Encounters Waay Down Under (Antarctica)

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Wistful Reflections of Antarctica

It’s been hard to put into words a final entry wrapping up what I learned and experienced and otherwise savor from my little journey to a slice of Antarctica. Not just because business has taken over my “normal” life back in the northern hemisphere. But also because I’ve been so wistful, and maybe resisting the fact that I’m so far away now. Which is to say Antarctica—in particular Palmer Station, its human and non-human residents, and the majestic vastness and personality of its landscape, stoke my heart.

I’ll let photos do most of the talking (a few here, but more are in the photo gallery on my website).  You can also read several science stories/blog entries I wrote for OnEarth magazine, at www.onearth.org/author/smoran.

 A few memories and reflections:

* Yes, I did take the “polar plunge” into the 31-degrees F Southern Ocean one night, after asking whether anyone had ever died or suffered a heart attack from jumping in (“no” and “no”). It sucked the air right out of me.  I never would have done it if not for the outdoor hot tub we all jumped in right after.

Click to read more ...


Robot-assisted Deepwater Gliders Help Reveal Ocean's Hidden Zones 

The air temperature on this mid-December morning was 31 degrees Fahrenheit, but felt more like 40. Winds were blowing lightly at about 10 miles per hour. In other words, it seemed like a perfect day for launching RU25, a shiny, yellow, missile-shaped autonomous underwater glider, into the Southern Ocean. So a team of Rutgers University researchers checked out two Zodiacs from Palmer Station, and set off to deploy RU25 into the undersurface world.

Click here to continue reading the blog, on OnEarth magazine's website. (It's in two parts. Be sure to read to the epilogue, which reveals that the Rutgers University team successfully launched the RU25 glider after the blog post had originally gone to press.)


At the Bottom of the World, Bottom of the Food Chain Plays Critical Role

They’re called "the krillers" around Palmer Station, because they’re always on the hunt for Antarctic krill: tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans that form the foundation of the Antarctic food web. On some days the krillers call their Zodiac Psychokrillers. But on this mid-December morning, they chose a more respectable name for their inflatable boat: Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Kim Bernard, an ecologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, steered Shackleton to the first of two sites not far offshore from Palmer, where she and her research assistant, Carolina Funkey, could cast a net and troll for as many krill as they could capture without squishing them.

(Click here to continue reading the blog, on OnEarth magazine's website.)


Climate Change Wreaks Havoc on Penguins and Other Charismatics

Our two Zodiacs glided up to tiny Shortcut Island.  Disembarking, we walked up the island's craggy mixture of snow cover, exposed patches of ground moss, and rocks dusted with neon-orange lichen.  I imagined I was in Ireland...an Ireland just under half a mile long, featuring towering glaciers and floating sea ice, 0.7 miles along the southwest coast of Anvers Island from Palmer Station, in Antarctica.

Today I was joining Palmer's resident seabird researcher, Jennifer Blum, and her research assistants Marc Travers and Kelsey Ducklow, to measure skua and southern giant petrel eggs, as well as count and census penguin colonies. It was just one of many data-gathering treks the team will make in the coming months, to assess how the warming climate is affecting seabirds in this part of Antarctica.

(For the complete story go to my OnEarth magazine blog. And follow several science-filled series of blog posts on OnEarth's website. Also, click on my website's "radio" tab for interviews I've conducted while at Palmer with several scientists.)


Crooning Adelie Penguins