This is your tardy member of the gang checking in –Kithy, as Stacy calls me, or The Canadian, which if people don’t know, they soon surmise after I have said “eh” after every second sentence.  They also laugh at the way I say “out”and “about”.  Hey, accents are what everyone but yourself have, right?                                                                                   

As introduction, I am a scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, and have been lucky to have been part of various Moss Landing teams going to McMurdo since 1991.  The sesame colleagues and I have also dived over several years in the Canadian Arctic, so it has been fun to compare the marine life North and South –very different, as the Arctic has been cold for only a million years or so while the Antarctic has been cold for about 30 million years.  The Arctic also gets a lot of marine organisms from the north Atlantic and some from the Pacific too, while the Antarctic is cut off by the circumpolar current.  So the Antarctic marine life has had many years to evolve in a cold, sheltered environment and is consequently diverse, unique, and not able to change much should climate change warm the water.

There is something mysterious and beautiful in both the Arctic and Antarctic that grabs you the first time you visit and never lets you go again without tugging you back. The thrill of arriving on the sea ice in the C-17 and seeing steaming Mount Erebus and majestic Mount Discovery was as poignant as my first time I ever stepped on the Antarctic ice. Perhaps it was even more so as I knew what I had been missing.

Arriving at McMurdo was exciting too.  I had forgotten how many nice people work here and remembered me and welcomed me back.  The Raytheon staff goes out of their way to be friendly and helpful to scientists.  Never in any other field situation have I received so much help, from the cargo staff who unload the planes and have our baggage lined up for the taking an hour after arrival, to the training staff who usher us off to numerous orientation courses the day after we arrive. Now I’ve got my credentials with Mac Ops for radio use and check-ins, the Firehouse for doing recreational hiking, and F-Stop for safety out on the sea ice (recognizing dangerous ice cracks, dealing with hypothermia, putting up a tent and starting a Whisper-lite in bad weather, and radioing in on HF to Mac Ops).  Today I learned all the procedures to drive a 4-wheeler and a Pisten Bully (it’s got heated seats!).  Oh, and Rob, the dive officer took me on my first dive of the season, way out at Cape Evans near Robert Falcoln Scott’s hut that he never returned to after his ill-fated trek to the South Pole in 1911.  It was DARK diving under that ice, though Rob said I won’t know what dark is until I dive under 17ft. of ice at the jetty.  “Don’t forget your flashlight at that one”, he said.  There was a fair current, too, which surprised me, as usually there isn’t much until open water is closer.  So, I was a bit spooked as I made my way down the dive line and was loathe letting go once we reached 80 ft. at the bottom.  I kicked around while still holding the line to test how I could manage against the current and thankfully I found I could progress without a huge effort. So I took the leap and let go and made my way UP CURRENT, flashlight in hand, and soon became engrossed in the colorful marine life.  For me, it was like greeting old friends again.  All were familiar…pink feathery soft corals, orange sea spiders larger than the size of my hand (one male was clasping a female, ready to mate with her), bright yellow sponges that produce distasteful chemicals to ward off grazers, orange sea squirts the size of footballs, spiky pink sea urchins, scarlet starfish, and silvery fish sitting on their fins and staring with green eyes at my brilliant spotlight.  Then, as I made my way up the line and waited out my safety stop just under the ice, I had a chance to enjoy the little jellyfish and sea angels drifting by, the neon blue of our dive hole looking like the moon in a sky of black.  Later, as the sea ice softens, there will be brine tubes to admire, long chandeliers of crystal ice that descend from under the ice and lengthen as the ice forces out the brine trapped in pockets between the crystals.  There is a whole community of microscopic plants, bacteria, and larger shrimp-like amphipods and fish, called borchs, which live in the upside down world of the under-ice, which will bloom as the sunlight strengthens and penetrates the ice.  The krill rely on these trappedorganisms to survive over the winter. They pick them out with the tips of their legs.  Without the ice the krill would not survive.  And the seals, penguins, and whales would not survive without the krill.  Such is Antarctica, a delicate balance of a web of interactions and dependencies.

Now that I’m up to speed on my courses (well almost…still skidoo and waste management training to do), I will be able to start doing science with the rest of the gang. They returned to Cinder Cones today to pull up more of the sediments that we had spiked and set down in small dishes two years ago.  It looks like these sediments now have a good variety of colonists…little worms, a variety of crustaceans, and the ever present stars were in evidence as we sieved each sample in turn.  These samples will come back home where we will pick out the animals, identify them, and count them, and then look for trends in their abundance.  This will tell us whether they were attracted to the sediments that we enriched with galley food, or avoided them as most clean water animals would at the sewage outfall.

 Elizabeth, Stacy and Bob had an unusually early start to the day so they could call Elizabeth’s school kids and talk to them over the internet.  I found them at breakfast, ecstatic over its success. I guess Elizabeth’s kids are pretty excited about Elizabeth being in such an exotic place and they were full of questions.  I’d be, too!




Leaving New Zealand

Arriving in Antarctica

Lets see the next day!