Week 13: Field Report

spring

Week 13, October 25-31, 2011

Field Reports are posted and viewable (with photos and more educational material) to Antarctica.dri.edu. Spring has begun here at Palmer Station. Much of the snow and ice that enveloped the ‘backyard’ (the area between station and the glacier) has started to melt away and reveal the rock and earth beneath. That being said, the ice in the harbor still prevented us from boating Monday through Thursday.

Monday was a particularly exciting day for Palmer station and a day I will personally remember always. During breakfast I watched two adelie penguins playing on the ice in the distance (my first time seeing penguins so close to station). Both gentoos and adelies have been spotted here and there throughout the past month. 

However, the station was still waiting eagerly for the masses to arrive. Sure enough, when Austin and I were outside taking our daily 8:30am sample, Austin gazed across the ice and pointed to a giant crowd of penguins storming Torgersen Island. The binoculars were set up in the galley all day as station members gathered and observed the masses of penguins romping across the ice and settling on Torgersen.

We planned to begin 24- hour at 4-hour increment fluorometry sampling of the next group of cultures as part of the ongoing light adaptation experiment on Monday. However, DT3 and DT10, respectively, were giving too low a response to begin. DT3 and DT11 are both similarly shaped pennate diatoms. 

DT11 is much smaller in size and both have yet to be identified to the species level. DT10- Proboscia inermis- is long and slender. We allowed a few more days for DT3 and 10 to catch up to DT11. However, it appears from both their continued low response on the fluorometer as well as from their abysmal growth rates (see graph below) that DT3 and DT10 may be more light-dependent diatoms than DT11. 

Right now, all cultures are operating under 4 layers of screening that block out about 95% of light. We began 24 hour monitoring on Friday with the prediction that DT3 and DT10 will begin to flourish into log phase once a layer of screen is removed and more light is allowed to penetrate.

The early half of the week was spent beginning the long elaborate process of preparing for our departure. We leave Palmer station in only four weeks. Iva and Deneb are working closely with logistics to ensure safe travels for the many samples we have worked tirelessly to collect during the field season- special thanks to Judy for her help with the preparation.

Austin and I have been carefully organizing the data we have accumulated. It is important that all data and notes the two of us have taken are readable and understandable so that Deneb and Joe can interpret our work for future analysis in Austin and my absence.

Cell Culture graph

We continued through the week taking daily and weekly regular aquarium sampling until we were finally able to head out boating on Friday. Sampling was picture perfect. Apart from not being able to reach Station E -due to ice conditions (we sampled more close to Station C)- we collected high-density plankton samples and were visited by some curious and particularly charismatic wildlife. A group of gentoo penguins (plus one adelie) visited our zodiac. They were frantically bobbing in and out of the water –porpoising- around our boat as we dropped our PUV instrument to measure UV attenuation through the water column. About 15-20 minutes later, a pod of about four whales (we think Minke whales) also paid us a visit (see pictures). It was quite humbling to be collecting plankton in the presence of such gentle giants.

The team took advantage of Friday’s weather conditions and indulged in a well-deserved afternoon trip over to Torgersen Island. The island was crowded with adelie penguins all bustling about in the company of elephant seals. We had the unique opportunity to witness many exciting adelie activities- nest building (using pebbles), pebble stealing, and courtship. Their demeanor was utterly hilarious and playful. A few would waddle right over to you, wings flapping, and longingly look up as if to invite you to join the rookery. Check out the photos page to view some glamour shots of the adelie penguins.

With all the exciting happenings of this week, the B4-66 team continues to form unique and remarkable Antarctic memories. We hope to report new and more frequent wildlife encounters as the season continues to shift over our last four weeks.