Latitude: -64 49.1780 Longitude: -64 39.3581
Antarctica has caused me to lose my sense of scale. Scale is a crucial aspect of science; it is how we add context to data and how we place observations into a larger (or smaller) perspective. Scaling is the reason photos of very large and very small objects often contain easily referenceable tokens like a penny, a human hand, or a banana. These scale tokens help the viewer better comprehend the size of the subject. Without a proper understanding of scale, it is nearly impossible to make meaningful comparisons between two observations. Scale is something I have had trouble fully grasping while traversing Antarctica.
I have seen bright white sea ice that extends further than my vision, mountains that rise thousands of feet into the sky only to drop directly into the sea, and monolithic icebergs that silently cruise by like frozen giants. Fully comprehending the magnitude of these landscapes has been an ongoing challenge and has set my head spinning more than once. While looking at topographic maps of the mountain ranges and aerial photographs of icebergs has helped me form an objective understanding of their size, I still lack an intuitive, gut -level, understanding of their magnitude. My brain needs a familiar object next to these colossal bodies to put them into perspective. Unfortunately, chucking bananas at passing bergs is “strictly prohibited” so I’ll have to settle for too-large-to-really-comprehend numerical measures.
At the other end of the size spectrum, my sense of scale is equally troubled. The Kocot team and myself have spent this cruise working on small macrofaunal and meiofaunal animals. These multicellular critters are so small that some of them slip through the spaces in between individual grains of sand like crawling through the worlds largest McDonalds ball pit. For these diverse animals, an entire world exists within a few spoons full of sand, and small beach or a few meters of good mud contains multitudes. Using microscopes and Mastersizers I can find numerical measurements to describe this Antarctic environment as well, but it’s still difficult to intuitively understand what life is like when grains of sand are the size of boulders.
Scale adds context to observations. It allows for comparisons between icebergs and inverts and enables us to distinguish between things that are very large and very small. As our cruise comes to an end, I realize that I am again struggling to comprehend scale. Placing this expedition into the context of my own life is challenging because I am uncertain how to measure it. None of the previous yardsticks of my life seem like adequate scale bars; Antarctica feels too big. I feel a little sorry for all my future fieldwork, knowing that it will inevitably be compared to this cruise, but mostly I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to lose my sense of scale.
Will M. Ballentine
Ph.D Student, Dorgan Lab
University of South Alabama / Dauphin Island Sea Lab