Science for Everyone

Back in the swing of things

Palmer Station as seen from a nearby glacier. Flags mark a trail from the Station to the top of the glacier so hikers can avoid dangerous crevasses.

I’ve been back in the northern hemisphere for almost a month now and my trip to Antarctica is beginning to seem like a distant memory among the holiday bustle. It’s good to be back in Rockland and settling into our off-island season – applying for grants, analyzing data collected during the 2015 field season, and prepping for implementing monitoring projects on Hurricane next year. Before it became too distant of a memory, I wanted to take time to reflect on the month-long expedition to the southern hemisphere with the Waller Lab.

Overall, the trip was an incredible experience. I traveled to a part of the world I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see, learned new field techniques, worked at a much larger scale than I normally do (i.e., I typically dive off of 40’ lobster boats compared to using trawling equipment off of a 230’ research vessel!), and met some amazing people.

I came away with a much deeper respect for those who do fieldwork in the hard to reach places on our planet. Successfully carrying out fieldwork in the Southern Ocean requires careful planning and a large, competent team for logistical support. I am still amazed at the sheer volume of supplies and equipment that Jay and Maggie had to make sure were shipped down south in time for our cruise. The logistics don’t stop there because once they wrap up collecting the samples from the experiment, those samples will need to be packaged, kept at a specific temperature and shipped back to Maine.

The trip reinforced a mantra I live by – fieldwork is unpredictable and you need to be ready to roll with the punches and develop contingency plans! Fortunately, we collected all of our adult samples in a single trawl which is atypical, but we ran into issues with how to keep the adult coral alive and well until we reached Palmer Station.  This meant we couldn’t use all of the collected individuals and had to adjust how we stored the adults while in transit from the collection site to the station. I’m sure Jay and Maggie have had to make additional adjustments as the experiment continues…  

Finally, I renewed my awe for the diversity of habitat types and ecological communities the planet supports. The Southern Ocean and Antarctica often seem like vast, desolate environments; however, a wide variety of life exists from the smallest phytoplankton to the large marine mammals and everything in between if you have the equipment and training to find all of it.

A gorgeous sunset from Palmer Station.  The Gould is seen in the background just over the Station roof.

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