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On the 31st January, multiple helicopter rides transferred us and our camping gear from the beach on Byers Peninsula back on to the Aquiles before heading to our next same-day destination, Deception Island. Another helicopter ride dropped us off to Gabriel de Castilla, the Spanish base on the active volcanic island.
Now that I have settled in back home, sifted through my photos and have good internet access I can tell you about the next part of the Antarctic trip. After Sharon, Andrew and Sarah departed King George Island by plane, the remaining members of the moss team patiently awaited our transport to our next leg in the trip, the Aquiles, a ship from the Chilean Navy fleet.
Our group studies mosses in Antarctica. Long shoots of these mosses reveal information about past climate and are showing marked changes to current conditions. Changes in ozone and carbon dioxide are driving winds further south, resulting in increased evaporation and a reduction in the growing period. Our latest paper on this topic is in press in Global Change Biology (Bramley-Alves et al. Moss δ13C: an accurate proxy for past water environments in polar regions). Well done Jess! You can also listen to an interview on the ABC Science Show about an early paper by Laurence Clarke.
Over Christmas we made a tree from plastic we found on the beach at Strangles in North Cornwall and since then I have been taking photos of plastic on beaches around the world. So far not surprisingly Antarctica had the cleanest beaches. I didn't find any plastic washed up there amongst the penguins. However, if you look inside Antarctic birds they have plastic inside them
Here is a link which makes sobering reading. As Hardesty and Wilcox say in their Conversation article "the ubiquity, volume, and permanence of plastic waste demands better solutions" Eight million tonnes of plastic are going into the ocean each year
We have just heard that Melinda and rest of the team are back in Punta Arenas after an "amazing crossing of the Drake Passage".
After a long wait we recently received a shiny new spectrometer to detect the subtle fluorescence given off by plants in sunlight (known as solar induced fluorescence; SIF). We plan to use this spectrometer in conjunction with our LIFT (light induced fluorescence transience) to understand what this SIF signal can tell us about plant photosynthesis and functioning.
However, in order to do this we our spectrometer needed to be calibrated (i.e setup to give meaningful measurements) and we needed to understand the optical properties of the plants we plan to study. This means measuring the amount of light that can pass through and the amount of light reflected from the leaves of the plant being examined. To do this Zbynek and I spent three long days working with an object called an integrating sphere.
Now that our spectrometer is calibrated and we have a better understanding of our experimental plants we look forward to running some exciting experiments.
Jessica Bramley-Alves has spent a lot of time down South over the last few years. She had multiple summers at both Casey Station and on Macquarie Island as part of both her PhD and Environmental Science Honours research. Maybe all that cold has got to her because she has just started working at the Center for Urban Ecology and Greenery and National Parks Board of Singapore.
The moss team at Escudero base has dispersed. Sharon, Sarah and Andrew left by plane to Punta Arenas on Tuesday 20th. Sarah is now back in Portland and we are in Australia. Meanwhile Melinda, Angelica, Andreas, Todd, Hannah and Paz got onto a Chilean Navy ship, The Achilles, early on Thursday and are en route to Byers Peninsula for some Antarctic Camping! Gustavo, Marisol and Tavo are still at the Base. They should have more food now that we have left and the Achilles has resupplied them.
After a few days in the field collecting moss samples and becoming familiar with the many types of moss species living on King George Island, we had enough to begin experimenting in the lab.