28 January, 1998
Today we left Palmer Station shortly after noon. It didn't take long for us to reach the first test site. It took a bit longer than normal to run all the tests because all the scientists were adapting their equipment and techniques to this parcticular ship. They also had to adjust to working around other scientists who had their own jobs to do.
This cruise is one of many in a long series of cruises called the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program. It was founded because it was recognized that some ecological phenomena occur on time scales of decades or centuries and that investigation on these time scales are not routinely supported by funding agencies. The LTER Network, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has grown to include 18 sites in various ecosystems. All sites are required to research in the following five core areas:
* pattern and control of primary production (photosynthetic organisms) * distribution of populations representing trophic (feeding) structures * pattern and control of organic matter accumulation
* pattern of inorganic inputs and movements of nutrients
* pattern and frequency of disturbance to the research site
The Palmer LTER focuses on the pelagic (open ocean) marine ecosystem in Antarctica and the ecological processes involved with the annual changes in pack ice on the different trophic levels. This time, the different things being studied are: phytoplankton (photosynthetic organisms that basically float in the water column); krill (the small shrimp-like crustaceans that are the main food staple for penguins and filter-feeding whales); population studies of apex (top) predatory seabirds and marine mammals; bio-optics (which measures how light is affected by the matter in the ocean water); and microbiology and carbon flux (the amount of Carbon moving in and out of a body of water).
I will be focusing on each of these studies and the scientists involved throughout the cruise.
Personally, today I learned how to take, fix, and run oxygen samples. Oxygen, as you know, is a gas. The amount of it in a sample of water is influenced greatly by temperature. The samples we are taking are from a variety of depths. (See the explanation of how niskin bottles work in my July journals from Hawai'i) It is very important to immediately "fix" or trap the oxygen chemically before it has a chance to be affected by the air temperature and surface oxygen. Once the sample has been fixed and tightly sealed, it can be analyzed later. That will be one of my jobs, also.
We've passed a great number of icebergs as we've gone down the peninsula area. Those who have been here before say it is an unusually large number. It is hard to describe how huge and beautiful these floating chunks of ice are. How do icebergs form? Some of the shapes are like castles, with sharp points jutting into the air like spires on a castle. Others look like a flat little island. Some look like huge white boxes -- almost perfectly square, while sometimes that box extends upward so that a huge column of ice rises from the water. Those tall rectangular ones look like a white office building floating by. I was surprised at how truly blue some of the icebergs were. I guess I always thought that the color was from a reflection in the sky or sea. Not so. They are often a very deep blue because of the compaction of the ice crystals. The air gets squeezed out so that it refracts/reflects light like clear water = blue! Often times there are little riders on the icebergs. What would some of them be?
I need to go now. The oxygen samples we took at the last site need to be analyzed.
Oh yes. A group of penguins moving through the water is called a "flight" or "squadron." A group on land is called a "mob." All terms are very fitting, having witnessed them in both areas. I personally like squadron, but I suppose if they were trying to avoid a seal, flight would be more appropriate.
Warm regards (even if the hands no longer are warm!),
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