1 January, 2000
Hey, its a new millenium and we're all still here !
I have started to settle into daily life here at McMurdo. It is a little strange never having the finality of darkness at the end of the day. One day just blends into the next. Yesterday I was hiking around until after 11 pm. It was nice hiking then because earlier in the day it was overcast; by 10 pm the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the surrounding sea ice and glaciers. Good thing I had my sunglasses and sunscreen for a midnight hike !
Today I saw my first penguins. They were the little Adelies which are the focus of our project. They just walked in over the sea ice which still covers the bay. They had to walk several miles, and for no apparent reason. Perhaps they came to watch humans with cameras. After walking here, they just lay around on the ice all day and sun bathe, totally oblivious to people.
The facilities here are amazing. The science labs are extensive and everything is state of the art. I have total access to new computers and the government network. We have an office and a lab. I have been working with one of the PI's (principle investigators) of the Adelie project . Her name is Lisa Ballance. She is an expert on using a method called doubly labeled water (DLW). We inject some of the penguins with this special water that is made up of oxygen 18 isotopes and hydrogen 2 (deuterium) isotopes. When the bird goes out to forage for food, its metabolism uses this water for respiration. The amount of the DLW that is used is proportional to the bird's CO2 production and therefore, the amount of energy used on an excursion.
Using this technique, we can measure the energy expenditure necessary for the penguin to go get food for its young. This is important
when trying to understand what factors regulate the population of a penguin colony. If it takes too much energy for the penguins to go out and get food, they will have nothing left to feed the chicks,
causing the nest to fail. On a large scale, the whole colony could fail if nearby food is limited. The variable which affects the availability of food is the amount of ice nearby. Penguin food species are hard to come by in open water, so if all the ice melts at the wrong time, parents have to travel much farther for food. This commute distance is not good if you have a hungry nest of little penguins!
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