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Working today, in the laboratory, I came to realize that my time here, in Antarctica, grows short. I have only been here a month; now I have two weeks before departing back to Birmingham, Alabama. The time passed in the blink of an eye. I'm sure the other graduate students will feel the same, when June rolls around.

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Light is a pretty essential source of energy that most people don’t often think about until seasons change. At Palmer Station we have long days with high light levels when we begin our field season (late summer) and the sun goes down after 10 PM. Because of this we were lucky enough to see the green flash two nights in a row this year after work while the ARSV Laurence M. Gould was still here. Now the night is coming faster, and fall is quickly settling in. Near the end of our field season in June, day length will be about four hours of daylight much of which is not direct sunlight.

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Recently I began watching the new Star Wars trilogy and there are many references to bacterial communities (metachlorian counts) in Jedis and Sith lords because they are the source of the ‘force’. This got me thinking… bacterial communities are incredibly common in the marine environment on rocks and algae, on animals, and in the water column. This is a really cool aspect of the marine environment that has become a popular area of research in marine ecology since quorum sensing was discovered. Quorum sensing is the name of a method of communication in bacterial communities where certain signaling molecules (peptides or sugars) coordinate decentralized communities in making ‘group decisions’.

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My former doctoral student, Marc Slattery, now a Professor at Ole Miss, could not believe his eyes. The giant tree-like soft coral, Gersemia antarctica, seen on the time-lapse video he had just recovered, had laid its trunk down against the substrate and rolled its polyp-laden branches in a complete circle! As thousands of tiny feeding polyps (tentacled projections) encountered the nutrient-rich muck, they engulfed organic particles, small plant-like diatoms, and tiny invertebrates. Like sheep grazing in a field, once the foraging circle was completed it was time to move on to greener pastures. The soft coral stood back up and moved across the seafloor by contracting the bulbous root-like base of its trunk. When it had moved to a new region of the seafloor, it laid itself back down, and commenced feeding again.

JimJulieSettingUp OA
With an increasing focus on a burgeoning list of extreme weather events, elevated temperatures, and rising sea levels, ocean acidification or “the other CO2 problem”, just doesn’t get its due respect. As a marine biologist I find this puzzling. After all, most everyone enjoys the fruits of the sea: mouth-watering shrimp, crabs, lobsters, clams, and oysters. And who doesn’t thrill in donning a snorkel and mask and finning themselves over a coral reef bristling with life. Yet all over the globe these treasures of palette and eye are under increasing chemical assault.    

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If you have been checking out the Palmer Station webcam (http://www.usap.gov/videoclipsandmaps/palWebCam.cfm) recently you may have noticed that we have been having a wide variety of visitors lately. The type of visitor and duration of stay have varied greatly, mostly the length of stay has depended on the weather. Our visitors have ranged from a 12 meter (39.4 ft) long sailboat to giant icebergs and small cruise ships.

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If you have been following our progress so far this season, you may have noticed that we have been covering a wide variety activities and projects in these first several weeks of our field season. The climate change grant that brought us down here to complete our research this (and last) year is a very ambitious research project.

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UAB in Antarctica’s initial days on station were a frenzy of unpacking science gear into labs and tossing personal gear into an assigned dorm room while simultaneously packing and prepping for our dive cruise time on the Pt. Sur which was described in Chuck’s last entry. It was a hectic stretch and everyone was ready for our first official day off since leaving Punta Arenas. Sunday morning until 1PM is the project’s weekly “day” off (yes, fuzzy math). Team members took the opportunity to finally get settled and comfy in their rooms and for first-time Palmerite Kevin Scriber, the opportunity to fully explore his new home.

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Years ago, after a scientific conference in South Africa, I had the opportunity to experience a short safari. What a thrill is was to witness the expanse of grasslands and savannas and all the amazing creatures found in these lushly rich habitats. Not unlike Antarctica is some ways with stark, vast un-peopled landscapes. The image at right is of course not South Africa.

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I suppose that anyone who has once been with a hero would always want to be with one again. From 1968 until 1984, Palmer Station and US Antarctic research on the Antarctic Peninsula was supported by a beautiful 125 ft. in length, wooden research vessel called the Hero. Maggie sailed on the Hero during her first two seasons at Palmer in the early 80s and I was at the ship's decommissioning ceremony in California in 1984. You can see more about the Hero at the Hero page on PalmerStation.com.

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After a string of bad weather days that lasted over a week and kept us from diving anywhere but right from the shore off the station, the last few days have been calm and yesterday and today (Sunday) have been absolutely beautiful. Sunday mornings are our "day off" each week and instead of meeting at 8:00 AM to plan the day we all have free time until 1:00 PM. Maggie hiked up the glacier this morning and took this photo.

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In Punta Arenas, Chile on Tuesday February 12th, the members of UAB 2013 Antarctic field team awaited departure to our final destination: Palmer Station, Antarctica. The ship taking us was the 250 foot long, ASRV (Antarctic Survey and Resupply Vessel) Laurence M. Gould, designed to traverse the cold southern ocean and Antarctic ice. We walked around the ship’s deck taking pictures of our surroundings. The other members of the team reminisced about field seasons prior and their wonderful experiences. I looked around at their faces and was filled with an eager anticipation of things to come.

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My time here in Antarctica continues to be one of the most remarkable trips of my life. The fieldwork, environment, and life at Palmer Station are great experiences. Here we have a great community with a diverse array of people, research endeavors, and areas of expertise. We have social activities after work, such as movies, science talks, and even games of dominoes. The people here are a select few. The cheerful exuberance of everyone is contagious. There are always smiles on faces and the warm feeling of home.

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Our dive season in Antarctica has officially begun!