- Written by Kevin Scriber
Since my last entry, the UAB Antarctic research group has done much. Though lately there has been less diving and more work in the laboratory. The typical day involves about twelve hours from start to finish, sometimes more. We wake up and have our daily meeting at 8 AM. We speak about what we plan to do that day, and we’re off. The other graduate students and I have been working diligently to keep up with Chuck and Maggie.
In the laboratory, fellow graduate students Julie, Kate and I have been using a flourometer, a device used in florescence spectroscopy, to measure and record the pH of water samples. We also have been conducting titrations to measure and record the total alkalinity of water samples. I collect saltwater samples from the pump house next to the Bio building, every morning and evening. I keep a record of the variable pH and daily fluctuations in total alkalinity. I catalogue the measurements into a database to be used in the ongoing ocean acidification research. Sometimes, I encounter wildlife such as elephant seals and fur seals while making my two daily collections, they usually don’t mind. They just give you a funny look or strange sound to let you know they’re there.
In the aquarium, Maggie has gotten me well acquainted with the different species of amphipods, as well other invertebrates, the group has been collecting. We sort through mounds if algae searching out and enumerating amphipods for use in the experiment. Maggie will later personally introduce you to the two amphipods in particualr we will use.
The divers collected many long, skinny armed brittle stars, relative of the more common sea star for a colleague. See my photograph of them to the left. I helped Chuck take tissue samples from several hundred brittles. Brittle stars are able to regrow that lost tissue 'donated' to science. All were happy to be returned to their home in the harbor. Their experience at Palmer may not have been too happy.
Yesterday Julie and I photographed some large brown algae the divers retrieved from the depths. There is always something to do. I suppose one could say the group has gotten into a routine; if there is anything routine living and working in Antarctica.
The weather had us off the water for several days in a row due to high winds. When I do get the chance to be out on the water, while dive tending, I have encountered some fantastic wildlife. Great humpback whales breach within view, thrusting their humungous body from and crashing back into the cold Antarctic water. Fur and crabeater seals lay asleep on a chunk of ice as we ride by. They move gracefully, manipulating their immense frame to cruise the waterways and inlets. The crabeater in the photo here is stretching and yawning awake.
The leopard seal is the sight to see. Literally, I am always looking for them for the diver’s sake. When the ice packs in, you can see several leopard seals asleep on the ice. In the water they seem both a dream and nightmare. They are a magnificent sight up close. They seem intelligent and have an inquisitive nature, but they are known to be aggressive at times. Setting eyes upon such uncanny creatures is a gift and excellent opportunity to learn.
These encounters elucidate the frailty of people in this savage landscape of ice, water, and stone. That epiphany, for me, breeds profound respect. Knowing one is out-matched by these animals, and never intended for this arena or element, is a strange realization. Studying here is an adventure every day, filled with wonderful surprises around every corner.