This morning we shipped off our 2 pallets full of supplies and equipment for our next cruise.
What did we fill 2 pallets worth of boxes with? An incredible variety of unique things. A lot of what we will use in Antarctica is provided by the US Antarctic Program, so we don’t have to pack common things like black markers, test tubes, beakers, etc, that all kinds of scientists use. Instead what we need to pack are the things that are unique to the projects we are working on. So we packed lots of little sieves we made ourselves, with different sized mesh on the bottoms. We use these to separate plankton from the water, and to separate the different kinds of plankton. Sieves with big holes are great when all I want are the krill (almost as big as crayons), and sieves with much smaller holes are what we need to get the copepods (which are about the size of a grain of rice).
We also packed our underwater strobe lights. Krill are good at escaping predators, and that includes escaping scientists’ nets. It’s not clear how exactly they can tell when a net is coming, probably partly through sensing the motion in the water ahead of the net (the bow wave) and also partly by seeing the net. This can be especially a problem since some kinds of krill, like bigger krill or healthier krill, might be better at swimming away, leaving the scientists with a sample which is different from the population of krill as a whole, and thus a biased view of krill biology and ecology. Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found that if you put a bright flashing light in front of the net fewer of the krill swim away and escape. So our underwater krill disco party helps us to catch better samples of krill for all our studies.
If you’re envisioning our boxes heading south right now, your wrong, well, mostly wrong. Currently our boxes are all headed west by southwest, to a logistics center in Southern California. International shipping is complicated and expensive, paperwork has to be just so to ensure customs agents are happy. So to make things simpler and cheaper for everyone, all of the scientists going to Antarctica ship their equipment from their university to a logistics center in California. At the logistics center, they check the paperwork, make sure all the labeling is correct, and combine things into bigger shipments, sending all the gear down to South America (or New Zealand for the scientists working on the other side of Antarctica) together, which is much cheaper. As you might imagine, this approach is not fast. We shipped our things a few days earlier than we needed to, but only a few, and our cruise is now just over 100 days away!
It’s nice to have the boxes on their way, rather than sitting in our hallway. And now that they’re off we can go back to analyzing all the samples we collected on the last cruise!