Jan 27: Process Study 2

Post by VIMS graduate student Lori Price

After our little break at Avian Island we immediately began our second of three Process Studies. This process study is focused in the waters surrounding Avian Island to look at the environment where the penguins are feeding and the quality/types of the food the penguins are eating.

The set-up for the CO2 experiments.
The set-up of Grace Saba's CO2 experiment features large gas cylinders hooked up to bottles to bubble varying amounts of gas to achieve different levels of CO2. The gray screening simulates the light levels that the organisms experience at the depth the water was collected (about 10-meters deep). The bottles are inside the large gray tubs. Photo by Grace Saba.

The intensive study began with Dr. Grace Saba, one of our phytoplankton post-doctoral researchers (and her team of helpers), setting up a complicated CO2 addition experiment to see how different levels of carbon dioxide affect the phytoplankton, bacterial, and viral communities. She had previously done an experiment at the beginning of the cruise to test the effects of increased CO2 levels on krill. These experiments involve very intensive set-up and sampling every few days and their entire group has been working very hard and they have already been seeing some interesting preliminary results!

Researchers sample zooplankton.
Caitlin Smoot (L) and Kim Bernard (R) pick large zooplankton from a net tow, then bring the rest of the sample into the lab to finish sorting. Photo by Ken Legg.

We then moved on for some intense sampling, hitting stations that were only about an hour apart and doing the full suite of sample collection at each station, including all of our net tows. Our sample processing rapidly got backed up and we had to slightly alter the way we were processing our tows to make sure we finished in time.  About halfway through the Process Study we received satellite tracks from three of the penguins the bird researchers had tagged when we dropped them off on Avian Island.  Based on those tracks, we shifted our sampling to include the locations where the penguins were feeding just a few days prior and continued our intense sampling.

Needless to say, we all worked around the clock to finish processing our samples, and even had time to squeeze in some experiments. It was an exhausting Process Study but in the end will provide very valuable information in the area where thousands of breeding penguins feed. And again, another perfectly timed break was scheduled for us to visit Rothera Station, the British base on the Peninsula that hosts the British Antarctic Survey and some of our British collaborators.

Author: David Malmquist

David Malmquist is the Director of Communications at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.