I was greeted by a biting wind when I arrived in Punta Arenas today. Celestially, it is spring here now but I wouldn't know it from the leaden gray sky, the dusting of snow on the surrounding hills, and the forbiddingly dark blue streak that is the Strait of Magellan.
If you are reading this you may know that I have managed to get myself (and Eddie) back to “the Ice” for a second season, this time for six months. I am pretty beside myself with excitement, both at returning to what I think of as a place close to heaven, and at the prospect of blogging again. I can already feel a rush of excitement as what began as a simple “Hello, I’ve arrived safe” email to my family has turned into the first post of a new phase in this blog.
The familiar faces began in the Dallas airport and continued in Santiago and Punta Arenas. Even the new faces are comfortingly scruffy, beards begun even before their owners have arrived in Antarctica. This time we are with the full season crowd, the cooks, carpenters, logistics coordinators and IT staff as they begin another season at Palmer station. There are other scientists: the intense birders, a “phytoplankton person,” but the rowdy Long Term Ecological Research crew I traveled down with last year won’t arrive until January, so the journey has begun sedately, that is to say I have only drunk one pisco sour so far.
Eddie and I will be doing very similar work to that which I did last year with Amanda: collecting sea water from a small boat twice weekly and measuring nutrient levels, bacterial abundance and growth rates. This year we will be working with an exciting new flow cytometer that can count the bacteria more accurately than I could by mind-numbingly tapping on a hand counter as I squinted at tiny green dots through a microscope lens. In addition this instrument can measure properties like size, the presence of a cell nucleus, and choloroplasts. I am looking forward to using it and explaining more about how it works and what it can tell us about bacterial populations in the Antarctic waters. I will live at Palmer station for the next five months until mid-March, while Eddie will stay on for another month to finish out the season.
Soon we will board the ship and begin our journey south, setting up a summer field camp for studying seals along the way. Thus I am facing a seven day boat journey in the Southern Ocean at a very different time of year than mid-summer when I crossed before. Spring storms can be serious in the Drake Passage, so I hope we cross without any terrible seasickness. As I glance at the time (after 1am), I realize that it is time to go to sleep, in my hotel room in a building that Ernest Shackleton inhabited. I think of it like being in a house where Washington once slept. Anyways, I know I will sleep well.