Latitude: -66 03.5875 Longitude: -66 16.3921
00:01 hrs, November 3, 2020-
As the calendar day starts on the boat, my workday is just ending. “Day shift” is relieved at midnight from that shift’s activities and we head over to the mess for what is, to us, dinner, to the night Shift, breakfast, and to those with a normal sleep schedule, is Mid Rats (Midnight Rations). Tonight is fettucine alfredo with chicken. I eat quickly and then head straight to bed. I am notorious for staying up too late and I’m trying to force myself to get more sleep to avoid the fabled burnout that comes with being overeager and under-rested. I briefly ask Chief Scientist/my PhD advisor/candy fairy/invert extraordinaire Ken Halanych what the plan is for the next day. As with most days, the answer is unclear. We’ve had to adjust our route away from the Weddell Sea because of too much ice and are instead heading toward Marguerite Bay, which I have been lovingly calling Margaritaville. Ken does let me know I should be up early to catch some intense sights in transit to our next station.
00:30 hrs, November 3, 2020-
I try and read a bit in bed, but pass out almost immediately. Goodnight!
06:30 hrs, November 3, 2020-
Awake again. I try to go back to bed, but my old age of 25 has caused me to become one of those people who only sleeps about 6 hours a night. I resign myself to getting out of bed and finding something to do instead of fighting it. I also look forward to going to True Breakfast (night shift lunch, the meal the day shift never sees). I head downstairs and am greeted with the usual chorus of “Caitlin, why are you up?” and “Caitlin, go back to bed”. After a month of this, they should know better by now! I work a bit on a manuscript, get to make myself a breakfast sandwich, and work on prepping samples for packing and shipping. Today I’m getting some of the 2 ml tube samples done, which is easy but can be a bit tedious. This requires making sure all labels are legible and wrapping each tube in a parafilm tape seal. Nusrat will be so proud of me for getting this done early.
10:00 hrs, November 3, 2020-
Everyone who isn’t up already, is woken up and we all head out to see the Le Maire Strait. Giant glaciers funnel us into a space which seems only about ¼ mile across where we’re totally surrounded by mind boggling cliffs and ice on either side. The past few days have made the Straits of Magellan looks like child’s play. Every day is more beautiful than the next it seems. Everyone hangs out on the bow until they’re too cold or wind swept to stand it anymore and we all head inside around 11:30, just in time for True Lunch (day shift breakfast, night shift dinner).
12:00 hrs, November 3, 2020-
We’re transiting so there isn’t any sampling to be done yet, but on these days we use the time to catch up on other work, organize the lab, do more packing prep, change samples out of old preservative and into new their final solutions, or work on any side projects we’ve cooked up along the way that don’t fall directly under the grant objectives. We finally arrive at our new station around 17:00 hrs, just before True Dinner (day shift lunch, night shift’s lost meal).
18:00 hrs, November 3, 2020-
After multi-beaming to find the best spot to collect from, we usually use the yo-yo cam or a GoPro to get a sneak peak at the sea floor. We can’t do that today because we’ve been breaking ice, meaning the water where we usually put the camera in is not water, it’s a few feet of ice. This means doing our trawl or epibenthic sled without quite knowing what to expect, but I think it just adds to the excitement. I joke about getting one of those trawls that’s just mud and rocks. Famous last words.
18:30hrs, November 3, 2020-
The Blake trawl comes up and it’s, you guessed it, mud and rocks. This is an unfortunate but real part of our sampling. Somedays we just don’t get the right stuff, and other days like today, a rock that is just a little too sharp rips our net at the seafloor and the sample comes up relatively small and pretty rocky. Not all is lost though! The team shifts gears from processing like a normal trawl to sifting through the mud for the meiofaunal samples the Kocot lab loves. This goes relatively quickly since the whole sample is probably only two buckets full, but we find some cool little things along the way. A couple scaphapods, a few sea spiders, your usual suspects of nephtyid worms, a stray ophiuroid. I’m a combination of disappointed but also a little relieved. It’s windy and snowing and not the fun kind of snow that’s fluffy snowflakes, and holiday music, and magical snowmen. It’s the kind of snow that feels a little bit more like tiny ice knives coming at you at 20 mph. Don’t worry, we still got in a few snowballs.
19:30 hrs, November 3, 2020-
The few, but appreciated, samples are brought in and processed for preservation. Species are cataloged and preserved. I get to blast my favorite songs of the moment from the speakers that amphipod whisperer, Kyle David, has lent us for the lab space.
20:00hrs, November 3, 2020-
I head up to my room to change into some dry socks and grab my mug to go get some tea. I think I’ll get some more work done on my manuscript and a talk I’m prepping for a virtual conference. I get into my room and I’m more tired than I thought I was when downstairs with all the adrenaline of the day. I’m not going to go to sleep yet, there’s still stuff I want to get done while we transit for the rest of our shift. I’m just going to sit down on my bed for a few minutes while I warm up…
00:30 hrs, November 4, 2020-
I wake up with a start. So much for not falling asleep! I still have to write my blog!
Ph.D. Student in the Halanych Lab
Latitude: -66 03.5875 Longitude: -66 16.3921
I must confess to having an ulterior motive when I agreed to come on this research cruise. I wanted to fall in love. Not with a dashing sea captain or mermaiden but with a study organism. Having jumped around, studying animals from frogs to sea slugs, I’ve often felt envious of my colleagues who seem completely committed to just one group of animals, publishing paper after paper monogamously. I won’t say I’m willing to put a ring on it just yet, but I am intrigued enough by a certain group of animals that I’ve encountered on the cruise that I’m willing to write about them for my blog post. In between the vibrant starfish and majestic octopods there was a certain little group of crustaceans that caught my eye. I’m talking, of course, about amphipods. Amphipods are a group of small (1-340mm) laterally compressed crustaceans with around 10,000 species, most of which are marine (NOT to be confused with isopods which are loathsome, longitudinally compressed crustaceans often known as “God’s mistake”). They’re not always super appealing to look at (though see below for some stunning exceptions) but they do have a lot of interesting qualities that intersect in unique ways that I think could help answer some really neat questions.
In my last blog post I talked about the latitudinal biodiversity gradient, the tendency for there to be more species closer to the equator. Amphipods are one group that do not follow this rule, in fact the number of species appears to increase with latitude. I’ve seen more amphipod species in the few weeks I’ve been in the Antarctic than I’ve seen in four years living in South Florida and the Galapagos. Another feature of Antarctic amphipods that’s shared with a lot of marine invertebrates at high latitudes is polar gigantism, which is exactly what is sounds like, marine invertebrates in polar regions are generally much larger than their warmer water cousins. The reasons for polar gigantism are still not very well understood but may correspond with the abundance of oxygen, food, and elements used in shell-building at the poles. However, it may also have something to do with an absence of predators, or the more efficient heat exchange that comes with larger body sizes. A third attribute that may also tie in with the first two is polyploidy, when organisms have multiple copies of all their DNA. Polyploidy often occurs before lots of new species appear, flowering plants, bony fishes, and even all vertebrates (including you!) have had polyploidy at some point in our evolutionary history. Another thing that can happen after a polyploidy event is an increase in body size. For example, tropical clawed frogs, who are polyploid, are more than twice the size of their closest non-polyploid relative, the western clawed frog. Finally, polyploids are more likely to occur near the poles. The reasons for this are also not known but there is some evidence to suggest that polyploids possess greater environmental resilience and adaptive potential than non-polyploids. Another possibility is that cold temperatures actually create polyploids through errors in cell division, or perhaps polyploids are simply forced toward more extreme ranges due to competition from non-polyploids. To my knowledge there is only one Antarctic amphipod currently known to be polyploid, named Charcotia obesa, but given how understudied they are I suspect there may be more.
In conclusion, I think Antarctic amphipods are a really cool system that offer a lot of neat opportunities to explore latitudinal biodiversity gradients, polar gigantism, polyploidy, and more as well has how all these different phenomena intersect. I hope I’ve done a good job convincing you of how cool these little bugs are (though not so much so that you go out and answer all the questions before I get a chance to) but if you’re still not convinced, check out some of the cool pictures below!
Ph.D. Student in the Halanych Lab
Latitude: -64 22.12 S Longitude: -61 58.67 W
It’s been about 2 and a half weeks since we arrived in Antarctica and began sampling and it has truly been a whirlwind of activity. Entire shifts spent relentlessly working broken up by hours of inactivity and staring at the ship tvs to see when we’ll arrive at our next site and get to do it all over again! At each new site we typically have a series of equipment we put out in a specific order. First is the multibeam (a sonar that emits sound waves to map the seabed), then the yo-yo cam (a camera attached to a frame with a weight on it that takes a photo each time the weight hits the ground) then the Blake trawl (a metal frame with a net attached that’s dragged across the bottom of the ocean), the CTD (sensors that measure Conductivity, Temperature, Depth, and other physical properties of the seawater around it), and finally the multicore (a series of cores attached to a frame that can take samples from the seafloor without disturbing them). All of this equipment is very important to the work that we do but the one that many of us pay attention to is the Blake. Because that’s the one that will bring up many of the specimens we are collecting. The first few trawls were a bit rocky, trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done and the best way to do it but after the first few we’ve really started to get into the swing of things!
Roughly 20 minutes before the trawl comes up, we all layer up and gear up; float coats, baklavas, steel-toed boots and all (as someone from Florida I’ve never been so bundled up before!). Out on deck we fill up buckets with sea water which we will then use to sort out the animals into large groups such as Ophiuroids, Crustaceans, Bryozoans, etc. The trawl itself can be pretty variable so we have to be ready for anything. Sometimes we get nothing but tunicates and mud, while other days we get a clean, high diversity trawl with a little bit of everything in it! Those are my favorite although I’ll admit getting really muddy to the point where we have to hose ourselves down is pretty fun too! After a while of sorting a few of us go in to set up the lab with ice bins so that the buckets of animals can be further sorted into morphospecies and preserved how we want them.
In the beginning everyone helps out with the initial sorting but once we get into the lab, we often have specific jobs that we do. We try to switch things around every once in a while, so people can get a chance to do it all, but we also fall into our own niches. Caitlin Redak for example is a pro at taking muscle samples from the sea cucumber, Bathyploites, while no one knows the Bryozoans better than our very own Megan McCuller. Michael Tassia takes photos of all the animals, Kyle Donnelly fixes them, and I am the bookkeeper. Everything we do to the animals is recorded in the books (see pic) and I am the one who keeps track of it all. Each specimen gets a unique number and it’s my job to keep track of that as well. Once we have separated the animals into morphospecies, I give it a number, Mike takes a photo, and then I let whoever is in charge of the animals know exactly what we are doing with them. How many are we taking? Will we take whole individuals or tissue samples? Will we be freezing them or putting them in ethanol or formalin or any combination of the three? It’s my job to stay in communication with our Chief Scientist to make sure we are getting the specimens we need and preserving them correctly. Some days things are pretty slow while others I feel like I’ve been running around for the full 12 hours. I love those days the most, especially since we usually get a visit from our very own candy fairy, Kenneth Halanych, with chocolates and jolly ranchers and the occasional Halloween leftovers like candy corn to keep us going!
Auburn University Museum of Natural History
Latitude: -62 56.3150 Longitude: -58 14.6020
There’s no other way to put it, pterobranchs are strange little critters and there’s a reason you’ve probably never heard of them. They’re small, cryptic, and to be quite honest, don’t appear to look like anything but a ball of mud or algae. It takes a keen eye to pick one out from the smorgasbord of emptied Blake trawl – especially when your entire field-of-view is filled with sea stars, crustaceans, and bryozoans. Once you spot one, however, you’re likely to see quite a few more of these little friends here in Antarctica!
Pterobranchs, along with their more conspicuous acorn worm cousins, belong to a group called Hemichordata. Whereas there are approximately 200 species of described acorn worms worldwide, there are fewer than 30 described species of pterobranchs extant today. If you’re familiar with fossils, pterobranchs are close allies to the highly diverse graptolites. The differences between pterobranchs and acorn worms extend past the number of species too. Whereas acorn worms are solitary deposit feeders occupying the soft sediments of many coastlines (and the deep sea), pterobranchs are small, colonial filter feeders which are very difficult to collect. There are so few reliable locations to obtain Pterobranchs, that Antarctica is at the top of the list of locales where we can obtain sufficient quantities and diversity for these little critters!
Hemichordates possess several traits that make them particularly interesting from the perspective of deuterostome evolution. Deuterostomes are the group of animals that were first named (and unified) by the developmental trait of forming the anus before the mouth, a trait that we, as chordates, also share with the hemichordates and echinoderms (i.e., urchins, sea stars, and their allies). The last common ancestor of deuterostomes is also where pharyngeal gill slits arose – the same gill slits present in hemichordates, sea squirts, fish, and gave rise to components of our inner ear and jaw. Though these deuterostome traits are comparatively conspicuous and well-studied in development and body plans of acorn worms (providing critical information for our understanding of the last common ancestor to deuterostomes), far less is known about pterobranchs.
Because pterobranchs are colonial animals, they possess many strange and interesting traits, like reproducing both sexually and asexually, having tissue conduits (called stolons) with which they maintain physical connections to their neighboring clones, and fortifying the philosophical difficulties of drawing a line between “the individual” and “the whole organism.” Admittedly, that last quality can be discussed over a beverage at length (for fun), the earlier qualities are part of what make pterobranchs so interesting – particularly when one frames questions from the perspective of how these dang weirdos arose from the same ancestor that gave rise to acorn worms (or taking another step back, how pterobranchs arose from the last common ancestor of all deuterostomes). To help address these questions (and others), we will be sequencing the genome of the pterobranch, Cephalodiscus hodgsoni, closing the last major gap in available genomes for the major deuterostome body plans.
By comparing the genome of pterobranch to those of, for example, acorn worms, urchins, sea stars, sea squirts (both solitary and colonial), and vertebrates, we will be able to address questions like, “What are the genetic consequences/modifications to becoming colonial?” and, “Are there genomic components which are comparatively conserved, or immutable, among the major deuterostome body plans; and, if so, what are they and what role do they play?” Not to mention my favorite inquiry, “What make you tick, you friendly little weirdo?” But until we get back onto terra firma where we can start addressing these questions, I’ll be here here sorting through mud for more pterobranchs.
Ph.D. student in the Halanych Lab
Latitude: -62 17.4243 Longitude: -058 08.3450
Many of the scientists onboard have their own specialties – animals that they research, prefer to handle, or know how to identify – anywhere from small critters that live between sand grains to those that are magnitudes of scale larger. My favorite group are the bryozoans, or moss animals, which are colonial and can form substantial structures from many, many individuals called zooids. For most marine bryozoans, each zooid is a U-shaped gut and a mouth surrounded by a ring of tentacles all inside a calcified box.
For me, one of the fascinating things about bryozoans is that they are hugely diverse! Colonies can encrust rocks, be flexible plant-like fronds, or grow into big ruffled structures. In Antarctica, many different genera have developed similar growth forms. This may make it a bit more difficult to do a quick identification by eye (without aid of a microscope), but it brings up the question – why? There are a few different possible causes, like ice scour, low metabolism, and food availability, but a small group of the science team are interested in questions regarding current and flow. Since bryozoans feed by filtering food out of the water, orientation of colony surfaces is important. What better way to investigate this than by scanning bryozoans we collect on the trip?
I’m using what’s called photogrammetry to do just that! Photogrammetry is done by taking photos of a specimen at different angles, then putting all the photos into software that will translate overlapping areas from 2D images into points that form a 3-dimensional structure. Luckily, our Marine Technicians have made this somewhat easier by fashioning a turntable, reducing the time it takes to get the images needed for modeling.
Not only does this allow us to have a digital version of various growth forms, it also opens up the possibility of making a 3D print of representative whole colonies. Prints can be used to see how water flows through and around the colony, perhaps giving additional insight into why Antarctic bryozoans grow like they do. Check out the pictures for a taste!\
Collections Manager, Non-molluscan Invertebrates
North Carolina Museum of Natural History
Latitude: -63 20.5824 Longitude: -56 45.2699
Today was an exceptionally good day, for a cumacean fancier. We have been collecting small organisms from the mud for a few weeks now, with a cumacean (or comma shrimp) here and there, but today there were SO MANY! Among them were some lovely lively examples of the species Cyclaspis gigas, in a particularly striking orange and white pattern, as well as many individuals of Holostylis helleri, a spiky white cumacean. Cumaceans come in a wide variety of shapes, and one of my purposes in being present on this cruise is to document the color patterns that cumaceans have while alive. Small organisms are usually collected as part of bulk samples that are preserved and then sorted later, because sorting requires microscopes and specialized equipment that isn’t always available in the field, and also takes quite a while. Many organisms lose their coloration very quickly after they are preserved, which means we don’t know what they look like when alive, or if there are species specific color patterns that could help identify them. However, we are lucky enough to have microscopes and amazing camera setups that take really nice pictures even while the ship is rocking and rolling or breaking ice, so we are able to document their colors before they are preserved.
Studying small organisms requires dedication and a willingness to sweat the small stuff. Our time is split between working on deck and working in the lab.
Sarah Gerken, Ph.D.
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Alaska Anchorage
Latitude: -63 54.276 Longitude: -57 26.703
Antarctica is a beautiful place. Before this trip, I had never given much thought to the scenery of Antarctica. In my mind, visualizing Antarctica always produced the same image, just a ton of white snow every where with not a whole lot detail to it. However, I quickly learned once we reached the continent that just like other continents, there is plenty of variety to be found. The number of different sceneries we have found ourselves in in quite astounding; each day I try to find some time to get outside and appreciate the constantly changing landscape as the vessel travels from site to site. Our first contact with the ice was giant icebergs floating in the sea, miles away in the distance and occasionally coming within a few hundred yards. As these giant monoliths floated across the horizon, I remember finding it difficult to imagine just how massive these distance icebergs were. Even at a distance these icebergs seemed massive, and the sight was quite astounding. That is my first memory of sea ice; waking up and looking out my porthole to the outside. Unbeknownst to me at the time, we would be traveling though many different ice-covered sceneries, each one different and beautiful in its own right. Soon the distant icebergs turned into more numerous smaller bergs and then into a sea of floes. It happened at night, as I remember sitting in the galley and hearing a loud sound coming from outside the hull. Looking out the window I saw an endless sea of ice chunks forming an amorphous cover to the Antarctic sea. The sea ice stretched out forever into the darkness, evoking and intriguing yet uncanny feel to the area. The next day(or maybe a couple days after that; time has no meaning here) we woke up to the Palmer punching it’s way through a gigantic solid ice field with a breathtaking backdrop of snow capped brown mountains. The ice field was composed of millions of differently sized ice chunks all frozen together into one giant ice sheet. A field of ice trapped inside ice; the ice chunks in the field had different colors and thicknesses to them, creating a varying assortment of trapped ice chunks beneath the solid surface. Every here and there you could see a giant iceberg rising over the ice field, not trapped beneath its frozen surface but still rendered immobile by the ice field’s grasp. Fallen snow was piled up across the landscape, and in the distance, we saw a snow-covered mountain range swallowed by clouds. The sun rays reflected off seemingly every surface of the expanse, creating a beautifully lit and composed scene with not a cloud in the sky. Other days, we pass by the waters edge where hordes of penguins atop floating icebergs can be seen in front of a mountainous backdrop which the setting sun casts golden rays through the clouds onto the rocky faces of the range. When the boat gets father away from land we have been able to see the most beautiful sunsets; icebergs of every size off into the horizon while the sunset creates deep purples, vibrant pinks and warm yellows. Silhouettes of albatrosses and other Antarctic birds occasionally come into view, gliding across the landscape in giant, beautiful sweeps. Some days the giant icebergs float right by the boat, allowing us to truly appreciate the texture and form of the floating ice giants. On one of these days the sky was clear and wonderfully blue. The other day I went outside in the early afternoon and the boat was stopped. Outside the boat was the Southern Ocean, but the surface was so placid it seemed to be a lake. The calm surface of the ocean reflected the image of the mountains just by the shore. Penguins could be seen swimming below the surface, and small icebergs stood still. It was extremely quiet outside; the wind was not blowing, and the idle boat produced no sound.
This continent truly is untamed. The wilderness and scenery are nearly untouched by human development resulting in a picturesque scene everywhere you look. I’ve added some photos of the beautiful scenery I’ve been describing, and hopefully you too will be able to appreciate the unbelievable scenery hidden away at the bottom of the world.
Thanks for reading,
Latitude: -63 55.147 Longitude: -57 24.880
Would a worm by any other name be as wriggly? While thinking about worm names may seem like a funny thing to do, it has dominated my days for the last two weeks. My name is Will Ballentine, and I am a Ph. D student at the University of South Alabama / Dauphin Island Sea Lab. I’m aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer with the Kocot team studying the tiny animals that live at the bottom of the sea in Antarctica. As several previous entries have mentioned, the first step in our research is collecting animals from the sea floor. While this is certainly a challenging step, it is only the first of many. After being scooped up from the sea floor, the animals (or buckets of mud in my case) are taken inside to be sorted and identified. Just as it is important for a medical doctor to know the name of the patient they’re examining, its important for scientists to know the scientific name of the animals we’re studying. Unfortunately, urchins don’t carry ID cards and worms speak lousy Latin, so its up to the scientists aboard the NBP to determine the scientific names of all the critters that emerge from the depths. In addition to helping with deck work, my primary job aboard the NBP is to identify all the worms that pass through the Kocot team’s lab. I couldn’t have been tasked with a better job because I love worms, particularly annelids also known as segmented worms.
Annelida is a hugely diverse phylum of animals and it’s my favorite because it’s completely comprised of worms. Annelids come in many shapes and sizes and range from stunningly beautiful to what can only be described as “gooey”. Because they are so diverse, identifying worms can be challenging. The first step in determining a worm’s name is the simplest and consists of looking at its face and body to see if I recognize it from memory. Worms, like all animals, are categorized according to a hierarchy of increasingly specific names, beginning with domain, and descending through phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. While I already know the phylum of all the worms I’m studying (Annelida), I can generally use the face and body of the worm to further identify it to the family level. Whereas the family level is often sufficient for our work in Antarctica, it is frequently necessary to identify a mystery worm (or any other animal we’re working with) all the way down to species. This can be much more challenging, and generally requires the use of a taxonomic key. A taxonomic key is a tool used to identify animals, and sometimes objects, across the sciences. It is a list of questions about the animal being identified that begins very broadly and becomes increasingly specific with each passing question. As more questions are answered, the list of possible species narrows until there is (hopefully) one option remaining, giving you the identity of your mystery worm. It reads similarly to a “choose your own adventure” novel, however, instead of “If you would like to enter the cave, proceed to page 16” it’s more along the lines of “If two eyes are present, proceed to line 8, if absent, line 7”. These keys are often essential to determining the exact species of a worm, and using them is a lot like solving a very wriggly puzzle.
My days on the NBP have been filled with a plethora of penguins, polar vistas, and wormy puzzles. Each morning, I wake up to a new dish of worms set aside by the previous shift and get to begin a whole new round of worm “Guess Who”. The annelid worms of Antarctica are stunning, and I’m eager to see what else this beautiful place has in store. (Worm pictures below identified to the family level)
Will M. Ballentine
Ph.D Student, Dorgan Lab
University of South Alabama / Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Latitude: -64 11.459 Longitude: -55 07.999
Thanksgiving looks a little different this year for those of us aboard the NBP, but we did decorate via a Secret Hand Turkey exchange (picture- this is only a sampling)! We are currently ~64 degrees south of the equator in the Weddell Sea, and though it’s a holiday, we are still sampling the ocean floor and finding more invertebrates! For me, that means today I am eagerly sorting through buckets of mud, searching for bizarre animals that are too small to see, moving samples with my trusty “macropipette” … which is an oddly appropriate tool for Thanksgiving (picture)! I use mine to suck up subsamples of sifted sediment and look for animals living between the sand grains. And no, I do NOT use the same one to baste turkeys back home.
When this crew of scientists met on our way south from San Francisco, each shared their sampling hopes and scientific dreams for the cruise with one another. All of us have things we are excited to see, but each has that ONE animal or group, our “if anybody finds this, call me, wake me up, scream it from the bridge, I NEED IT”. The best feeling in the world, better than finding your own samples, is handing a fellow scientist a dish or bucket that fulfills a sampling dream. We are a diverse group, so part of the joy of this cruise has been learning enough about one another’s favorite taxa to help.
Many of the animals we are pursuing here in Antarctica are understudied groups. “Understudied” is a self-perpetuating phenomenon in science- the animals are rare, and the scientific experts in the same animals are rarer. The only way to get to know these more uncommon animals is to sit with them for a while, ideally with an expert nearby to answer questions. This requires both animals and experts, in a conveniently confined space. Perhaps, say, a boat?
On the NBP, I can wander into other labs holding petri plates and always find somebody willing to help. I find tiny worm-like aplacophorans for my lab-mate Emily and in return learn what family they belong to. I’d never met a cumacean crustacean, and now I know how the handle them properly as I gather them for Sarah. My lab-mate Will patiently comes to my microscope to help me learn to identify tiny annelid worms, or to see yet ANOTHER phyllodocid annelid that I just have to show him (they have the cutest faces; picture). Before this cruise I’d never held a live sea spider; last night I got to run up to Andy and overly-excitedly (and thus not very articulately) tell him that I’d found three of the species he was hoping for in last night’s trawl (see picture). And I am amazed by the sharp eyes of my peers as they supply me with more and more of the tiny chitons (picture) I was most hoping to find for myself and collaborators!
But this week held melancholy moments as we got the news that the next two research cruises aboard the NBP had been cancelled due to COVID complications. It was a sudden and sharp reminder that we are incredibly blessed to be here, meeting animals and fulfilling scientific dreams, during this difficult time. We are doubly thankful for every trawl, every sample, every bit of ice we can break through, and more determined to make every moment count. So we are all happily working on Thanksgiving. Today is a day most of us would spend with family back home. But today, I am thankful for my scientific family at sea, and all I am learning from all of them.
Ph.D. student in the Kocot Lab
University of Alabama
Latitude: -063 44.317 Longitude: -057 31.434
I am not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV. My title is marine lab technician, which fails at times to describe what I do. I oversee lab instrumentation and equipment: everything from -80 freezers to pipettes to microscopes, I oversee the safe use and storage of chemicals in the lab, and I help pack and ship scientific samples to their home institutions. On busy days, I assist on deck, deploying sampling equipment over the side, or guide sampling efforts on or near the shoreline. I have worked on a multitude of projects, with and for a variety of scientists and researchers, mostly in polar regions. Predominately, my time is split between the two US Antarctic Research Vessels: the Laurence M. Gould or the Nathaniel B. Palmer, which is where I am stationed currently. And to answer your question, no, I don’t like being cold. But, what I do like about the cold polar regions is the pristine quality, the diversity of life, working on a moving platform, and the planning and challenges that these expeditions face. The Antarctic Vessels host a wide range of scientific studies and I’ve had the privilege of being a part of a wide array of work: everything from physical oceanography: tides and currents, to chemical properties of our oceans, to phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, seals, whales and yes, even the show stopper: penguins.
On this particular excursion, we are studying the biodiversity of benthic invertebrates: their regional variance, the distribution of species, and how they may have evolved. #icyinverts. As you may have imagined, there is an optimal time for work in Antarctica, spoiler alert its not the dead of winter. While there ARE projects during the winter, much of the oceanic fauna swells to life during the southern hemisphere spring and summer, when ice melts and algae and phytoplankton bloom creating the basis of the food chain. Antarctic scientific work therefore, means that high season falls during the northern hemisphere winter months and across many traditional holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we will be working round the clock, on deck and in the labs. Our scientists and support staff including the ship’s crew are split into shifts, which means they are always folks working, while another group takes their rest.
I have been working on the ships in my position for 10 years, which is to say I have spent 6 Christmases and the last 8 out 10 thanksgivings supporting science in the Antarctic. Perhaps, I should start a blog post called Thanksgivings on Ice, but I digress. Perhaps one of the most startling and astounding observations is that although these regions are harsh and cold and seemingly inhospitable to life as we think of it- the Antarctic is teeming with creatures, as evidenced in our work with invertebrates. The sheer magnitude of diversity is almost overwhelming. Every shape and color, feeding style, defense mechanism, locomotion and dispersal method imagined and unimagined, are to be found at the bottom of the sea, hidden from human view.
So on this day, the eve of Thanksgiving, for the ability to work here in this environment, to assist in the field of science with this group of scientists, technicians and crew, and for the diversity of the life aquatic, I give thanks.
Marine Laboratory Technician, US Antarctic Program