Summer update

Six months have passed since we were enjoying the wind and rain of the Antarctic summer on Green Island.  After a few days of decidedly warmer weather sailing back north, including a one-off night-time outdoor cinema on the back of the ship as the bright stars twinkled above in the pitch black sky of the south Atlantic, the three of us were all mightily relieved to arrive back on dry land in Montevideo and to free our minds and stretch our legs by paddling in the warm water of the River Plate before the long flight home. Eighteen months of white landscapes had not been enough for Ash, who headed off to the Alps whilst Matt and Jessica happily returned to the normality of daily life and the re-introduction of personal choice over meal times.

Our precious samples and cargo had an even longer journey home, travelling back to Rothera (the main British Antarctic Survey base) on the Antarctic Peninsula, before being transferred to the RRS Ernest Shackleton for the long steam north to the UK, safely arriving in Cambridge in May.  Next week Jessica will retrieve them from the deep freeze and begin sampling them for analyses to start.

In the months since the trip took place, work has been carrying on a pace in the labs in Exeter and Cambridge.  Matt has been spending hours at the microscope looking hopefully for testate amoebae (see our website for an introduction to these organisms) and also for tephra layers.  Tephra layers are accumulations of tiny fragments of volcanic origin that can collect in moss accumulations and peat bogs following a local volcanic eruption.  They provide an independent mechanism of dating and cross-referencing between our cores and other similar local records such as lake sediment cores.

In Cambridge, Jessica has been extracting cellulose from the cores collected during the 2012 field season on Elephant Island and Ardley Island.  The Elephant Island cores are the longest and oldest in the region and thus really important to building up a long term picture of environmental change.  The Ardley Island cores are not particularly long, but have the advantage of coming from a locality where other scientific work has been carried out. Close to Ardley Island, on King George Island in the South Shetland Island group, there are a number of research stations and with an air strip carrying regular flights to South America it is one of the most accessible points of Antarctica. Thus we have some of the best and longest meteorological records from Antarctica, along with analysis of sediment and marine cores that we can compare with our Ardley Island data. By combining information from multiple sources and using the multiple proxies that we are (cellulose, testate amoebae etc.) we stand the greatest chance of interpreting our complex data accurately.

Finally, if you’d like to read more, then an article about our work and time on Green Island has just been published in the summer edition of the NERC Planet Earth magazine:

http://www.nerc.ac.uk/publications/planetearth/2013/summer/sum13-moss.pdf

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