Week 5: Field Report

Week 6, September 5-September 11, 2011 , Written by Joe Grzymski

Week 6. Where did you go? I am only now writing this report; it is Tuesday- normally I like to finish the recap Sunday night. Time evaporates in the field – how brief and fleeting our allotment of it is to paraphrase a Marcus Aurelius quote. Last week we sampled on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, had an instrument break after less than two hours of use, had a visit from the RVIB (Research Vessel Icebreaker)Nathaniel B. Palmer (see photos above) and despite all this managed to get through the week without too much other grief. But seemed hectic and stressful from my perspective- probably had something to do with a $25,000 instrument not working and having to make a less than ideal contingency plan.


Long field seasons are marathons, they require stamina, persistence and a bit of stubbornness. Fieldwork is often not glamorous as we tend to do things over and over again to ensure our ideas and our data have reasonable fidelity.  Once we leave there is no coming back to fix a mistake or re-collect a forgotten sample. Fieldwork and parts of science, in general (like in perpetuity grant writing), remind me of Macbeth’s realization that he is carried through life almost mechanically to the beat of time. Day in and day out we sometimes do follow an exact script. The culmination of this realization for Macbeth occurs after Lady Macbeth dies (just not in Antarctica). Macbeth speaks the famous Shakespearean soliloquy that I was forced to memorize in 10th grade:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. (Shakespeare’s Macbeth Act 5)

You, dear reader, do not need to comment on whether our science is a tale told by an idiot- signifying nothing. We hope not! In fact, our data are looking very good but it has been a struggle recently (as it always is with remote field work) to get everything operating ideally at the same time! This tests patience, creativity and how good you are at “winging it”. Like all good tales our week starts and ends brilliantly.

Monday was “our day”. Perfect sampling at Station E- our ideal station with deep blue water- full of diatoms. (I bet Shakespeare never thought his words would be used in a field report with the word Diatom!).  Iva got some incredible RNA out of these samples and we have bench top fluorescence measurements and great microscopy from Deneb.

Tuesday we saw more ice move in and were only able to make it to station A where we employed a yo-yo sample collection method since we were unable to tow nets at fixed depths.  With this method we are able to pass the net over about 625 m3 of water. First person under the age of 15 to calculate how many gallons of water are in 625 m3 and email the answer to us:driantarctica@gmail.com gets to name our boat for a day and gets a Palmer Station baseball cap.

Wednesday we were iced in as the temperature dropped significantly the night before so we spent time in the lab, organizing data and analyzing data (yay!).  Joe spent the majority of the day trying to figure out what was wrong with one of his fluorometers and won’t write anything more about it because it would hardly be constructive.

Thursday the station received a large orange guest for about two hours - the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer got very close to Palmer (the ship is too big to dock at our pier), we exchanged cargo, a passenger and they gave us fresh vegetables (a welcomed treat) and were gone (their entire visit is condensed into a time lapse movie on the videos page). B-466 followed the Palmer out to Station A and sampled the water after the ship left; we got more great samples.

Friday was spent cleaning the lab from three intense days of fieldwork, organizing and analyzing data and prepping for a big experiment we started this week. Well, that’s at least what I think happened.

Saturday morning we fractionated more water (divided up into different size classes), made Chlorophyll measurements and continued prepping the big experiment. Joe spent a lot of time writing R scripts. Saturday afternoon was station meeting and a big cleanup. Then, Joe and Deneb hosted cocktail hour as a small way to thank everyone at Palmer Station who works so hard to make this the best place on Earth to do fieldwork. Salute!