notes from the field

No. 6 - Still Enthusiastic

We're moving along the north side of the islands to the west toward Cape Shirreff. We have little experience in this area having mapped it only once when we set people ashore last year for the first time at the Cape. We'll then move to the south side of the islands in the more protected Bransfield Strait and work our way east again past Admiralty Bay and on to the Elephant Island area. The Elephant cluster is the most northeastern group of the South Shetland Islands, at the very tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, situated in the face of weather systems and ocean currents funneling through Drakes Passage. Our beloved Seal Island sits in the middle of this group and we know this grid of stations well.

As we trudge along, station to station, the phytoplankton group strains the many kinds of algae from water samples, measures their chlorophyll and incubates them to see how fast they are growing, the oceanography group lowers an instrument at each station, measuring water properties and looking for signatures of the different water masses that converge as they flow past the archipelago, the zooplankton group sorts, counts and measures the critters that are caught in a large plankton net deployed at each station looking for evidence of rapidly growing populations, and the ocean acoustics group uses underwater sound to image the clusters of krill swarms that sustain the penguins and seals breeding nearby. Each group depends on information from the others to complement and help interpret their own measurements. We are a collection of academic and government marine scientists, graduate students and volunteers from a wide range of institutions and locations. Each group has a different watch schedule (some work 12 hours on and 12 off and break at 8 in the morning and 8 in the evening, others break at 12, and others work 6 on and 6 off); the various schemes resulting from a mix of personal preferences, artful persuasions and the occasional penchant for martyrdom. As the day-night continuum continues to roll on we see the full cycle of each other and get to know our shipmates quite well - more so than sometimes necessary.

But we're in the first few days of the survey, where the stations are furthest apart and we have time to memorize the routine. Although fog and wet decks prevail, the seas haven't been rough, the labs are intact, people are still enthusiastic about being here and on we go.


next episode: Crusted With Salt.