Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Hi Sea Fans!

Antarctica is so cold and now looking at some of my photos I feel that chill all over again (I checked and Rothera is -9.3 degrees celcius today!!)...even though I'm sitting next to a fire!

Wow, it seems like forever since I was sitting in that plane going so far south for the first time.
Quite different to an SAA/BA/Emirates/KLM...etc flight!
Rothera station is the BAS's (British Antarctic Survey) largest Antarctic science facility. Researchers study the survival and adaptation (changing to be better suited to the environment) of plants and animals in the sea and on land.  Antarctica is a huge, frozen wilderness that pushes the men and women who work there to their limits (I was obviously unaware of how harsh and cold it was going to be...a bit like when I went up to Alaska!), but understanding this environment is so important for understanding the way our world works.  

My first Antarctic animals - penguins!  Please note the shorts and t-shirt...MAD!!
After a while, some of the girls thought I was a bit mad to just be wearing shorts and T-shirt (rightly so!), so I got a handmade pair of thermal overalls like the rest of the crew - thanks Sabrina! Anyway, back to why I was there...

The long-term monitoring programme involves regular measurement of sea temperature, water chlorophyll contents (the green stuff), major nutrients, ice cover and thickness, sedimentation (materials being deposited on the seabed), and the activities of a number of benthic invertebrates (animals that don't have a backbone that live on the bottom).  I got to meet the base's marine biologist and the marine assistant.
Bel, the marine biologist on base.
Part of the marine assistant's job is to collect samples for the long term monitoring program BAS has been running for 15 years, throughout winter and summer. 
Helping Sabrina, the marine assistant, take water samples.
 This is how Sabrina explains what she does and why: 
"The ocean is a big ecosystem, so everything is connected. In the summer, when the sun shines a lot, all the little plankton (which are little plants called phytoplankton and little animals in the water column called zooplankton) grows and reproduces. We take weekly water samples and filter the water through 4 different mesh sizes (biggest first and than smaller and smaller). 
That means that we know how much of each size of phytoplankton is in the water. Bigger things feed on the plankton which are also eaten by even bigger animals like humpback whales or seals, which we frequently see in the bay during the summer. 
In the winter, most of the light goes away and we even have a couple of weeks without the sun at all. This means that the phytoplankton doesn't have any light for photosynthesis (when sunlight is used to make food - the same thing plants and trees do on land). So they are just waiting in the water column for the next summer. 

We do not have sea ice in the bay every year in the winter so sometimes, when there is no ice, the wind mixes the water up a lot which means that all the plankton is stirred up. 
I was there for the first bit of Antarctic ice!
We have found that when the water was not protected by sea ice and all the plankton is stirred up that the next summer the phytoplankton is not ready to grow and reproduce which again means that there is not as much food for all the bigger animals. This can potentially get worse with global warming (when everything gets warmer and there is less protection for the plankton over the winter, they will not be in the right spot to grow and reproduce).

We also look at some nutrient levels in the water (ammonia). All the other water samples are put into bottles and sent back to the UK where different places analyse them. They look at things like:
 * isotopes (so that they can find out whether the meltwater comes from glaciers or snowfall), 
 * carbon dioxide  levels in the water (the ocean and especially the ocean around Antarctica is       a big carbon sink, which means that it takes the carbon dioxide produced by things like cars       and factories out of the air), 
 * other nutrients, HPLC, viruses, Barium and dissolved organic carbon".  
I didn't feel so good on the boat all the time...sea sickness is BAD!

Sitting up front made me feel a lot better, I even got a chance to drive the boat!

The front of the boat was where I stayed every boat trip after that experience of sea sickness!
I think that's it from me for today...so much to tell you still but I'll leave it for another day.  Thanks again to Becs, Sabrina and Bel for showing me what you do!

Have a great week Sea Fans.
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