Antarctic fieldwork perspectives from an undergrad!

The Fjord Eco team recently made our way back to Punta Arenas, Chile through the Drake Passage, which we can again nickname the “Drake Lake” due to the great weather we experienced during the crossing. We enjoyed a fun-filled white elephant gift-exchange and delicious holiday meal for Christmas after departing from Palmer Station.

My name is McKenna Lewis and I am a second year undergraduate student at the University of Hawai’i. I am majoring in global environmental science and will be completing my senior thesis project within the parameters of the Fjord Eco project. My experience as a participant on this cruise has exceeded any hopes I could have as an undergrad from Hawai’i. This cruise was the first research cruise I’ve been on and I have experienced many other firsts on the cruise as well, including seeing snow for the very first time!

Living on a ship for six weeks didn’t leave me a horrible seasick mess as I had feared. Comfy staterooms, friendly ASC and ECO staff, good food, and an always stocked ice cream freezer made life aboard the Laurence M. Gould more than enjoyable. Not to mention the awe-inspiring views in Andvord Bay paired with calm, fjord-protected waters for which only one word comes to my mind to describe it: paradise. Daily sightings of humpback whales, Gentoo penguins, or leopard seals on ice floes never got boring. My favorite aspect about life at sea was getting to meet scientists, students, and marine technicians from all over the world, exchanging stories, good-hearted advice, and many, many laughs at the dinner table. I always had a blast with whomever I was working. There were even a few impromptu snow ball fights on deck!

The greatest challenge for me on this cruise was simply being inexperienced in oceanography. Although I prepared myself for the cruise as best as I could in my studies, there was still so much for me to learn. Fortunately, all who taught me and helped me in my learning process on the cruise were always patient and kind. I learned simple tasks, such as putting a plastic hardhat on a glass float, to more complicated tasks, like deploying a sediment trap mooring. After all our moorings were deployed, I learned the ins and outs of megacoring and Blake trawling and eventually got the hang of it! Processing the Blake trawls were my favorite operation because although they were time consuming and unbelievably muddy, being able hold and closely observe organisms from the benthos, which I’d only ever seen in BBC documentaries or preserved in bottles, was so exciting! A trawl we did in the inner basin of Andvord came up chock-full of ophiuroid sea stars and pycogonids, sea spiders, and another in the Gerlache Strait had a few dozen sea pigs. It was fascinating to see changes in species abundance and diversity from trawl to trawl within the fjord and out onto the open shelf. I feel that I learned the most during the processing of the trawls, with the others from our group gladly sharing what they knew about the various structures and functions of the different species found.

The process of field research was also something I was unfamiliar with. Quickly I learned that not everything goes as planned, as weather or equipment failure can be unpredictable. Problem solving and schedule adjustments must occur regularly. One evening we were surprised when the time-lapse camera mooring we had deployed fifteen minutes prior was spotted on the surface of the water. It turns out that one of the acoustic releases had flooded and released the weight at the bottom of the mooring. Luckily, we were able to recover the mooring, replace the release, and redeploy the mooring. Despite having three different groups on board all working on different aspects of the Fjord Eco project, we were able to remain organized and productive. We’ve had a successful cruise and I am grateful and proud to have been a part of this awesome research project!

Written by McKenna Lewis.

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In our muddy Mustang suits after processing a trawl. Photo credit: M. Lewis.

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A sunny day in the inner basin of Andvord Bay. Photo credit: M. Lewis.

Jam Sesh

A jam session on the back deck during the transit to Palmer Station. Photo credit: M. Lewis.

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