Hi Fellow Bloggers and Blogg-ets,
Antarctica is all about science. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 set aside the entire continent for scientific research, so no country can test military weapons or prospect it for oil and minerals.
map from britannica.com
That is why 31 countries have research stations in Antarctica. When summer comes, about 5000 scienctists and researchers arrive from all over the world to work at these stations.
Palmer is a small research station. It houses up to 44 scientists and staff. The site was chosen because it has: a great variety of animal and plant life, plenty of fresh water to drink, deep water so ships can dock, and ice-free land from which research can take place.
photo by Peter Rejcek
At Palmer Station, our team works in the Bio Lab Building (the largest blue and beige building in the picture above), along with about six other teams of scientists. As weather permits, we work OUTSIDE — traveling in zodiacs to surrounding islands to collect Belgica anarctica. Back at the station, we work INSIDE . Here is a brief overview of our work in the science lab. . .
Step 1: The first thing we do is to put our larvae into the freezer. They must be kept cold, or they will die.
Step 2: If you’ll recall, out in the field we scoop up the larvae with spoons, (substrate and all!) and put them into plastic bags. When we’re ready to extract (remove) larvae from the substrate, we empty our plastic bags onto a framed screen which sits atop a large, rectangular pan of ice and water. Then we shine a light directly onto the screen. Contrary to what you or I might choose, the larvae will crawl away from the warm, bright light, and fall through the screen into the icy water.
Step 3: We spread the substrate containing the larvae over the screen. Sometimes this gets pretty squishy and soggy, depending on the habitat in which the larvae live. We must pick the substrate apart carefully and spread it evenly so all larvae are exposed to the light. Think of it as spreading sausage on a pizza!
Step 4: Next, we use a pipette (plastic eye dropper) to suck the larvae from the water and tranfer it to a clean beaker of ice water. We use a pipette so we don’t hurt the insects. The larvae are so small and delicate, we would squash them if we tried to pick them up with our fingers. In this process, called the first cleaning, there’s still a bit of dirt and debris that gets into the beaker along with the larvae.
Step 5: We need clean larvae for our experiments, so we sort them again. During the second cleaning, we transfer the larvae from the first cleaning into a new container of ice water. This time, there is less dirt and debris.
At each stage, the containers are carefully labeled so we know where they came from. Keeping careful records is key to being a good scientist.
A huge part of our job at Palmer is to collect larvae. Dr. Rick’s goal is to have enough insects for conducting experiments here at Palmer, and some to send back to Miami University in Ohio, where he’ll continue his research when we return.
The “Buggers;” left to right: Yuta, Pat, Rick, Alena
Two members of my team are conducting research at Palmer Station. Dr. Alena Kobelkova, from the Czech Republic, is a molecular biologist studying the response of Belgica antarctica to photoperiods (light and dark cycles.) She can often be found peering into a microscope and manipulating tiny forceps as she works with tiny insect brains.
Yuta Kawarasaki, a graduate student working on his phD, is investigating the effect of different microhabitats on the insects’ ability to survive. A microhabitat is the environment immediately surrounding an insect.
There is a lot of fascinating science going on at Palmer Station. Our ”insect”-igation is just the tip of the proverbial research iceberg (no Antarctic pun intended!) More about these cool studies in another blog. . ..
For now, this is your scientist-on-the-spot, Polar Pat, signing off. . .