Hello from the Southern Ocean!
It brings me great excitement to be able to say we’ve made it down here after a month of being away from home. The temperatures have already gone below five degrees Celsius and I had to start wearing the big wool socks. While I thought that we would have been deep into sampling by the time I got to post to the blog, we are still on our way. But science is just around the corner.
To formally introduce myself, my name is Jake Perez and I am a third year geology PhD student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. While my most recent field work has been in much warmer climates (see picture 1), I have come this far south to study the microbes that live in the sediments off Antarctica. To be specific, I want to know how these microbes break down complex organic matter using extracellular enzymes. Extracellular enzymes are enzymes that are secreted outside of the cell that help break down carbon into smaller forms to allow the microbe to then break down directly. Think of it like a microbe needing to cut up a big steak with a knife before it can chew it. I’ll study how they do this by adding different types of “food” to the sediment and seeing what happens to it as microbes degrade it over time.
But for now, we just wait until some sediment cores come up! In the meantime, I have been spending time outside saying goodbye to New Zealand (picture 2), seeing what different animals I can see from the boat (picture 3 – it’s mainly birds) and watching a lot of downloaded shows/movies. Last night, a lot of us got to see polar lights! Getting good pictures while on a rocking boat is not easy (picture 4) but luckily, I have some experience when I saw the northern lights in the Arctic last year. I will say, it’s hard to beat the lights we saw last night and hopefully we will see more when we get to the ice!
University of Tennessee, Knoxville