Updated: Apr 11, 2020
[Blog written by Kirsten Steinke]
My name is Kirsten Steinke and I am a PhD candidate in ocean ecology and biogeochemistry in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. As a student in Dr. Kim Bernard's zooplankton ecology lab, I conduct research on krill at both the Antarctic Peninsula and on the Oregon Coast.
I am currently living at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula doing research alongside Kim and Julia Fontana, an undergraduate senior at Oregon State University. We will spend six months here studying the overwintering physiology of juvenile Antarctic krill.
Prior to joining Kim’s lab, I never thought I would spend the next five years of my life studying these charismatic critters, but nonetheless, they have stolen my heart. What intrigues me about krill is the central role they play in coastal marine food webs. They are preyed upon by higher trophic level species such as whales, seals and birds and without them, the ecosystem could be in danger of collapsing. My project here at Palmer Station will be focused on studying what factors affect the reproductive development of juvenile Antarctic krill. In late winter or early spring, krill will begin to develop their sexual organs that they will use to spawn the following summer. The rate at which sexual organ development occurs is dependent on several internal and external factors including krill physiology and environmental conditions. I’m curious to see if feeding habits throughout the period leading up to development (i.e. winter) can affect their physiology in a way that might alter the rate of development in juveniles.
In addition to long hours spent in the lab running experiments and hours on end spent in a boat collecting copepods to feed our krill, there is so much at Palmer Station to occupy my time! Palmer Station is situated at the base of a glacier and is surrounded by clusters of islands, most of which are accessible by a small boat. The galley is where everyone on station gathers for group meals and Friday night cocktail hours. The room is completed with a fireplace and cozy couches and it is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea while gazing out into a sea of ice that is Hero Inlet.
Every morning at 6:30 a.m. a group of us meet in the lounge here on station for a group yoga sesh to wake up the joints for a long day of work ahead. We work hard here on station, but we also play hard. Last weekend was my first time up on the glacier and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The feeling of serenity came over me as I was hiking up to the top with my trekking poles and microspikes. The only sounds I could hear were the wind whisping by me and the thunderous cracks of the glacier calving. This is by far one of the wildest and most humbling places I’ve ever been. I feel truly lucky to be able to witness Antarctica and all of its glory.
It’s also important to note that we are sharing this beautiful piece of land and ocean with some pretty incredible animals. I never fail to be impressed by the wildlife that surrounds me. I’ve seen everything from sleeping humpback whales, to playful Gentoo penguins, to an irritated leopard seal that was trying to destroy one of our zooplankton light traps!
About a month ago I left my home in Corvallis, along with my boyfriend and friends, to spend six months in Antarctica studying how juvenile Antarctic krill survive the winter. We are an all women science team who have been called crazy for wanting to spend so long enduring the blistering cold that is winter in Antarctica. But truth be told, the weather at Palmer Station is quite mild thus far, so everyone can relax. When I signed onto this trip, it was because I was excited for the science and for the adventure. However, from the time I stepped on board the Laurence M. Gould (LMG) Research Vessel three weeks ago to begin the trip south, to arriving here at Palmer Station, I realized there is so much more in store for me this winter.
The people on the LMG and the people here on station have made Antarctica a home away from home for me, and for that I will be forever grateful. Our research is underway, I have joined a band, I am currently the undefeated ping-pong champion here on station, and on another note….winter is coming. We are more than excited to see what this season has in store for us.