On 30th December I left the UK to work in the southern hemisphere for the first time. As part of the MicroMelt project, the aim was to gather samples and measurements from a selection of glaciers on Livingston Island, to better understand and quantify the role of microscopic life on glaciers in transforming and accumulating biomass, carbon, nutrients and other materials and eventually exporting them to the ocean as the glaciers melt. This then likely seeds the base of the oceanic food web, meaning it could be an under-recognised process supporting ocean biodiversity. To understand this, we needed to gather lots of samples that could be examined at the molecular level, as well as making measurements to understand the dynamics of the ice and water that provide the habitat, medium and transport vector for the microbial matter.
We travelled from Ushuiah (Terra del Fuego, Argentina) across the Drake Passage on the Spanish research vessel BIO Hesperides, a bumpy journey that took just over 3 days. From the bedside porthole I saw whales, dolphins and seabirds and generally loved the experience of being rocked to sleep each night by the motion of the ship – I am lucky to have low sensitivity to sea sickness. Eventually we arrived at the Juan Carlos I base where we would spend the next month. We worked on several glaciers around the island, accessed on foot or by zodiac (a small, inflatable rigid-bottomed boat), sampling transects from snowpack to sea. The results will not be available until extensive laboratory and computational work is completed back home, so for now I will simply post some photos from the expedition, and a short film that I cut together using mostly aerial footage.