17 October 2004

Oct 17- Catch of the Day

Sundays are very special here on station. It is the one day that most people have off, and a wonderful brunch is served to celebrate. We woke up to Belgium waffles, made-to-order omelets, eggs benedict, a nice fruit and cheese platter, warm sticky buns, and fresh ground coffee. I am sure you will hear more about Sunday brunch from others in our group. After stuffing our faces and packing more in take away containers for later, we set out in our Pisten Bully to Cape Royds approximately 24 miles north in search of an open lead in the ice where we could collect a plankton sample and try to dive. In addition to the overarching project of examining the effects of the sewage outfall, we are all responsible for a smaller project of our choice. Because I am interested in the early life histories of invertebrates (their larval stage), I will be collecting plankton at different sites in McMurdo Sound to census the larval population to try to determine if the differences in the abundance and species diversity we see on the seafloor is correlated to the abundance of the larvae in the water column. Because we haven’t collected plankton in the Antarctic before, we do not know what quantities of larvae or what species we would expect at different times of the year, so we wanted to conduct a test run to see if we could catch anything with the plankton net. We also wanted to survey the sea ice at Cape Royds to see if we could find a crack large enough to dive in. Cape Royds is an Adelie penguin colony and there is a large build up of penguin guano on the snow free rock that in turn runs off into the sea. Mike would like to determine what effect that poo has on the seafloor community.
So, not knowing what the sea ice was doing, or whether we would see Adelie penguins, we set out on this mission to find a crack. The weather was beautiful and there were some high clouds forming above Mt. Erebus (an active volcano) that was smoking in the distance. We passed Cape Evans, which is the site of Robert Falcon Scott’s hut in the early 1900’s, and then the Barne Glacier; the site of some very active cracks in the sea ice.
The team surveying the beautiful Barne glacier

Prior to crossing the cracks, we all got out of the vehicle and surveyed the crack to determine whether there was any recent movement.

Upon arrival at Cape Evans over an hour later, we were all excited to explore. We hiked over the knoll to where we could get a better vantage of the Adelie colony and Sir Ernest Shackelton’s historic hut. We all wanted to see Adelie penguins, and at first our eyes were playing tricks on us, and we were making out penguin shapes on the guano-covered rocks. However, to our dismay, there were no living penguins because it was too early in the season for them to come ashore to lay their eggs. But, there were signs that later in the season this area will be home to an abundant colony. The signs were penguin feathers everywhere and carcasses in places, a sign that not all chicks or adults make it through the stressful chick rearing time.

Hiking the sampling gear over the knoll

Sir Ernest Shackelton's hut

We continued toward the other side of the rock outcrop where we could get a good vantage point of the sea ice below. Again, to our dismay, there were no open leads in the sea ice as we had hoped.

Without giving up, we split up with a team of people on the ice, a team on the land, and a team returning to the Pisten Bully to travel around the cape to look for cracks. After awhile, we could see the team on the ice chipping away at a seal hole. We met them on the ice and we all began chipping away until we could fit the plankton net into the hole. The hole wasn’t quite large enough for a diver, but we can return later to melt it out or look for others if needed. Not knowing what we would find, we conducted the plankton tow, put it in a sample bottle and commenced home.

Elizabeth, Andrew, and Bob check in one last time before setting out onto the sea ice

The intrepid explorers in search of open leads

After a good nap in the Pisten Bully on the way home, we barely caught the tail end of dinner and returned back to lab to look at the catch of the day from the plankton net. We were all dumbfounded at the quantity of diatoms in the sample. Upon further examination, we found larvae, just what we were looking for! However, we had no idea what they were. We are very fortunate to have a larval expert here at McMurdo as a visiting research from the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. So we enticed Dr. Richard Strathman to view our larvae, which ended up being an Annelid worm and a Nemertean worm. Cool!

Lets see the next day!