After 20 days at sea my time on the JCR has come to an end. We had an incredible productive time at Borgen Bay and my new homey, Sheldon glacier at Ryder Bay, and I can’t help but think back to some of the most amazing and surreal moments I’ve experienced during this time and feel like I have to jot them down quickly so that they won’t be forgotten or diminished by new experiences at Rothera.
Naturally, as a marine biologist, I was mostly interested in all the little critters living on the seafloor and how they change with distance to the glacier. However, this meant I seemed to have spent most of my time on board with my head stuck in giant sieves, patiently extricating teeny tiny worms from amongst gravel and muddy bits (sometimes there were more exciting animals too, but mostly it was worm central down there). Spending all your time within an enormous tube should mean you wouldn’t have to worry about the increased UV radiation in Antarctica right? This is where choice of material becomes really important. Turns out metal sieves reflect UV rays and you still burn although you feel like a giant mole most of the time – Factor 50 it is, even for furry underground rodents. When in full work mode, it is easy to forget where you are and whenever looking up now and again it is almost a startling experience as the beauty and difference of this place strikes you again and again. Even spending several days within the same small bays doesn’t get boring as the light constantly changes and every day new wildlife appears.
During the cruise one of my favourite moments, was working on a nightshift helping the grab team. Grabs are almost like big digger shuffles, to sample everything living on and within the sediment of the seabed. When they are being retrieved they are generally filled with mud and need washing and – surprise, surprise – sieving and sorting. It is incredible muddy and cold work to prepare the samples to a degree that they can be brought into the wet lab for the rest of the team to sort through and because certain members of the team had made a solid scientific case (this enthusiasm, funnily enough, wasn’t shared by other team members at the time) for sampling more stations than originally planned we were under time pressure. So while I was busy on the aft deck washing my sample at 2o’clock in the morning, our engineer – kind soul that he is – had made cheese toasties for the team. Since I didn’t want to stop working on my sample, he eventually took pity on me and started feeding me. So here I was in the middle of Antarctica – on a research vessel, watching the midnight sun, picking out worms from a pile of mud, being fed cheese toasties while a group of penguins floated by on an iceberg. Life doesn’t get much better than this!!
Yet, there were so many more happy and wonderful experiences I have made during the past four weeks, such as sitting in the conference room of the ship, working on my laptop while somebody played the piano and I could see the incredible landscape of the Antarctic peninsula floating by, or getting up in the morning to find the ship enclosed by sea ice making it possible to see seals and penguins resting on it from very close up. And even though at times work was hard or exhausting or sometimes we were incredibly tired and everybody on board pretty much resembled the precursor of a zombie apocalypse the underlying feeling was happiness and seldom a day went by without my stomach muscles aching from all the laughter. My supervisor called the James Clark Ross the Goldilocks ship, and he is spot on – she is just right. Big and strong enough to withstand some of the most dangerous seas while at the same time small enough to feel homily and be able to get to know everybody on board. It is a strange thing to feel anything for an inanimate object, though my heart went out to her when I saw her sailing away after she dropped me off at Rothera. She has kept me save and has brought me to this incredible place. Now, a new adventure beckons…