~28 mph).  However, we have had sustained wind speeds of 45 mph and gusts of over 50mph several times already. 


There are several science groups here, each working on something different.  As I mentioned before I'm in the microbial group, then there is a phytoplankton group, a zooplankton group and the birders.  (Other groups are here at other times of the year as well.)  Together, we cover all of the trophic levels in the marine food web in this region.  All of us depend on zodiacs to do our field work.  For safety reasons we can only use zodiacs when winds are less than 20 knots and if winds reach 25 knots they call back any zodiacs that are already out.  Essentially, this ends up meaning that planning is very difficult.  Anytime someone talks about doing field work it seems to end with the phrase "weather cooperating". 


For my lab group, most of our field sampling involves collecting water samples.  Ideally we go to two different places twice a week and collect water at 7 depths at each place.  We're interested in the microbial activity in the water.  There's several analyses we do with the samples.  One thing we're interested in is how much microbial activity is going on.  We measure this using radioisotopes.  Leucine is an amino acid that is normally limiting for microbes.  By adding a radioactive form of leucine to a water sample we can measure how much has been taken up by the microbes and therefore, how much activity there is going on.  We also measure the abundance of microbes using flow cytometry.  Flow cytometers work by shooting light beams through the sample and then based on the amount of scattering it can determine abundance of particles and some other properties, such as size. 


I am also enjoying getting to see the wildlife around here!  There's lots of birds, seals and multiple penguin species.  A couple of gentoo penguins were hanging out around our pier this morning and an Adelie penguin was playing around our boat yesterday. 



A gentoo penguin next to the pier

Traveling to the End of the Earth

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Hi again!  So in my last (and first) blog post I was getting ready to leave GMRI.  What I did not say was that I was headed to Antarctica to do research for a couple months!  Even though I'm not technically in the EMLab anymore, I'll still be writing some posts about Antarctica and what I'm doing down here. 


Whenever I told someone I was going to Antarctica this winter (well, Antarctic summer) there were 2 really common questions I got: 1) how do you even get to Antarctica?,  and 2) why are you going there?  Before I answer these, a very brief Antarctic geography lesson...


The part of Antarctica I'm in is called the Antarctic Peninsula.  If you look at a world map, directly south of the tip of South America is a long, skinny piece of Antarctica- that's the Antarctic Peninsula! 


So why am I here?  Well, while climate change is happening worldwide it's occurring fastest in the Antarctic Peninsula region.  Winter temperatures have risen over 12ºF and summer temperatures around 7ºF since 1950.  This means winter temperatures have averaged an increase of 2ºF a decade  in the last 60 years.  A lot of climate change research is trying to study how ecosystems might respond to the changes in their environment.  Since climate change has progressed farther along in the Antarctic Peninsula region than in the rest of the world, studying this area might be able to give us an idea of how other systems could respond in the future.  There's a very large ongoing project involving many labs from different institutions that is studying changes in the marine ecosystem along the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.  The lab I'm working in focuses on the role of microbes, which are responsible for nutrient cycling in marine systems and form the base of the food web. 


And finally, how do you get here?  Specifically, "here" is Palmer Station- the American research station located on the Antarctic Peninsula (the U.S. also has 2 stations in other areas- the McMurdo and South Pole Stations and other countries also have stations on the peninsula).  Getting from the U.S. to Palmer takes a full week, largely because the only way in and out of Palmer is by ship.  So first we fly to Punta Arenas, Chile, which is at the tip of South America.  In Punta Arenas we picked up our "Extreme Cold Weather" (ECW) gear.  All the gear specific to working in the Antarctic region is owned by the program and kept in a warehouse in Chile, so picking up what you need before you leave Punta Arenas is very important!  By the time I left I was armed with 4 types of jackets, 4 types of pants, 2 types of boots, 6 pairs of gloves, 1 pair of mittens, a neck gaiter, a pair of goggles, a hat, and 2 pairs of really thick wool socks!


From Punta Arenas it's 4 days by boat to Palmer Station.  We took the R/V L.M. Gould- a 230 ft long icebreaker. 


The L.M. Gould docked in Punta Arenas.

This trip also requires crossing the Drake passage, which is typically considered the roughest seas in the world.  Having said that, the roughness is really variable, sometimes it's not so bad and other times, well...  We hit a storm crossing last week.  We encountered 30+ foot waves, with the boat rolling to an angle of 30 degrees at times.  It was particularly rough during the night and a lot of people were coming off their mattresses and catching air as the ship rolled back and forth! 


The reward for getting past the Drake passage was the scenery on the last day of the trip before we reached Palmer!  On both sides of the ship there was amazing ice and mountains.  We also spotted penguins several times, seals and whales! 


Some of the ice, snow and mountains along the way!


Palmer Station- there was lots of ice floating around in the area in front of the station.

Give the gift of copepods

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Holiday greetings, fellow scientists!

Panicked with last-minute shopping?  Not sure what to get for that special copepodologist in your life?

Well, you've come to the right place.  Here is a link to a website where you can buy sterling copepod pins, complete with eggs (made of freshwater pearl).  Yours, for the low price of $75.

Don't want to splurge for sterling?  How about bronze, for just $65!

It's nice to know that there are artists out there who appreciate the beauty of copepods.

Enjoy your diapause everyone.

-Nick Record, signing off.


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This page is an archive of entries from December 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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