It was a dream come true when I was granted a position as a grantee and lab technician working for the Palmer Station Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program along the West Antarctic Peninsula.
As a third-year biology AOC, I had absolutely no experience on ships before, so naturally working aboard the ASRV Laurence M. Gould for two months seemed like a good start. It was no surprise that I ended up down on the Ice; both my parents – my mother, a marine biologist, and my father, an oceanographer and Novo alumnus – spent many seasons at Palmer and McMurdo Stations, leading to pretty unique “how we met” story.
My own journey began with a REU research grant at Rutgers University under the mentorship of Dr. Oscar Schofield, one of the leading experts on Antarctic phytoplankton. My summer was spent the summer sifting through and analyzing years of phytoplankton data taken on previous Palmer LTER summer cruises. Amazingly, I was granted the opportunity to continue my research into the field, taking a position in Dr. Schofield’s lab on board the 2016 summer cruise during the following January and February.
New College’s flexible scheduling and the extra month of the ISP term gave me the time to perform outside research while still remaining in school. Close relationships with professors ensured that my time spent at sea, with extremely limited access to internet, was spent focused on the work at hand rather than on the lectures I was missing coming back late to the Spring semester.
In Antarctica, there’s a saying that stuck with us all: “Beneath 50° south, there is no law; beneath 60° south, there is no God.” Looking back at my nearly two months spent at sea, I can say for certain that Antarctica is not for the faint of heart.
Research onboard took place 24 hours a day and the memories of seasickness seem to persist to an annoying degree. The water was freezing, and the dry, salty, air chapped every exposed area of skin. Sometimes, completely surrounded by a solid, never-ending ice sheet, haunted by a sun that never set, you felt the true extent of the isolation that comes from being at the bottom of the world.
Every day, in this way, was incredible. Antarctica is, and always will be, the most starkly beautiful place I’ve ever been. Everything, from finding ways to entertain yourself with just a deck of cards to trying to launch instruments off of the back deck in the middle of a storm, was a new challenge. The entire experience was just so invigorating, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back one day. It’s in my blood.