Latitude: 30° 52.98' N Longitude: 117° 15.25' W
So far… We have prepared, packed, self-isolated (14 days), quarantined (19 days), passed not 1, not 2, but 3 (yes, 3!) COVID tests, secured our equipment, and now (finally!) we have departed Port Hueneme (PTH) on the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP). From California, we are headed south to Punta Arenas, Chile (PA) where we will resupply and refuel for our trip to Antarctica. We have been quarantined in PTH for just over two weeks where we have been able to get acquainted with our new home for the next few months while it is not moving. While in quarantine, we have kept our masks on and socially distanced whenever possible. We are currently in a full steam to PA for about 4 weeks. It was nice at PTH because we had been able to contact family, friends, loved ones, and see our beloved critters that we had to leave behind (both furry and otherwise) with relatively normal means. While we were at PTH, we saw some of the famous California fog that creeps over the coast in the afternoon and sometimes lingers on nearby vessels (see eerie photo). Some of us have also been having an arts and crafts time each day to relax and sometimes familiarize ourselves with the creatures we’ll see in Antarctica (crinoid drawing).
It is a little odd, but the six months before our departure (I typically refer to them as the COVID times) helped prepare us for the over two months we will spend aboard the NBP. If you think about it, we spent several months barely going anywhere and being isolated from people we would normally see daily. Fast forward to the present, we have been fortunate enough to participate in this incredible opportunity to board a ship with strangers (for some of us) and embark on this journey to a continent few get to visit. In PTH, we were able to unpack and stow equipment for travel which resulted in a lot of questions to the people who have been on the ship and to Antarctica before because most of us have not. The stowing of equipment forced some of us to take a short knot-tying course with the help of those more experienced. After we collect samples in Antarctica, we will ship them back to the states in fancy coolers that we bring to far below freezing temperatures with the use liquid nitrogen (Kyle and Jess with their scientific cauldron). We have also been breaking up the workdays in quarantine playing card games and watching movies in the lounge.
A little more about me: I just finished my PhD at Texas A&M University at Galveston, where I focused on the ecology of the bearded fireworm. I exposed the worms to low oxygen conditions to look at how they responded. If you’re curious about that, please let me know because it is one of my favorite topics. Currently, I am working on previously collected data from an Antarctic brittle star as a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Ken Halanych’s Lab at Auburn University. I am also working on identifying animals from photo transects collected in the Southern Ocean during previous cruises. In the past, I have focused on annelids (worms) in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean, so I am VERY excited to learn about all these new animals in this new (and very cold) ecosystem (check out the seafloor photo with echinoderms).
Last night, we had our first sunset at sea on our southbound steam, and it was definitely one to remember.
Dr. Candace J. Grimes