After eleven days of work we have a clear idea of what needs to be done to fulfil our objectives. The two of us from Sheffield University (Andrew Hodson and Aga Nowak) have learned that there has been a considerable increase in snow accumulation on this part of the island in recent years, making things rather different to initial expectations. Much of this snow is caused by changing wind directions, resulting in deeper coastal snowpacks near the base and the shore. We therefore decided to study the microbial ecology of this snow and compare it to the inland snowpacks on the glacier. The coastal snow is a big problemfor the station. The buildings influence the winds and form new snow drifts, a process which has already buried one of the old buildingsand which will soon take the large house that was only recently constructed. It is not at all clear if it will be safe next year as the deep snow is already bending the steel frame of the house and causing leaks in several places. Where will the people stay next year then?
On the glacier, the extra snow is temporarily haltingthe retreat of the ice. Digging to the glacier surface through 2.5 m of snow revealed that it is growing through the refreezing of surface snowmelt. The formation of this “superimposed ice” layer means the rivers flowing to the sea are much smaller than we expected. This affects the second part of our study, which involves the examination of nutrients transported from land to marine ecosystems. However, we have been able to travel along the peninsula and around the point into False Bay to collect several stream water samples now. At False Bay, we saw a dead humpback whale on the beach providing a summer’s worth of food for a large group of Giant Petrels. Watching them feed was like seeing albatrosses behave like vultures, neck-deep in blubber and meat. There was a long line of fifty or so birds waiting to get to the carcass. Each approaching bird tried to make itself look big and important by fanning its tail and half spreading its wings. Their behaviour was certainly one of the strangest things we have see on our trip so far.
Andrew Hodson e Aga Nowak, Univ. Sheffield.
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