On the Edge of the Ice

This was an effective sampling trip: in just an hour onsite, the six of us acquired an ice core, measured temperature and salinity with depth, and collected phytoplankton. But it was also utterly magical. In searching for a suitable landing location, we flew back and forth over the ice edge. “It’s SeaWorld down there“, says my seat neighbor. Looking out, we see fireworks of Minke whales spouts. Our first landing spot was deemed too unsafe as waves were crashing over the ice where we’d be sampling, so we took off again to a calmer area. Two nearby emperors noticed our not-so-discreet arrival, and decided to come and check us out. They got bored seeing us coring and preferred tagging along the field staff laying safety ropes by the edge. While uncoiling rope, I turned around just to see an orca breaking the surface just a dozen feet away. Whoa! Later on, Adélie penguins approached us from several sides. Time to go before they converge on us. On the way back, we flew low and slow over the channel carved by the Polar Star, where orcas, penguins, and Weddell seals somehow had decided to spend the evening together. It’s not often that one gets so lucky!

It’s hard to chase away the memories of last evening and focus on writing up the results of our projects, which we’ll present on Thursday. Still, we’ve been spending the day analyzing data and making plots. Tomorrow afternoon (weather permitting) will be our last field trip to Cape Evans, by helicopter again, where we’ll sample freshwater ponds and hopefully get to see the hut built during Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. What a way to conclude our time in Antarctica!

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