A Day Ashore in Antarctica

Our team of FjordEco scientists got the chance to leave the ship today and actually set foot on solid ground again. We needed to service a weather station and time-lapse glacier camera atop Useful Island, a small island at the mouth of the fjord. This location provides an excellent vantage point from which to observe the movement of icebergs around the fjord. This glacier camera was set to a 15-minute interval and so provided a detailed look at the icebergs in the fjord. Once the data were downloaded (over 10,000 images!), FjordEco scientists turned the images into a movie which showed interesting patterns of iceberg groundings, movements, and melting.

While one team was at the top of Useful Island servicing the weather station and camera, another team of ecologists was motoring around the island in a zodiac hunting for subtidal macroalgae samples for stable isotope analyses. Equipped in dry suits with attached rubber boots, the ecologists waded through the water sampling a variety of green and red fleshy algae. In addition, they took some samples of green ice which contained ice algae. When this ice melts into the seawater, algae are then deposited in the ocean and could be a source of food to the fauna living on the seafloor. Stable isotope analyses will allow scientists to understand how energy flows through the fjord ecosystem from the primary producers in the surface water to the top predators inhabiting the benthos, or seafloor.

The weather was thankfully calm and allowed for easy sample collection as well as a chance to observe some of the beautiful Antarctic fauna living on the island. Our team got the chance to see penguins, fur seals, a variety of impressive seabirds, and even a leopard seal during this day trip. It was a humbling experience being at sea level and for the first time getting an appreciation for the sheer size of the icebergs and the intricacies of their shapes. As the sun began to set, the sea ice began to sneak in silently but surprisingly fast. Our teams returned to the zodiacs and motored back to the ship. Even though the sun was setting, shipboard science never ceases. As soon as the teams boarded the ship and the zodiacs were recovered, we began to steam to our next sampling site for a full night of coring.

Written by Astrid Leitner.

 

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