Goodbye Palmer Station
Thank you, Palmer Station, for having us and supporting our science. We couldn't have done it without you.
And thank you readers, for following my blog!!
I spent today soaking it all: to see the splendor that is Antarctica. Either watching the sunrise, with the first rays of the sun hitting Mount Matin, or seeing a hiker halfway up the glacier, or just sipping some tea on the rocks (Thank you for that last photo @SimplyAntarctica.
..... I feel very lucky to be here.
If you want to see more Antarctic photos, I will likely post a few more about my passage across the Drake. But consider following my friend's Instagram page. Her photos are amazing: @SimplyAntarctica
Leaving this magical place soon
My field season is over and it is time to return. I will be heading back north on Thursday.
As you can imagine, I will sad to leave, but am also excited about being home again and seeing my friends and colleagues. And let's not forget our three wonderful cats. 🐈
More evidence of warming trends on the Antarctic Peninsula: Islands emerging from beneath the glacier. Here is Detrich Island. It still contains a remnant of the glacier that it was connected to. The blue color shows that it lost the "fresher" ice layers, exposing the much older, blue glacial ice.
The island is colloquially known as Pi Island because it became disconnected from the glacier on Pi day in 2014. Sadly, I expect it will lose its glacial cap within the next 5 years.
Today I had another great Zoom session, but this time in Dutch - though I am a bit rusty!
Just yesterday I posted about the glacier near the station that has receded a lot over time. The glacier not only receded, but has shrunk dramatically in height also.
Nevertheless, it is always a treat to go on a hike on the glacier itself. On top of the glacier there are sweeping vistas that I would like to share with you. The top of the glacier also has a repeater, which helps with communication.
Rapid retreat of glacier
The bird research team at Palmer Station put together these two images to illustrate how much the glacier by our station has retreated. We literally see islands appearing from beneath the glacier. It's not just here - Most of the glaciers along the western Antarctic Peninsula have been retreating. This is why our research is so important: how will life in Antarctica change as a result of the warmer climate?
Thanks Palmer birders for the visual, and Ross Nichols for the drone footage of the glacier this year (Jan 2023 photo).
Fur seals are closely related to sea lions. They are not true seals like the elephant seal or weddell seals. True seals have ears that are hard to see, but fur seals and sea lions have ears that are clearly visible by ear flaps. Fur seals are also much faster on land and can walk on all fours, whereas a true seal kind of scoots forward, almost reminding me of how a caterpillar moves, and hence are way slower.
Over 100 years ago, humans hunted these seals for their fur - in fact, so much so that they almost drove them to extinction. Fortunately, the populations have rebounded, but in some places such as Cape Shirreff, they are declining once again. Again, the decline is caused by humans, but indirectly through climate change rather than hunting. For example, there is less food (krill) available in warmer ocean waters. The Antarctic ecosystem , especially along the Antarctic Peninsula has undergone some dramatic changes in the last few decades. Life here is closely connected to sea ice, so any changes to sea ice and ocean temperatures will affect how the ecosystem functions.
The Southern Elephant Seal - they have big smiles when they sleep. They are almost half larger than their northern counterparts (the northern elephant seals), which can be found along the coast from Alaska to Mexico. Indeed, the Southern elephant seal in the Subantarctic and Antarctica is a true giant of the ocean, the next largest mammal after cetaceans (i.e., whales, dolphins and porpoises).
These seals are smelly! In addition, they are quite loud and they certainly showcase their repertoire of burps, farts, sneezes and snores. In fact, many a time while we are measuring plants on Litchfield, we often have to say "Excuse you!", because they certainly won't apologize for their behavior! 😁
Crabeater seals, which we fondly call "Crabbies", are another seal species that are truly an Antarctic species. They are found all along the Antarctic coast. There are fewer on the warmer parts of Antarctica, so fewer around Palmer Station than in continental Antarctica. They love to lounge on pack ice and ice floes (like the one shown here). They can be recognized by their long snouts and light fur.
Do they eat crab? Absolutely not. They eat mostly Antarctic krill. The crabeaters have remarkable teeth that acts as a strainer to keep krill inside their mouths while water can leave (think about how a strainer works for pasta!). They are the most abundant seal species in the world.
It's hard to believe that these gentle seals are closely related to the leopard seal!
Weddell seals are cute and tough!
Weddell seals are the southernmost mammal! These incredible animals can dive hundreds of meters deep and stay underwater for a maximum of 1.5 hours! They make the most amazing sounds - kind of laser like! You just need to put an ear on the ice to hear them. Curious? Please click here for an example:
Weddell moms make milk that is fatty: over half of the milk is fat! That is so the pups can grow fast. The mom will barely hunt while feeding their pups. She will lose about a third of her weight by the end of the feeding period. Not only that, but the mother seal will provide a lot of iron to her pup - iron that she herself would need for diving (iron is important for hemoglobin - the oxygen provider in blood). With less iron, she can no longer dive as deep. Fortunately, by the time she can hunt again, their main food item, Antarctic krill, will be more abundant and at shallower depths. There will be more krill then, because their own food, phytoplankton (microscopic "plants"), will have had time to grow during the summer when light and temperatures are highest. So, the timing of higher krill abundance is great for the seals - The question is: how will climate change affect it? That is one of the many questions that Dr. Jenn Burns studies - our Chair of the Texas Tech Department of Biological Sciences.
Growing up watching nature documentaries, I find myself now immersed in nature's splendor. As an ecologist I study how ecosystems function. Here I share with you my love of doing research in Antarctica - a place of sheer beauty