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Search for the sea butterflies…

May 25, 2009

This last week has been a very routine week in the lab. Most of our time has spent taking samples of the water conditions in our experimental containers, sampling the urchin blood (see Hannah’s blog), measuring turnover rates (see blog) and carrying out fertilisation experiments (again, see Hannah’s blog but also check out the study 10 page for a video and update). So this weekend we were very organised and managed to get all our main sampling done so that we could have a bit more time to see the area around the base while we are here. It seems a shame to come all the way to the Arctic to then spend all the time inside a laboratory!

 Bonnie and Helen kitting up for a boat trip

Bonnie and Helen kit up in survival suits for our boat trip. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

On Saturday we joined Steeve on his search for Pteropods. Steeve has not been having much luck in getting these tiny floating snails so far (they look a bit like butterflies because they use their foot a bit like wings). Last week he managed to take the boat a little bit further out of the fjord and found an area where he collected around 80 or so of these creatures; so on Saturday we went back to the spot to find some more. This involved taking out two small boats and driving about 15 km from the base out of the fjord. It was an extremely calm day but our early start meant that the mist was still covering the fjord and although the water was as flat as a mirror it was a little spooky speeding out into the mist in our boats. As the mist lifted we were treated to amazing views of the bright blue glaciers creeping up to the waters edge surrounded by dark mountains.

 Speeding into the mist

Speeding into the mist on the way out to the site. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

Boating past the glaciers as the mist clears

Heading home past the glaciers and dark mountains. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

Once we arrived at the site, we switched off our engine and let the boat drift around (we were the support team in case anything went wrong) while Steeve and his crew got on with sorting out the plankton net and buckets. Collecting pteropods is a bit of a fine art, they are quite small and delicate so the plankton net was lowered gently down about 50 m in the water and then slowly bought back up again. Steeve retrieved the large container from the end of the net and carefully plucked out any pteropods.

 Steeve looking for pteropods in the container at the end of the plankton net

Steeve checking for pteropods in the container at the end of the plankton net. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

After about 5 or 6 plankton tows Steeve had collected over 40 pteropods, which is still not enough for his experiment but our time was running out – every time we leave the base we have to take a radio, a rifle and a flare gun, as well as inform someone on base what time we will be back and where we will be going – so we headed back to base. Snow was still falling as we returned, even though the mist had lifted but there were still no waves and just the wind from the boat keeping us cold. We saw quite a few birds, lots of fulmars, some skuas and even some puffins. I’ve got a video to put up soon and they will feature in that.

 Bonnies view - watching Helen watch the other boat

Bonnies view – watching Helen watch the other boat. Photo Bonnie Laverock

The weather has turned again now. The sun came out on Sunday for the first time in about 5 days and we had a beautiful but bitterly cold day. The wind picked up throughout Sunday afternoon and by the evening it was snowing again. This morning we woke up to more snow and strong winds, it is now minus 7 ºC but with wind chill it is down to minus 22 ºC, which is the coldest it has been since we arrived. The divers cannot go out and Steeve has to wait another day to continue his search for the sea butterflies…

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