My name is Carmen Cobo, and I am from Santiago de Compostela, a city in the northwest of Spain. I live in Tuscaloosa (Alabama), where I work as postdoctoral researcher in the Kocot Lab at the University of Alabama. Being part of this lab has brought me many great opportunities, but being here today, on a research vessel in Antarctica is more than that, is a dream that came true.
As my colleagues Franzi and Emily, I study solenogasters (aplacophoran molluscs). In their posts a few days ago, they both talked about how interesting these worm-shaped molluscs are and how difficult their study is, mainly because they are generally just few millimeters in size. This also represents a challenge when it comes to finding them in the samples. During this cruise, to find these and other small invertebrates, we have been using a dredge called Epibenthic Sledge (EBS). “Benthic” animals are those that live in the surface of the bottom sediment and the EBS is designed to collect the first layer of sediment (“epi”), and to clean it while it is being transported up from the deep-sea to the surface. Thus, the use of this gear makes easier for us to collect and find all the small animals. So far, and just in three days of work, we have found more than 100 small solenogasters!
The EBS that we are using here is smaller than the ones I used before in other expeditions, but this is proving to be a real advantage, as we can sort all the material on board, and study and photograph the solenogasters alive. I am really enjoying this, as I am used to study them based on preserved material of museums, which is not so exciting. Moreover, studying alive solenogasters is giving us the opportunity to observe and even discover many interesting things about the natural history of these relatively unknown group of molluscs.
But we are not only finding small solenogasters. As with many other groups of animals, in the Antarctic, some solenogasters can be really big. With these big animals we will be able to conduct different genetic studies, and to try improving new techniques to analyze their morphology; both difficult sometimes with small specimens.
The scientific part of this expedition is being exciting and prolific, but if I am totally honest, the fact that through the window of the lab what we can see icebergs, the noise of the R/V Nathanael B Palmer breaking the ice, the color of the sea… those are the memories that I am sure I will keep forever. I am totally overwhelmed with the beauty of the Antarctic.
I cannot finish this post without mentioning one of the most thrilling moments so far: our first group of penguins on an iceberg. Many of us had been days waiting to see our first penguin, begging people to wake us up if they were seeing them, and being alert all day to run to the bow. The joy when that finally happened is difficult to describe.
M Carmen Cobo