Icy Inverts Cruise 2013 - Shipboard Blog - Nov 22nd to Nov 25th


25 Nov 2013 - Heading South (60° 23’ S 63° 41.4’ W)

As we are heading South, being outside watching the sea is the best way to get adjusted to the movement of the ship. And there is a lot to see, too. The farther we move from the land, the less familiar the birds may seem. Although the overall species diversity stays high, many bird families that we are used to seeing around the coast become less common until they disappear completely. Out on the ocean there are few or no cormorants, gulls and only rarely terns, but many different species of Procellariidae or tubenoses (see above image), which owe their name to an excretion system for salt that can be seen as a tubular structure on top of their bills. The morphological diversity is astounding as is their style of flying. From the minute diving petrels with their whirring wing beats to the largest flying bird to date, the Wandering Albatross, who can be seen soaring for hours without ever flapping their enormous wings (> 3 m) once - it is hard to deny the evolutionary flexibility of the common ancestor to all these (see below image).


A school of dolphins is racing towards the ship to meet us (see below image). Although they started out far behind us and the ship was running at its maximum speed of over 10 knots it took them only some minutes to catch up and spend some time riding our bow wave. Amazing what a couple of million years of evolution can do to make an organism really good at doing something, in this case swimming fast. We had almost 5000 horse power working for us and were burning lots of fossil fuel instead of having to continuously restock our energy reserves from the environment - and still got beaten hands down by the dolphins in a sprint. Although anthropomorphizing is rarely a good thing to do if you are a scientist, I could not help but think the dolphins finally went on their way feeling rather pleased with themselves and the outcome of the race.

Contributed by: Dr. Christoph Held, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany




24 Nov 2013 – Somewhere in the Drake Passage


We are finally in the Drake Passage and the ship is rolling a lot more. Everyone seems to be holding up well. A few are feeling a little queasy but nothing severe. We must be turning into true sailors, since some of the people who were pretty ill on our last trip are doing quite well this time around.

We are still about 2 days from our stop at Palmer Station to offload some personnel and equipment. Then we will begin our sampling. We have divided up our 14 researchers into 2 shifts of 7 so we can operate 24/7. We will work 12 to 12 and some people are starting to adjust their sleep schedules now in order to ease the transition when we start.

One of our sampling techniques involves a Yo-Yo Camera (see above image). It is a large square cage made of stainless steel tubing which holds a water and pressure proof camera housing. The unit is winched over the side of the ship and lowered to the sea floor. As it approaches the bottom, there is a weight on a cable that dangles beneath the cage that triggers the camera and flashes when the weight contacts the floor. The cage is then lifted up a little and as the ship moves forward slowly, the cage is lowered again, triggering another picture. Just think of it’s namesake, the yo-yo. We bounce it up and down along a 1 kilometer straight line called a transect, recording 120-300 images.

I’m working on a project that utilizes the high-resolution images (like the image below) to quantify the community structure in the areas we are sampling. What that means is that I try and quantify all of the organisms in the image sets to get a picture of what animals are down there, how many there are, and how they are associated with each other. Our main sampling is a Blake trawl, which brings all the animals up together in a large net. Trawls collect many specimens for us to do the molecular ecology, evolutionary genetics, and population genetics work of our various labs but they can’t give us a clear picture (sorry for the pun) of how the animals live their lives on the seabed.

Hello to my entire family. Thanks for all your support.  A special hello to my nephew Anthony. Maybe his teacher this year will believe him when he says his uncle is in Antarctica.

Contributed by: David Branson, Graduate Researcher, Auburn University




23 Nov 2013 - Off the Coast of Argentina

We’ve finally embarked for Antarctica! We had a few hiccups regarding supplied that put us behind by quite a bit, but now we’re on the way (see above image). Next stop, Palmer Station! It’s a four-day journey across the Drake and it is already proving to be full of surprises. Last night, just after embarking, a pod of dolphins were sighted. Today, members of our group saw Magellanic penguins (see below image), Minke whales, and plenty of large seabirds including albatross. We were even able to spot some ctenophores (comb jellies), which are abundant in these waters.

I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this expedition. Since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed being on the water. My parents liked scuba diving and boating and they instilled that love of the water in me. I would’ve never guessed that I would be on a boat this size heading for one of the most remote locations in the world. Depending upon the ice, we might even be visiting locations that no other person has been before. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I intend to make the most of it.

Special shout out to all of Mrs. Plunkett’s classes. I hope y’all are having fun following along with our adventure.

Contributed by: Damian Waits, Graduate Researcher, Auburn University




22 Nov 2013 - Preparing to leave Punta Arenas, Chile

It is an honor to once again be a representative researcher from Auburn University on our current expedition to Antarctica.  While many of us (see above image) have been to the Southern Ocean before, some members of our group are on their first trip.  There is a ubiquitous feeling of excitement throughout the group to get underway.  While the city of Punta Arenas, Chile is quite beautiful, we now have the ship set up with our equipment and are ready to embark on our expedition.  In just a few hours we will be sailing down the Straights of Magellan, down the east coast of Argentina and then across the rough seas of the Drake Passage, ultimately reaching the Southern Ocean.  While the waters off Antarctica are quite beautiful, filled with charismatic megafauna (penguins, seals and whales), the rich invertebrate benthic biodiversity is truly the source of our excitement and the reason why we have traveled such large distances.

Our team is comprised of researchers (see below image) from multiple universities from all over the world with diverse research interests and specialties.  As a Ph.D. student, the samples that we will collect are imperative to my dissertation research.  However, due to the nature of collecting in Antarctica, my goals must be flexible.  While we all have specific organisms that we wish to collect (ophiuroids, also known as brittle stars, in my case), we need to be opportunistic in our research because there are no guarantees on what we will obtain or what new research opportunities may arise.  In many areas of the Southern Ocean, ophiuroids comprise a large percentage, or even majority, of the biomass in the area.  With ophiuroids comprising such a large component of the benthic ecosystem, our understanding of them is imperative, especially in understanding the impact of global warming on the benthic ecosystem.  For these reasons, my dissertation is focused on the phylogenetics and phylogeography of ophiuroids, starting with one of the more abundant species, Ophionotus victoriae.  While some of us will have to shift our focus to a new species due to insufficient collection of the target organism or opportunistically switch due to the abundant collections of a similar species, we can only speculate on what will happen during this expedition and for that reason, we are all brimming with excitement.

Contributed by: Matt Galaska, Ph.D. Student, Auburn University

Added note – Our departure has been delayed seven hours, but because we are waiting on essential supplies for Palmer Station to arrive via airplane. The late arrival of these items are lingering effects of the Government Shutdown and delays in supply lines.


Last updated: 11/25/2013