1 February, 1998
Happy February from Antarctica! When I woke up this morning, the night crew said I missed one heck of a storm! I guess it snowed and the wind blew so much that you couldn't see anything in front of the ship. They said the seas had waves high enough to crash on the back deck (where we normally put out all the gear) and that they could see the waves out the dry lab portholes (where we normally work). They also said that the boat rocked back and forth A LOT! I must have been sound asleep, because I never noticed! Several people said they rocked enough in their beds that they woke up. Needless to say, the boat slows down considerably in situations like that, and we don't deploy any equipment when it isn't safe out back. By the time I woke up, things had calmed back down and the sun was trying to peek through the clouds.
I saw a new bird today! An Emperor penguin! I wouldn't have known it was out there, but I received a telephone call to look out the starboard (right side of the ship) portholes. He definitely was taller than the Adelies that we have been seeing, but he was too far away to notice the characteristic yellow color under the chin. I hope to see another one when I have my binoculars handy!
Speaking of wildlife, yesterday's question was: "What types of wildlife would you expect to find in the interior of the continent?" There are no land vertebrates in Antarctica. Even the penguins, seals, and birds that are found around the coast are technically considered marine animals because they depend on the sea for their food. There are, however, a few living organisms that can be found on the continent. Antarctica has at least 200 species of lichens, over 100 species of mosses and liverworts, more than 30 species of macrofungi, 2 species of flowering plants, and many species of algae. The largest of these plants are found around the Antarctic Peninsula -- some banks of moss are over a meter deep. Both types of flowering plants are very small and they are restricted to the islands to the west and north of the Antarctic Peninsula. One of the most unusual plant habitats can be found in Victoria Land, where some plants live within large-grained sandstone rocks . . . actually growing between the sand grains!
The largest native land invertebrate on the Antarctic continent is a tiny, wingless midge about 1/4 of an inch long. There are also several other types of insects that can be found, which include springtails and tiny mites. Most Antarctic insects live under rocks and stones in the soil and among lichens. Springtails are especially common around penguin colonies. They are black and shiny, and they jump around. No insects in Antarctica have wings, but they all do have a special "anti-freeze" in their cells that is a lot like the liquid that we put in our car radiators for the winter. In Antarctica, there are very few different species of insect. However, in some areas there may be millions of insects per square yard!
Of course, there are lots of birds around the coast of Antarctica and over the Southern Ocean. Many varieties of albatross and petrel can be found; along with shearwaters, gulls, terns, and skuas (to name a few). The South Polar skua is one of the few species that actually breeds on the Antarctic continent. It also has the distinction of being the world's most southerly bird -- at least two have turned up at the South Pole! These birds are known to fly very far from home. Some South Polar skuas have been flown all the way up into the Northern Hemisphere. South Polar skuas are predatory birds that often prey upon penguins and other colonial seabirds but also feed at sea on Antarctic krill. (What other types of critters, besides krill, can be found in the waters surrounding Antarctica?)
Thanks for all your email. I hope you're enjoying these journals as much as I enjoy writing them. Look for more pictures sometime early this week!
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