After several delays to the start of our expedition, our team was able to board the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer (aka the “NBP”) yesterday! Late last night we boarded the ship, dropped our bags off in our rooms, and immediately began setting up our labs. We are thrilled to be here, and it’s been an exciting (and hectic!) 24 hours.
The five National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant-funded teams (“grantees”) shipped supplies to the vessel months in advance from our home institutions and we were additionally provided with supplies and equipment for our research that were here waiting for us when we arrived. This is always somewhat nerve-wracking – what if one of my boxes got lost or something essential to our work got broken in transit? What if I meant to order a case of cryo tubes but accidentally ordered one cryo tube? Fortunately, the USAP folks are incredibly organized and helpful – not only was all of our stuff ready and waiting, but it was already in our labs for us. We worked for a few hours last night to begin to inventory and put away supplies, set up microscopes and other equipment, and secure everything so nothing gets damaged in case we hit rough weather. Today we finished the job and are ready for samples! We’ll have to be patient a little while longer as it will take about seven days to get to our first station and we are taking our time getting started to avoid a pretty gnarly storm that would otherwise make our crossing into Antarctic waters rather ‘exciting.’
It’s great being back on board the ship and being reunited with several amazing folks we worked alongside during the NBP 20-10 cruise and even way back on the NBP 12-10 cruise. I’ve also enjoyed meeting several folks I haven’t sailed with before. Everyone has been incredibly helpful, kind, and on top of things, which has made the hectic process of preparing for intensive field work really enjoyable.
I was reunited with some other ‘old friends’ including the Blake trawl frames, epibenthic sled, and the sieving table. These instruments are all essential to our work to sample benthic marine invertebrates. Epibenthic sleds (aka epibenthic sledges or EBSs) are sampling instruments towed behind the ship to collect small animals living in the top centimeter or so of the sediment. They work by disturbing the top layer of the sediment then the sediment and animals living in it are captured in what looks like a fine plankton net mounted inside the frame. Unfortunately, the old epibenthic sled hasn’t performed consistently well for us in the past, but we were excited to meet another ‘new friend’ – a shiny new epibenthic sled, which has lots of bells and whistles including a mount for an underwater camera so we can take video while sampling and a lever that is depressed once the sled reaches the sea floor to open a door in front of the nets, meaning we aren’t sampling plankton all the way down and back up. We can’t wait to christen it!
Today we also had a briefing from the Captain and First Mate on life and safety on board and have begun to get into the swing of things with respect to everything from meal times and planning our working schedules. Teams will work from either noon to midnight or midnight to noon. I'm on the midnight to noon schedule but fortunately I'm already semi-nocturnal so that shouldn't be too hard ;) Because we will be heading basically due west at a very high latitude throughout most of the cruise, the ship will cross a *lot* of different time zones during our transit from Christchurch, New Zealand to Capetown, South Africa and our first ship's clock adjustment will already take place tomorrow afternoon.
Over the next several weeks, you will get to learn more about our research from a different member of the science party each day as we take turns writing blog posts. You’ll hear more about why we are interested in going all the way to Antarctica to sample tiny animals living in mud at the bottom of the ocean from members of the Kocot lab who are participating in the cruise: Dr. Carmen Cobo (postdoctoral researcher), Dr. Franzi Bergmeier (former postdoctoral researcher), Nick Roberts (Ph.D. candidate), Emily McLaughlin (Ph.D. candidate), Chandler Olson (Ph.D. student), and Will Farris (technician). We’re also working closely with our collaborators on the other science teams to share samples and help each other out to make the most of our valuable time sampling in the Eastern Antarctic.
Assuming the satellite internet cooperates, we’ll be sharing about the cruise on social media using the hashtags #IcyInverts, #SweatTheSmallStuff, and #AntarcticWorms. Please stay tuned for updates and discoveries!
Dr. Kevin Kocot
The University of Alabama