Today (18 November) marks the first Polar Pride – a celebration of the contribution of LGBTQ+ people to polar science. 18 November is the international day of LGBTQ+ people in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and Polar Pride was organized by Huw Griffiths and others and has grown into an international phenomenon with polar scientists celebrating today all over the globe (see the social media hashtag #polarpride). The Icy Inverts team includes several LGBTQ individuals and we, surrounded by our amazing allies, got together for a photo on the helicopter deck to celebrate this dimension of diversity in STEM.
The Icy Inverts team has reached Antarctica and we have seen some incredibly beautiful sights. Yesterday we saw incredible mountains, icebergs, penguins and seals (photo). This morning I watched sunrise... beginning at 2:30 AM. The last six days have been *intense* with sampling. The ship operates around the clock with two research teams alternating 12-hour shifts each day. My team relies on an instrument called an epibenthic sled to collect small animals living on top of or in the top couple centimeters of sediment on the sea floor. The net comes up looking like it is full of mud, but when we wash this material through mesh sieves, it reveals the small molluscs, worms, crustaceans, and other organisms living in this habitat (photos). We spend most of our time sorting this catch under a microscope using special cooling stages with ice water pumped through them to keep or animals at the near-freezing temperatures they are used to. We can spend hours on the deck of the ship sieving mud from a sample and then many more hours sitting at the microscope (on a rocking ship that is breaking ice!) sorting specimens.
It's been really fun for me to be back in Antarctica but especially because this time I am the leader of a team rather than a student. I've gotten so much enjoyment out of watching my students see their first giant sea spider and add new phyla to their life list (the invertebrate zoologist's equivalent to a birder's species list). I'm fortunate to have a fantastic team who have bent over backwards to help ensure the success of this expedition not only for their own research interests but to help others in their research objectives as well.
Presently, we are steaming east in the Weddell Sea to sample along the continental slope for deep-water organisms. This will be a different fauna then we have seen so far (and I am very excited). After that, we hope to head south, deeper into the Weddell Sea to collect specimens for the Halanych and Mahon population genetics projects. Hopefully the sea ice cooperates.
University of Alabama