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