17 Jan 2013: Nearing the Amundsen Sea (71°45.1`S, 102°08.2`W)
Yesterday we sampled one last spot as we headed out the Bellingshausen Sea and started our transit towards the Amundsen Sea. Even though the Blake trawl did not seem to have very much in the nets when it surfaced, we had plenty of organisms to sort through. One abundant organism during this trawl was the sea pig – an odd sea cumber (above picture). Given that we obtained two buckets full of this unique creature, and the fact we all are lacking sleep, some of us decided to make a sea pig train across one of the lab tables. And so the craziness begins……
My main position on this excursion has been to assist with the collection and processing of the organisms, especially helping Ashley with her samples. However, I have been fortunate to use an extra piece of equipment on board, the Mega-Core, for my own side project examining meiofauna community composition with Bellingshausen, Amundsen, and Ross Seas. The Mega-Corer (below picture), has a metal frame and contains a series of 12 core tubes that when deployed collect sediment samples that remain intact with its original stratification. This is different than using a mud grab where the sediment can, and tends to, get mixed. By having an intact depth profile of the sediment, I am able to sample down the same depth at several sample locations, as well as separate the sediment cores into different depth classifications. This is very useful to compare organism community compositions from different locations, as well as differences in depths.
Meiofauna are microscopic (approximately 0.045 -0.100mm in size) invertebrate organisms that live between grains of sediments (below picture). These organisms play key ecological roles in their communities; however, due to their small size, many times these organisms are overlooked. Currently not much known about the meiofaunal communities in Antarctica. By sampling at multiple stations within one sea, as well as three separate seas along our journey, I will be able to begin to describe the community composition of these ecological important organisms. At each station, the top 5cm of sediment (where most of these organisms live) is sampled and immediately frozen in the -80°C. Once we return, samples will be processed utilizing metagenomic approaches that allow use to use DNA to determine which types of organisms are present. I am excited to have the opportunity to explore the Antarctic meiofaunal community and cannot wait to return to Auburn University to process the samples.
Well, we are almost to our first location within the Amundsen Sea. More to come later……
Contributed by: Dr. Pamela Brannock, Postdoctoral Fellow, Auburn University
16 Jan 2013: Western Bellingshausen Sea (71o 41.9`S, 93o 34.2`W)
So much is happening right now that I barely have time to keep up with the blog! Thus, I will be brief. The last few days have involved my first experiences ever working scientifically in the field (outside of my classes, that is), and I am learning new things every day.
I am working the twelve hour 4PM - 4AM shift, so I am exhausted, and trying desperately to reset my clock. I am a morning person; I typically do not sleep in past 9:30AM, and so staying up all night long while trying to remain focused and efficient was a definite challenge. However, it is worth it for the exhilaration I feel every time we find a new organism or run a new trawl. In the last two days, I have also helped to process (like in above picture) a Blake trawl, an otter trawl, and several plankton tows. I have also been able to help out with Pamela’s mega-corer, which takes samples from the benthos (ocean bottom). She will be examining these samples from various sites in the Antarctic for differences in meiofauna, which are tiny animals living in the mud.
My favorite finds so far included one of Cristoph’s study organisms, an anarcturan, which is a suspension feeding crustacean that tends to perch precariously on other organisms, its arms upraised as it catches plankton from the water column and then eats it by swiping its arm across its mouth. In pictures, it always looks poised and ready, like a tiny water ninja.
Another favorite were the Ctenophores that I spotted underneath the microscope, from the plankton trawl. They have rows upon rows of tiny hair-like extensions called cilia, which help them move through the water. The Ctenophores’ cilia are biorefringent and glow in a myriad of rainbow colors, and I found it breathtakingly beautiful.
Last night, however, revealed something even better, as our otter trawl pulled up a Dumbo octopus. Its skin was dark purple, and it had floppy ear-like flaps on either side of its head…the same appendages that triggered scientists to name it after the big-eared Disney elephant. It is a deep sea octopus, so its skin was so soft, with so little bone structure that I almost could not tell that I was touching it. Being able to handle a deep sea creature, let alone something as cool and as intelligent as an octopus, has definitely been awarded a spot on my top ten experiences for this trip so far.
My shift is starting and the weather is beautiful (below picture), so until next time, continue to dream of adventure!
Contributed by: Abigail Hollingsworth, Undergraduate Student, Central Michigan University
15 Jan 2013: Bellingshausen Sea (71o 42.3`S, 91o 42.7`W)
Hello from the Bellingshausen Sea! The last few days have been very busy and full of exciting science. Since starting sampling on Monday, we’ve had 4 trawls, 3 plankton tows (above picture), we’ve dropped and retrieved nets with bait for crustaceans (below picture), used the mega-core twice, and used an undersea camera called the "yo-yo cam" two times. Phew! Hard to believe it’s only Wednesday! Everyone has been excited to get down to the real reason we are here – studying and collecting the marine invertebrate animals in these remote seas.
My job has been to maintain “The Book” – the master list of every type of organism we find in each of the trawls. Each team has a bookkeeper, and this person helps direct the rest of the team with how each animal is to be preserved and labeled. It’s an exciting and fun job, because I get to see each and every animal that comes out of the dredge before it is photographed and preserved. However, it can be a bit stressful - you have to be very organized and remember lots of names and numbers at the same time. Each type of animal also has special requirements for how it is best preserved for different uses when we get them back to the lab, so we have to keep track of that, too. There’s a lot to do and a lot to remember, but I love every minute of it.
We’ve seen some incredible animals that I’ve never seen alive before, including beautiful soft corals with huge red polyps, sea spiders with strange hairy legs, crinoids (relatives of sea stars) with bright purple arms, and amphipod crustaceans with crazy armored exoskeletons. One of my favorites has been the alien-looking, gelatinous bentho-pelagic sea cucumbers, with weird modified bodies allowing them to crawl along the sea floor or swim up into the water column, totally unlike “normal” sea cucumbers. Since we’ve reached the Bellingshausen, the seas around us have been calm and quiet, and the water has been almost like glass. It’s hard to believe that there’s such an amazing and colorful world in the icy water below. As we sort through each sample (below picture), I can’t wait to see what we find next!
Contributed by: Joie Cannon, Ph.D. Candidate, Auburn University
14 Jan 2012: Approaching the Bellingshausen Sea (69o 46.3`S 92o 27.9`W)
It has started! The namesake of Peter I (a.k.a. Peter the Great) of Russia is an ice covered volcanic island that juts out from the deep cold Southern Ocean about 280 miles from Antarctica. The day was calm but cloud-covered and hazy; the island was visible but disappearing into the mist above a few hundred feet. It was here that we started sampling for the marine invertebrates we were hoping to find.
Once we got on “station”, we started with a plankton tow. I had noticed earlier in the day that the water had changed from the cold cobalt clear blue to a darker grey-greenish color. The plankton sample told us why. When we retrieved the net the first words that came to mind were “pea soup”! Yes, pea soup. From my earlier expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula with Rudi Scheltema (of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), I remembered well this color. Sure enough, when we looked under the scope the sample was filled with radiolarians and cyanobacteria, or plant-like plankton. The trial with such a sample is wading through all the pea soup to find the few prized larvae of invertebrate organisms. We did find a few, a larval ribbon worm (or pilidium) and larvae of segmented worms.
Next, we under took a “Blake trawl” (above picture), to sample organisms on the bottom. In an ideal situation, this gear is used on a flat bottom with hard mud with few rocks, but scientists often find creative ways to challenge themselves. This little volcanic island rises from the seabed over 4000 meters deep to 1640 meters (5380 ft) above sea level. On a bathyographic map of the region, it literally looks like a needle poking up from the depths. Here we sat, less than 2 miles off shore and still in 3000 meters of water. The bottom was decided NOT flat. So we carefully picked out the line to trawl on and did very well until we started to pull the net up. Then we got hooked. The tension on the wire pulling the trawl suddenly shot from the expected values of 1000-2000 lbs. to over 9000 lbs. What followed turned a 90-minute trawl into a 2-hour tug-o-war. Fortunately for us science types, the marine technicians, winch operators, and Mates on the ship are all seasoned veterans. Their first priority is safety and so the back deck was cleared incase the wire broke. After that, they began what could best be summed up as a dance between the R/V Palmer and a large rock on the bottom 630 meters down. The ship spins toward port. The rock pulls the ship back towards her. We dip again counterclockwise. Same result. We give the rock a lot of line and spin to the right. She is still holding tight. One more try to the right putting us at 180 degrees to our original course…..she lost her grip….we are free!
Twenty minutes later, the net is surfacing with about 500 lbs of mud and we get ready to get to work. Sieving through the mud (below picture) was a welcome chore after so many days of transit. The task is akin to one of those “pan-for-gold” or “find-the-dinosaur-bones” attractions at an amusement park where park staff have buried treasures in a sand box for the kids to find. Matt would shovel a pile of mud on to sieving screens, while Kevin, Cheps and Abby rinsed it off. Common phrases that can be heard during sieving include:
“What is that?”
“Stop spraying water!”…”Stop!”
“Oh COOL!”…”I have not seen one of those before.”
At the end of the day – no, that is not right – by early in the morning, we had finished the sample. We got soft corals, a seastar, segmented worms, some amazing shrimp and isopods. However, the big surprise was burrowing sea anemones because they are so unlike the anemones most are used to looking at. All in all, it was a good start.
Contributed by: Dr. Ken Halanych, Chief Scientist, Schneller Endowed Chair, Auburn University