Sunday, September 13, 2015

Break time

Right now, I am sitting on the black leather couch in the lounge of the Helmer Hanssen. It's just past midnight, and even though I was planning to stay up much later, my night has been cut short by a power outage. We blew a fuse in the main lab (too many microscope lights plugged in at once), and the crew is working to fix it. Looks like I’ll have to rest until morning.

To be honest, rest is a very welcome thing right now, since I've been working at breakneck pace all cruise. We’ve only been at sea for five days, but it feels like it’s been a decade. My days have been full of coursework – sampling for class projects, sorting and identifying animals, analyzing data – leaving me to analyze my settlement plates in any remaining spare moment. Truth be told, I really shouldn’t be complaining, because I've gotten 4 sets of plates back successfully in as many days, which is impressive and encouraging. At a certain, point, though, I do start to wear down.

One of the more common bryozoans on my plates, called
Lichenopora sp., magnified 25 times.
I'm so excited that my experiment is working out, because the data I’m collecting are both rare and valuable. The first set of plates from Longyearbyen had an impressive variety of animals, including numerous bryozoans. Bryozoans are colloquially known as moss animals, and they consist of colonies of little clones encased in calcium carbonate housings. Thankfully, one of the leaders of my class is a bryozoan expert, so I've been routinely asking him to look over my shoulder and help me identify the species on my plates. Piotr has been extremely helpful, and in fact, my first few days on the cruise essentially consisted of a crash course in bryozoan taxonomy. I'm thankful to be able to draw on his expertise.

One of the bryozoans on my settlement plates, called Cribrilina
, surrounded by barnacles and spirorbid worms.
Magnified 25 times.
Even before I finished my Longyearbyen plates, the next set was recovered from a mooring in Kongsfjorden, at 79° N. I was actually out on a class field trip when the mooring was recovered, so when I stepped back on board, I was surprised to see a large white tub of seawater on the deck with my plates in it. It was a bit funny because within 5 minutes of me finding the plates, two other course leaders approached me independently to proudly announce that the plates had been recovered. I'm afraid I disappointed them by saying that I already knew.

The plates from the mooring are actually really interesting, because they have much lower diversity than those attached to the shallow docks. One set of plates, deployed at the bottom of the mooring at 215 m depth, contains exactly one species, a hydrozoan. Hm.

I still have a lot more to learn from my settlement plates – more species to identify, more individuals to count. The data have a lot of important things to say to me, so I’m keeping my eyes and ears open. It's almost certain that I'll discover something new.  

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