With all this time at sea, I have been given the opportunity to get to know a lot of different kinds of people. Between the students, scientists, technicians and crew members it has been very interesting being able to learn where everyone is from and what everyone has done before. In previous blogs written, we have talked about the different students, scientists, and crew members. But there is one occupant aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer that doesn't fit into any of these categories. Amber Lancaster is not a scientists or a crew member, but is a high school Biology teacher who has been given the opportunity to come to Antarctica to learn and be apart of the research.
Amber was selected to come by a program called PolarTREC, which focuses on allowing teachers from all across the U.S. to join with scientists and their research programs in the Arctic and the Antarctic. According to their website, their goal is to advance polar science education and understanding by bringing K-12 educators and polar researchers together through hands-on field experiences. In order to be a part of the program, Amber as well as the LARISSA group had to apply. Once the applications were accepted, both groups had to go through extensive interviews and conference calls before their applications were matched together. For Amber, she applied in the fall and found out in early January that she had been accepted, only two months before she was being asked to leave. But with this trip being once in a lifetime, she had no complaints.
While here, she has had the opportunity to work with every science group and learn a lot about what each was doing. She started the trip off with following around the Chief Scientist, Maria Vernet, learning about what it takes to organize 40 days of intense scientific sampling. Then she was given the opportunity to work both day and night shift as a benthic ecologist, microbiologist, geologist, and anything else that she wanted to try; all of which she has been sure to document on her blog. She also made several of her own presentations to the scientists aboard the vessel. In one presentation she explained how to present science and research to the general public in a way that, no matter what science background you have, you can understand it. She has made sure to be a part of as much as possible and says that she plans to bring it all back to her students in San Francisco.
Amber grew up in Missouri and received her Bachelors degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. After she graduated she went into the Peace Corps where she spent four years, on and off, in Zimbabwe and Morocco. Then she went back to school where she got her Masters in Education from Berkeley. After working at a science center in St. Louis, she went on to her first teaching job at the June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco. She has been there now for three years and currently is teaching Biology to 9th and 10th graders as well as Marine Biology to 12th graders.
For anyone interested, Amber will be making a large conference call, called a PolarConnect event, on Monday April 9th. Anyone in the country is allowed to register and listen in on the talk, with more information found at the PolarTREC website: www.polartrec.com. Amber will be talking about the different science groups and what the scientists are hoping to achieve through the LARISSA project. You can also find her blog at http://tinyurl.com/scienceonaboat, make sure to click on journals.
We have reached the point in our cruise where we are able to get through all our samples quickly and efficiently, which has led to a bit of stagnation in our work days. Since the night shift and the day shift work at the same pace every day, we end up with essentially the same work every day as well. The night shift cuts our cores into one centimeter segments and then takes smaller samples for various purposes like DNA or methane analysis. Once they are done with the cut depth they squeeze the remaining mud into centrifuge tubes and spin them down to get the pore water separated. Then on the day shift we collect the pore water into syringes and aliquot small amounts out for nutrient analysis as well as a few assays for sulfate and sulfide. We can process one geochemical megacore in under 20 hours now; we are usually only limited by the amount of time it takes to clean off our supplies before we can start on the next core.
We have gotten into a fairly regular pattern on the ship so the unexpected things are always the most interesting part of our days. Yesterday Mike found a rock on the surface of one of our megacores that we have all affectionately named “the hairy rock.” No one is entirely sure what the “hairs” are but some of the benthic ecologists believe that they are a kind of colonizing sponge. There is also a small sea-urchin looking creature on the rock that looks fairly cute. Today, we also pulled up a large octopus in a trawl of the ocean floor. They put it into a bucket to show all of us before throwing it back over the side. There was a large group huddled around the bucket letting it suction onto their fingers and touching it. As much fun as we are having with our research it is the little unexpected pleasures that keep our days from blurring together.
As we depart Station H for the next, most research teams are quickly catching up and finishing work on their remaining samples and preparing for the next station. However, the McCormick group is still working, and will be until we reach the next station, where we will hopefully catch up. The past 72 hours have been packed with collecting various cores and trying to sample them as fast as possible, but we currently still have quite a few to process.
About two days ago, with a few megacores remaining from the last station, we started transiting to Station H. As we began our journey we loaded one of our last remaining megacores into the glove box to be sectioned, sampled, and aliquot out for geochemistry sampling. Sampling a geochemistry megacore takes two people, the cold room, the glove box, lots of supplies and up to 24 hours. Some of the samples we took included mud for sequencing DNA, FISH (Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization) and testing methane levels. Afterward, the remaining mud is spun in a centrifuge to separate the pore water so alkalinity, salinity, sulfate levels and iron levels can be tested.
While we were processing the geochemistry megacore, we also had to begin sampling a Jumbo Kasten Core that we retrieved from a different deep trough off of the Drygalski Trough. Sampling from this core, which can be up to 6 meters long, took about 3 hours. As we arrived at Station H, we had a small amount of work left on the megacore and still had to spin down the mud from the Jumbo Kasten Core in order to extract the pore water. We were behind on our sampling by nearly 24 hours.
Unfortunately, we did not have these 24 hours to catch up because as soon as we arrived at Station H we received four more megacores for sampling. It can take anywhere from 6 to 24 hours to process a single core, so time was not on our side. About 10 hours later, we received another three megacores and found the space in our cold room was dwindling. The room housed several cores that still needed to be processed, and we anxiously awaited yet another core to sample. However, with a rocky bottom and hard sediment, three different attempts at deploying the Kasten Core failed and we decided to move on without one. Because of this we were able to catch up a little, but five hours after the failed Kasten Core we received another four megacores. By the time we officially departed for the next station, we had nine megacores waiting to be processed. As other teams finish their sampling, Andrew, Professor McCormick and I, with the help of many others, keep going, hoping to get as far as we can before the next set of cores come aboard.
Yesterday was so busy; I’m surprised I managed to wake up early for this morning’s sunrise. We are still at Larsen A, and although we are further from shore than our previous station, the wide expanse of ice, land and sea is still remarkable. We arrived on station two nights ago and initiated deployments: yo-yo camera (a camera that is raised and lowered behind the slowly moving boat, taking pictures of the sea floor), Blake trawl, megacore, and Kasten core.
Yesterday I helped out with processing megacores. These small cores are only 20 to 30 cm long, and are very useful for biologists and geologists alike. Because of this, working on megacores is especially fun since we get to hang out with a whole new group of people! I worked with Mike Derocher, a biologist from University of Hawaii, on his cores. We cut slices of mud from the megacores and sieved them through a very fine mesh in the hopes of isolating any tiny animals in the upper 10 cm. My fellow watch standers, Ilona and Nadine, worked on slicing the geology cores. One set of mud slices will come to Hamilton, where we will date each centimeter and figure out the sedimentation rate for each locale.
The plan backfired slightly for Nadine (Montclair University) and Ilona (University of Southern Illinois) when they uncovered what looked like a small green pickle in the mud. The little Bonellid echiuran, or spoon worm, was lucky he hadn’t been sliced by the megacore deployment. According to Craig Smith, a seafloor biologist who runs megacore operations, the echiuran lies at the bottom of the ocean with its tongue extended out along the floor. It catches food and transports it along its tongue into its mouth. We continued to disrupt his peaceful eating by excavating and handing him over to the biologists for DNA sampling (not a very rosy fate). I still think we should have kept him as the Marine Geology team mascot.
From here we will move slightly south. The goal is to survey the area with sonar for a trough or some sort of physical connection between Larsen A and Larsen B. We hope to examine the different response times of the ice shelves to climate change, as well as their oceanographic relationship over the last 11,000 years.