Latitude: -63 29.121 Longitude: -52 58.645
It’s hard to truly encapsulate all the colors of an Antarctic sunset in a picture. During the early mornings when we start the night shift, members of the Icy Inverts team often take a sunrise and sunset break, about 2 and a half hours apart. I’ve never heard the phrase “pictures don’t do it justice” more times in my life, and it couldn’t be more true. Large strokes of orange reflect off absolutely still sheets of ice, illuminating both the sea and sky with the yellow hue of the frozen sunset, or is it sunrise?
As a PhD student in the Kocot lab, I’m here to assist with the collection of the many animals that live hidden not just below the surface of the Southern Ocean but also within the sediment at the bottom. After the large macrofauna have been sorted and taken inside the dry lab to be identified, the Kocot lab can be found just next door with seemingly uninteresting buckets of sediment and scraps of miscellaneous organisms. Our sediment and scraps, however, contain a vast world of animals from the suspension feeding entoprocts (a personal favorite), to the tusk shaped Scaphopoda, and the infamously cryptic Aplacophora. Members of our team look for both animals within the sediment and even animals living on other, larger animals!
My interests in the biodiversity of this hidden world are twofold, I wish to both discover new species within the ever-changing Antarctic seas but also understand how these and others are related. While the biggest sea creatures and largest bottom dwellers are important to understanding how life has evolved on Earth, so are the small, hidden, animals almost invisible to the naked eye. Some of the world’s most charismatic and noteworthy creatures are closely related to those living in the invisible world between grains of sand. The next time you are at your favorite beach or perhaps have a sample of Antarctic sediment take a closer look. As we say in the Kocot lab, sometimes you have to… sweat the small stuff.
University of Alabama