A fond goodbye
Here’s how well things went for our scientists:
Antarctica is full of familiar life doing really weird things. There is so much we still don’t know, and it’s so hard to get there and figure it out. Sailing the Drake passage, between South America and Western Antarctica, is famously rough but takes just a few days- short enough for tourist cruises. But New Zealand is as far from Antarctica as the Caribbean is from Africa. And the distance it takes to sail from Africa to Antarctica would take you more than 2/3 of the way from California to Japan. More people have been to space than have studied ocean life around East Antarctica. Pretty much everything is left to be discovered.
This trip has changed the way I look at ice and world geography. I’ve seen wildlife and landscapes that I expect I’ll never get to see again. But like any good science project, it’s really all about people. Most of my days end with some kind of yelling about how incredible the staff, crew, and scientists are that I’m sailing with. I cannot emphasize enough how much I mean it. This expedition has changed me because I’ve experienced it with these phenomenal humans.
That's a wrap
Hello again from the Nathaniel B. Palmer. Today is the day we arrive into port and many of us are excited to come home and share our experiences, stories, and pictures with our loved ones.
As we are wrapping up on our journey, I am excited to get back home to start working on my remaining dissertation projects with my study species, the pycnogonid Nymphon australe.
Pycnogonids are very interesting benthic invertebrates. They are often referred to as sea spiders due to their similar appearance and body plan to land spiders. Sea spiders are not land spiders and are more closely related to horseshoe crabs. Sea spiders have a minute central body often surrounded by four pairs of walking legs. However, some spiders can have up to six pairs of walking legs. Since legs make up most of their body, they actually breathe through and carry their internal organs in their legs. Interestingly, sea spiders are found in every ocean, however in sea spiders in the Southern Ocean are a wonderful example of a phenomenon called “polar gigantism”, where they grow to be notably larger than their counterparts found in other oceans.
Another very interesting fact about sea spiders is that most species exhibit paternal care, similar to sea horses and some penguins. The maternal parent will lay the eggs and pass them to the paternal parent, who will then fertilize the eggs and carry them on a special pair of appendages called ovigers. The male will carry the eggs until they hatch, and the larvae will stay with the dad until they are developed enough to leave. We have seen male sea spiders carrying up to six egg clutches at a time. For the first time this cruise I saw a male carrying egg clutches that were different colors and I often observed some egg clutches that were in different developmental stages on the same male! This is exciting to me because one of my dissertation projects is looking at the genetics of these egg clutches to determine if male sea spiders are mating with the same female spider or with multiple females.
One of my favorite sites we sampled this cruise was a site where sea spiders were the most abundant taxa we sampled. Everywhere I looked I could see sea spiders in the trawl. Prior to sampling, we could see on our yo-yo camera footage that there would be a plethora of sea spiders at this site, however nothing compared to being there in person and being a part of sampling. I’ll never forget Ken, our senior scientist telling me it was time to step away from the trawl to go inside and jokingly stating he would have to have me held back from going to get more sea spiders.
It is bittersweet that our time here is ending. While I will miss the friends I’ve made and life on the boat, I am excited to go home and back to my life in Michigan. Lastly, I want to give my best friend Kellee Peters a shoutout and wish her a very happy birthday today!!
Central Michigan University.
May the Fourth Be with You
As our expedition is coming to an end, we’re continuing to stick to similar routines for transiting in the open ocean: movie marathons. Fitting for today’s date, we’re ending the cruise with a Star Wars movie marathon with the added 4D experience of the rocking boat. Throughout the whole cruise when science wasn’t happening, we’ve had to find ways to keep ourselves from going insane. My favorite ways so far have been learning all the different card games from everyone onboard, playing one night werewolf, and of course watching movies in the 02 lounge.
The past few days there I’ve had to start packing and getting my life together after being on a boat for 2 months. I’ve started looking through all pictures on our shared drive and getting all the pictures of the icebergs, wildlife, and stories we’ve shared. Seeing this cruise through everyone’s point of view has added a sense melancholy that it’s coming to an end, especially after looking forward to being back on stable land for the past week or two. It’s the pictures of the people that have gotten to me the most, rather than the penguins or icebergs.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to look back in a few years and remember the stories we shared on the boat, along with the science. Like winning the cornhole tournament with my dad or having dance parties in the lab after packing everything away. The science has also been an amazing adventure on this cruise. I’ve seen live organisms that I will probably never see again and gone to a part of the world that few have been to. Even though there have been a few setbacks and a little less sampling than we called for, this has been a once in a lifetime experience and I’m glad I got to experience it with the people aboard this ship.
May the Force Be with You, Coral Halanych
University of Washington
The Subtle Art of Candy-Caning
Now that science is wrapped up, being on a boat with no internet and limited activities can get a bit tiresome. There’s only so many crosswords and games of Werewolf you can play before they lose their novelty. Thankfully the crew and passengers of the NBP are pretty adept at creating fun games, making the time go by in between stations and especially during the long transits from Antarctica to the rest of the world. From corn hole tournaments, to games of Fishbowl, to watching an original movie made by one of our very own scientists about the phenomenal videos he’s captured of various marine invertebrates throughout the trip; there’s always something to keep us occupied and out of boredom’s reach.
One of my favorite activities that first began around Easter is candy-caning. Basically, the goal is to hide a candy cane on another person’s clothing/belongings without them realizing and see how long it takes until they notice. Why candy canes? Because the Marine Lab Technicians had a box of them from last Christmas and apparently no one wanted to eat them outside of Christmas time. People kept trying to hand their candy canes to others and so began the candy-caning saga.
Currently I hold the record for not noticing two candy canes on the back of my jacket for 5+ hours. In my defense, I was very busy crocheting gifts for people at the time and that’s what I get in return…and no, I’m not bitter about it. But it’s ok because I got back at Candace Grimes (the culprit) by printing out 20+ candy cane pictures and sticking them to as many of her things as I possibly could. She’ll be finding them well after getting off the boat and I’ve never felt more satisfied. Some were broken during transfers and had to be bandaged back together carefully with tape.
We’re about two days out from Albany, Australia and so the game’s coming to a close as we prepare to head back to our respective homes. As much as we’ll all miss each other and our adventures in Antarctica, I can say that we are all looking forward to being with our friends and families again. Thankfully, we will have internet to keep in contact with each other.
After spending a whole month sampling the invertebrates that live in Eastern Antarctica, we are headed back home! Besides the amazing science that we accomplished over this short period of time, we were able to see penguins in their natural habitat along with endless icebergs.
It was easy to spot icebergs since they were everywhere. But watching penguins run across the ice required hours standing on the bow of the ship. Sometimes, you would hear someone yell “There are penguins port side!!”. If you were lucky – and fast enough – you would watch a raft of penguins swimming away from the icebreaker. Their heads would bop in and out of the water as they tried to get away from the ship as quickly as penguinly possible. Unsurprisingly, we would usually see the Adelie penguins since they are the most common penguins living in the Antarctic continent. But occasionally you could catch a glimpse of an emperor penguin swimming near the ship.
If you took too long to put on your layers you would be greeted disappointingly by icy winds and countless icebergs. If you were desperate enough to see penguins, you would dedicate the next few hours standing outside as the ship moved across the beautiful Antarctic landscape.
Alejandro De Santiago
University of Georgia
Playing in the Mud
I can’t begin to describe the breathtaking views that I am lucky enough to encounter while collecting samples of mud from the ocean floor. We have just finished our science and sample collections and are headed to port. Sample collection for us involves a few pieces of equipment to analyze whether each area is good for the megacorer. A prime area for coring involves softer sediments. To find a site to sample is a multi-beam is used first to provide us a bathymetric survey of the seafloor to the ensure the perfect depth and area to sample. We also use the Knudsen, which uses sonar to help us determine if the ocean floor has a hard bottom or soft and fluffy sediments. Next a cool piece of equipment called a Yo-yo cam is deployed. This a camera that bounces around the seafloor and allows us a live look at what is on the bottom. The Yo-yo cam has provided us endless entertainment on this cruise. After we determine with the multi-beam, Knudsen, and Yo-yo cam that the area is good for coring the megacorer is deployed. The megacorer uses 12 cores (long tubes) that grab the sediments and bring them up to us. The first picture below shows the megacorer being brought back on the ship with full cores. Once the cores are back on the ship, we take them and section them into 3 cm intervals. Half of each 3 cm section is flash frozen in liquid nitrogen for later processing, while the other half is processed on the boat. I am extremely excited to get our samples back in the lab at Central Michigan University to start the process of extracting DNA/RNA. I will use these samples to determine what microbes are present down deep in the ocean, and how the microbes are degrading organic matter.
Although the days are long in the lab, we work 12 hr. shifts each day of science, we do stop working for a little fun. Our fun includes penguin, seal, and whale watching on the bow of the ship, and from the bridge. I have had the opportunity to capture quite a few once in a lifetime views on this boat. I will include a few of my favorite pictures from the cruise here.
Central Michigan University
300 Meters Down
We arrived on station. Sample bags and bottles have long been prepped and labeled ready for this moment. The multibeam, CTD, and Yoyo Cam have been completed. Finally, the Megacore has gone down to the bottom of the ocean floor and is on its way back up. It’s 300m down now. It’s time to gear up. We begin by adding extra layers like a fleece jacket, a pair of fleece pants, a hat, and an extra pair of socks. Next comes the rubber bibs, the steal toe boots, and the rubber gloves. Last, we stop by the mud room to dawn our big orange float coat and hard hat. We are ready. The Megacore is still being slowly pulled up to the surface. We head out to the back deck to anxiously wait for its arrival. Only 50m down now. We watch the wire over the edge of the ship waiting to see the lights of the Megacore come into view. It’s 20m down still and we can already see it! Excitement bubbles up as people place their bets on how many of the 12 cores will contain sediment and how many cm deep that sediment will be. The Megacore is brought on deck, and we scramble to see what it holds. But alas, the cores come up empty. But that’s field work, baby! We’ll have to try again at the next station.
Over the course of the research cruise, the Megacore has emerged from the water with the ideal outcome of all 12 cores filled with 15cm of sediment, all the cores completely empty, and everywhere in between. We have learned to adapt to our surroundings and make the best of each muddy situation. With time, we became a well-oiled machine knowing what to do and when to do it. With science all wrapped up and now looking back at the entirety of the cruise, I think it’s safe to say it was a success! We collected sediments from several sites and are now on our journey home. Back at CMU, DNA/RNA will be extracted from the sediments and sent out for sequencing which will allow us to see what the bacteria that reside in sediments are doing!
This research cruise has been an incredible adventure, and I can’t fully comprehend that I was a part of something like this. There is an endless list of things I loved. I loved looking out at the ice searching for life. I loved the sunsets. I loved seeing the southern lights. I loved watching movies in the lounge after shift change. I loved seeing the cores come up full of sediment. I loved seeing all the animals that the trawls brought up. I loved being surrounded by those so passionate and excited about their science and the animals they found. The list goes on. Really, I just loved my time here being part of the cruise.
P.S. Happy birthday to Jake, our fourth mud crew member from UTK!!!
Central Michigan University
Other favorite finds included rare mollusks, giant trilobite-like isopods and strange amphipods.
My name is Chandler Olson. I am a second year PhD student in the Kocot lab studying aplacophoran mollusks (Solenogastres). The goal of this expedition for my lab was to find Solenogastres. However, my personal goal was to see as many unique animals as possible. The Southern Ocean is home to high diversity of strange and interesting marine invertebrates and I wanted to see them all!
Sampling is now over, the labs are packed up, and we are heading home. There won’t be opportunities to see many more animals. So, I’ve taken some time to tally up the totals and its official, I saw a lot of cool stuff! From the solenogasters we came for to octopus, sea pigs and penguins the amount of animals was amazing. A particular favorite of mine was a huge priapulid pulled up in one of the Blake trawls. These strange creatures have a spiky covered proboscis giving them the common name cactus worm. I was even able to place one in our observation tank and watch it burrow through the sediment!
University of Alabama
Antarctica Brittle Stars
Hello from Antarctica! Now that we are finished with science and starting to head home, many of us are reflecting on the past month we’ve spent in the Antarctic. I’ve had an amazing experience that I’ve learned so much from. While I did not come here with a specific organism I was researching, I’ve gotten to learn a lot while working hands-on with marine life and working alongside many amazing marine scientists.
One species I spent a lot of time with was Ophionotus victoriae, a type of brittle star that is common in the Antarctic. This brittle star tends to be on the bigger side, with a large central disk and five skinny, flexible arms attached. Ophionotus victoriaes are beautiful brittle stars who are usually bright pink with dark blue stripes coming from the center, but they vary in color in shade (see photos below).
While they’re endemic to Antarctic waters, we have found that Ophionotus victoriae are much more abundant in the western side of the Antarctic than they are the in the eastern side. Like other brittle stars, Ophionotus victoriae live on the ocean floor, and they can be found over 1,000 meters deep. Similarly to many animals in Antarctica, they have a slow growth rate and long life span, up to about 20 years.
These brittle stars are opportunistic eaters, who mainly scavenge for food but will also eat younger brittle stars. Consequently, young brittle stars are prey to bigger brittle stars as well as fish, so they have a few mechanisms to defend themselves. One mechanism that I got to see in the lab is that if necessary, brittle stars will break off their arms to escape predators. They are also agile enough to scurry away and hide themselves under sediment when they are in trouble.
Working with various brittle stars and many other Antarctic invertebrates for the past month has been such a pleasure. There is no better way to learn about these animals, so although I’m sad my time here is ending I’m so happy to have had this experience and the knowledge I gained from it.
Central Michigan University
I’m in the e-lab with my fellow scientists. We’re watching the computer screens that indicate how long it will be until the trawl comes up. I glance outside. There are ice sheets and huge ice bergs for as far as the eye can see. “Well,” I say, “It’s cold outside.” It’s my favorite observation to make. Because it never stops being true.
As a Floridian, I have never been so cold as I have been in Antarctica. It’s been spectacular. The ice extends for miles. Without our big reds (ECW—extreme cold weather gear; in this case, a very warm jacket) it wouldn’t even be a minute before it would be too cold to tolerate. Even so, the time spent layering two to three different clothing items just to go outside is well worth it. Palaces of ice and snow soar into the sky—and as the sun sets, a green haze seems to suffuse the air around glittering frozen mountains. Dark shapes on the ice resolve themselves to be crab eater seals or adelhi penguin.
Inside the lab, we’ve been seeing all sorts of amazing animals. Huge sponges, prickly sea urchins, colorful nemerteans and every sort of shape and color of sea star you can imagine! I’ve started to get a good handle on the species in the area. It’s very gratifying to see a worm with green elytra and spkiy, golden chetae and immediately recognize it as Antarctinoe forex (see the picture!), or to see one with brass colored chetae and beige scales and know it’s our target species Laetmonice cf producta.
I was so surprised to see that several of the worms we have bioluminesce! I have so many questions. Why are they glowing? Who are they glowing for? Is it microbial or do they have a dedicated organ? Do they use it to signal to other worms or is it designed to distract predators? I’m so curious. If only we had good internet, Google Scholar would be very useful right now.
Antarctica is truly superb. It’s unlike any other place on the planet, and I’m so grateful to be able to see it. Even if it’s really really really cold.