Flying out on October 23rd on the beginning of my journey south to Antarctica, I admired one of the most beautiful views you can behold flying out of any airport; the sparkling ocean and waterways surrounding the inviting, curving beaches and lush landscape of warm Tampa Bay. Twenty-four hours later as I descended into Punta Arenas, Chile, I found myself looking onto an equally beautiful but cold landscape: covered by pockets of water, bordered by the glistening Strait of Magellan, and surrounded by a halo of snow-capped mountains along the horizon.
Punta Arenas is the main harbor from which research cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica set sail and provides a temporary berth for the R/V Laurence M. Gould, an ice “fortified” research vessel (i.e., not quite strong enough to be an icebreaker). The Gould will be my home for the next three weeks on my journey to conduct research near the Antarctic Peninsula.
I am a geologist and I use deep-sea sediments to reconstruct past ocean changes. In the work that I do, I am something like a historian of the Earth. The history of the earth is recorded at the bottom of the ocean when different creatures and rocks sink and get buried. What gets buried varies with the changing climate and other processes that take place over time. I go back and identify those changes and try to figure out what these historical records can teach us, not just about the past, but also about present oceans and what to expect in future changes.
As you may have guessed by my background, I’m joining the Gould for a research cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula where I will conduct paleoceanographic research. There are six other scientists working with me on this cruise, including my advisor, Dr. Amelia Shevenell (the chief scientist), and my lab mate, Michelle. On this research cruise, we will take ocean sediment cores at the Antarctic Peninsula in order to try to unravel the changes that have taken place with the ocean and ice sheets there in the last 10,000 years or more. It will likely be a part of my PhD research, but that all depends on what we find…
So, now I’m in Punta Arenas to join up with the Gould. Last setting foot in Florida, my first step out into the cold south Chilean spring weather nearly took my breath away and almost made me second-guess how well I will survive the cold Antarctic temperatures. But, hey, a trip to Antarctica is the chance of a lifetime so it will be worth a few days of shivering.