The 2nd of January I stepped onto the RV Lawrence M Gould for the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) cruise. It was hard to leave Palmer Station behind but the cruise promised further adventure down the peninsula. The science that we do on the LTER cruise is similar to the science we do here at station, but the cruise is a sprint rather than a marathon. While we go out in the zodiac twice a week to collect samples here on station, we collect samples and deploy senors on the boat two maybe three times each day for about a month. On the Gould we have seabird researchers, a whale researcher, zooplankton scientists, bacteria scientists and of coarse us, the phytoplankton scientists. Together we can combine our science to get a better understanding of how the ecosystem on the West Antarctic Peninsula is changing, and how ecosystems further South might also change. While the study on station allows us to look at one spot over a long period of time, the cruise allows us to also study changes from North to South and inshore to offshore.
If you have been following our blog, below you can read more about how we sent a Slocum Glider (RU26d autonomous underwater vehicle) from Palmer Station to the British base Rothera. On the LTER cruise we got to go retrieve our glider at Rothera, and play our annual soccer match against the British on their air strip. Last year we won for the first time in since we’ve been playing. This year we were not as lucky, they trained hard and beat us 5-0, however it is still fun to be off the ship and get some exercise.
When we reached Avian island the seabird researchers Jen and Kristen (nicknamed the birders) made a camp and lived on Avian for 5 days while we continued to sample the seawater in the area. Avian Island is the home of a flourishing Adelie penguin colony and several elephant seals. On Avian the birders counted the penguins and seals and did diet sampling on the penguins to see how well they are eating.
During the cruise all of us were keeping an eye out on the bridge for whales for Ari, the whale researcher. He was able to biopsy 30 whales and satellite tag about 6 humpback whales. The satellite tags allow him to see where the whales are moving, and the biopsies allow him to sex and age the animal. We were able to see several Humpbacks, Minkie Whales, and even Orcas! A few of us even had the pleasure of assisting Ari out on the zodiac, including our undergraduate Amelia. Ari also kept track of the seals he saw, which lead us to find a Ross seal (rare to see) during the southernmost part of our survey near Charcot Island. We were not able to make it all the way to Charcot this year because of the sea ice, but the cruise was both eventful and a success. Yesterday we even had enough time to take a vacation in Neko Bay to officially step foot on the continent. Neko is a popular tourist attraction for its Gentoo penguin colony and its great sledding hill. Sadly I’ll be leaving Palmer tomorrow to head North, but Travis and his girlfriend Katie will be here to carry on our research until late March.