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.
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