Thursday, July 10, 2008
Why am I here when it's so damn cold!
Lat - 52' 41S
Long - 70' 11W
Area - Straits of Magellan
Air Temperature - -11.6C
Well, we're really off, and it's cold! Really cold. I'm a little disturbed actually. All the times down here i've never been in the "dead of winter", it's always been on the edge of the season, and although i've got cold and have had cold spells, i can never really say that i've been REALLY cold. I think it may happen this time. The Gould came in yesterday and I spoke to some folks on that ship, they said there was lots of snow around the Peninsula and it was cold. Brrrrr.
So it's really cold, what am I doing here and where are we going? Well, i'm on the US Antarctic Program ship the Nathaniel B Palmer, we just left Punta Arenas, Chile and are on our way to the Western Antarctic Peninsula (the pointy peninsula that sticks out towards Chile). We'll be at sea for the next 28 days sampling animals (and in my case cold-water corals) from 5 sites from the top of the peninsula (on the Western side), down as far as Marguerite Bay. We picked these five sites when I was here in February (check out those blog pages for more info), and the idea is to revisit them now, when the water is colder (instead of a balmy 2C, it's now going to be -0.5C) and some of the sites will be covered in ice.
We're going to be looking and collecting deep-water animals, not really deep like my last cruise here, but in around 300-500m of water, so still pretty down there. We're looking at how the benthic animals (those that live on the seafloor, so not fish or things that swim a lot) deal with the winter months, when there can be no food raining down from above (the main food source down there is phytoplankton that bloomed in the surface waters, then died and fell to the seafloor in large masses, literally covering the surface with a layer of yummy goop) and it's a lot colder. We'll be collecting animals and mud round the clock from these five sites. Looking at how these animals deal with changing environments will give us ideas on how many of these animals will deal with global climate change, something that is really happening fast to change the environment for good here in the Antarctic.
From my end i'm interested in the corals that live down here. This is a pretty exciting cruise for me, as i've never seen or collected these animals from the winter, and it'll be good to see what is happening with their reproduction and the larvae they produce. My theory from the animals i've had has been that they reproduce year round, producing brooded babies that climb out of the coral mouths and settle pretty close by - but i've never had winter samples to ground-truth that with, so this is an important set of samples i'll be getting. I'll also be again trying to grow up some babies to make skeletons and see those final stages again, thats always fun and there is always more to learn about their behaviour. I'll also be subjecting these poor babies to a variety of environmental changes like temperature, to see what happens and what conditions they like and what conditions they don't.
It's important to sample seasonally in these places, i often have people say "well you've already been there twice this year, why do you need to go again??". There was an analogy I heard a few years ago that I love to explain this point. Imagine if we were space aliens looking down at the earth, and to try and understand what was happening in North America, we sent down a camera or a bucket to sample with and we saw and we pulled up some trees. These trees had no leaves (it's winter when we went), there were just branches. So if we never visited the earth again, and never saw the spring, summer or fall, we would think that trees didn't have leaves ever. Well it's the same down below the ocean, there are seasons and things change, and in many locations around the globe, we are really just touching the surface of what happens at different times of year at depths greater than a few tens of meters. So thats why i'm here again, and thats why i'm excited about this cruise.