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Thanks to a Shackleton Scholarship Fund and the help of Falklands Conservation, we were able to spend a few days on the Falklands to do sampling of soils for microbiology analysis at sites where Falklands Conservation is currently carrying out habitat restoration pilot studies.


We spent two busy days in the Fritzroy area and Cape Pembroke. The first day, we not only got to visit various sites covered in rich Diddle-dee and grassland vegetation as well as see exposed peat and clay areas with the Habitat Restoration Officer, but also got to enjoy one of the rare hot summer days on the Falkland Islands. Our second day was apparently a lot more like a 'normal' day in February with thick clouds, rain and strong gusts of winds.                                                                              


                                                                     Tussock grass at Cape Pembroke, Falkland Islands.


                                                                              Diddle-Dee in Fitzroy, Falkland Islands.


                                                        Fieldwork with the Habitat Restoration Officer, Falklands Conservation.



                                                                               Collection of soil using a corer.



                                                                      Collection of soil for molecular analysis.


Nearly every beach has its friendly population of elephant seals that spend the days sleeping, yawning and laying around while they are shedding their fur. I think fur seals also try to be friendly but usually they find a reason to growl at you; defending their pups and territories being two of the reasons they have to come chasing towards you across the beach.


Elephant seals laying between grass and tussock.


Group of elephant seals on the beach at St Andews bay.



A very sleepy fur seal next to our hut.


Fur seal pups near King Edward Point station.


The diversity and abundance of sea birds in South Georgia is stunning! We were fortunate to be able to visit many areas on South Georgia including St Andrews bay, which has one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world... but also other birds can be found such as gentoo penguins, giant petrels and of course skuas. 


King penguins on St Andews bay.



Gentoo penguin.



Giant petrel.





Our team went on a one-month field expedition to South Georgia at the beginning of this year, funded by the National Geographic Society, to collect water, sediment, ice and snow samples from glaciers around South Georgia.


South Georgia is located south of the Antarctic Convergence and its mountainous landscapes are dominated by glaciers. More than 150 glaciers can be found on South Georgia, and until recently glaciers have been seen as abiotic features, but now it is known that they contain diverse ecosystems with rich communities of bacteria, cyanobacteria, microbial eukaryotes, Archaea, fungi and microfauna even sometimes insects.


South Georgia is located in a zone that will likely be affected by climatic change, which could lead to a further decline of glacial ecosystems. In our project we will therefore do a detailed documentation of the biology and biodiversity found on glaciers on South Georgia using a combination of environmental (eDNA), culture isolation and sequencing. The project is a collaboration between Dr Arwyn Edwards and Tris Irvine-Fynn (Abyerystwyth University), Dr David Pearce (Northumbria University) and me based at the Natural History Museum.


Buxton Glacier.


IMG_1467.jpg    Nordenskjöld Glacier.



Calving glacier front.


Our last field trip was to Harpon Bay. Unfortunately, we managed to pick one of the most rainy days of our whole trip. Nevertheless, we still got some good samples, and even more enjoyed dinner and a warm cup of tea in the evening. The main glacier in Harpon Bay is the Lyell Glacier which is highly covered with debris. It is also a very active glacier with a lot of calving.



Lyell Glacier with meltwater stream and seal wallows

IMG_9199.jpgLyell glacier with ice debris

But, now it is time to say good-bye to South Georgia. After 1-month of extensive sampling, we now have an interesting set of samples to take back to the UK for further analysis. The last two days, we spend cleaning, packing, and getting our samples ready for shipping.


We left South Georgia on the James Clark Ross (JCR), one of the British Antarctic Survey's research vessels. The JCR arrived on a windy morning and we were all transferred by jet boat onto it. The JCR left Cumberland Bay as soon as we were onboard, and we waved King Edward Point goody-bye.


SG8.jpgLast views of Grytviken (thanks to Barbara for the images)


King Edward Point Research station

Before the JCR headed towards the Falklands Islands, there was another stop at Bird Island, a small island at the northern tip of South Georgia. A few people joined us from there, and some re-supplies were loaded off. It was a cloudy morning, but Bird Island still looked beautiful. A multitude of birds such as petrels and albatrosses could be seen.


After a few hours at Bird Island, we headed for the open sea. While we were on the JCR , we had a chance to visit the labs and find out more about the science happening on the research cruise. We were lucky the sea was pretty calm throughout our journey, and after 3 days we arrived in Stanley, Falksland Islands. From here, we jumped on a plane to get back to London.



Bird Island


Several albatrosses


On the JCR in open sea


JCR in Stanley Harbour, Falkland Islands


In our project, we would like to investigate how microbial communities  differ between soil types. Therefore, we need to characterise the soil types and chemistry of the soils. This will entail measurements of pH, moisture content and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and iron.


The pH and soil moisture were determined straight after the collection on return to King Edward Point.  It makes quite a big mess in the lab, but worth it! Nutrient analyses are more complicated and therefore will be done back in the UK.

                                        IMG_8126.jpg Collection of a scree sample for molecular analsysis


IMG_8185.jpgOur little soil lab at KEP


We also measure pH, conductivity, oxygen and temperature for every stream that we sample, but this has to be done directly at the sampling site. For continous measurement over several days, a data logger was also installed in a stream near the station.

                                             DSCF1282.jpgSetting up a data logger in a stream

IMG_8024.jpgOur field probes for pH, conductivity, temperature and  oxygen


Corral Bay is small bay on Barff Peninula. The shores along Corral Bay are covered in a maze of tussock grass and big water-filled wallows, which is very common for South Georiga. The bay leads to a small valley with grasslands, bogs and bright green moss streamsWe also got to see a Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca) pair with their chick, which was a real treat for us.


The next day, we were picked up again by the the King Edward Point (KEP) boat crew and headed back to KEP in a slightly choppy sea. There was a lot of ice from icebergs and glaciers, which must have been pushed into this part of Cumberland Bay by the wind.


IMG_8807.jpgView Corral Bay across Cumberland Bay


Water-filled wallow and tussock grass


IMG_8824.jpgSooty Albatross with chick


Hiking inland from Corral Bay



Ice drifiting in the sea




South Georgia's flora is particularlly rich in cryptogams. While hiking across hills and mountains in South Georiga for interesting soil sampling spots, I also came across a lot of beautiful lichens. Common lichen genera were Caldonia, Usnea and Diploschistes.  There are also several fern species growing in South Georgia and hude amount of moss species, which often cover whole streams; so called "moss streams".



The lichen genus Cladonia in the centre of the image


The lichen genus Usnea


The lichen genus Diploschistes


The fern genus Polystichum


Moss stream



For the second week of our trip to South Georgia, our plan was to sample in St Andrews Bay, which is located on the north coast of South Georgia. The only way for us to get there was to pack our bags and sampling gear and get going on a 7.5 hour hike from Sjörling Valley in Cumberland East Bay, across Lönnberg Valley and into St Andrews Bay, descending a long and steep scree slope.


It was quite a hike but at the end, we were rewarded with views on the massive Heaney, Cook and Buxton Glacier as well as South Georgia's largest king penguin colony, with more than 100,000 birds. The hut was also amazing with penguins and fur and elephant seals as friendly next door neighbours.


Sjörling Valley

IMG_8466.jpgLönnberg Valley



First views of St Andrews Bay with Heaney, Cook and Buxton Glaciers


The hut in St Andrews Bay


Here in St Andrews Bay there were also a lot of molting penguins, and it seems that they preferably do this by standing with their feet in the cool stream waters. Because of the huge numbers of penguins, most of the streams had two or three rows of penguins lining the stream shores.



Molting king penguin

                   IMG_8586.jpgPenguins along the streams in St Andrews Bay


While we were in St Andrews Bay, we had a lot of sampling to do. This included a visit to the heart of the penguin colony to collect soil samples. The samples will help us to  evaluate how the microbial diveristy in soils and streams that are heavily influcend by wildlife will differ to sites without penguins or seals. The analysis of the samples will also assist us in understanding how the presence of wildlife is linked to the nutrients that enter the coastal waters.


King penguin colony in St Andews Bay


Soil sampling in St Andrews Bay



                                                                          Water sampling in St Andrews Bay


We had the opportunity to carry out sampling on several peninsulas such as Barff, Greene and Thather Peninsula. We were keen to visit as many sites possible for a good geographic coverage, to gain a better understanding of the spatial distribution of microbial taxa, richness and community composition.


We are also interested in glacial meltwater run-off on microbial biodiversity, therefore we collected samples near several of South Georgia's glaciers including Harker, Nordenskjöldand Heany Glaciers.


Nordenskjöld Glacier, Barff Peninsula

IMG_8491.jpgHeany Glacier, Barff Peninsula



Penguins wandering onto Heany Glacier



A Meltwater stream at Heany Glacier


We were able tohike to many ofour sampling sites on Thather Peninsula, but in order to get toGreene and Barff Peninsula, we had to be taken by boat. The boat trip were always great as we would get quite close to some of the big icebergs and constaintly cracking and carving glaciers.

IMG_8951.jpgIcebergs near Nordenskjöld Glacier


DSCF1286.jpgBoat officers getting a RIB boat ready


DSCF1281.jpgWe are getting ready for the boat trip


DSCF1300.jpgInside the Harbour Launch

IMG_8265.jpgBoat journey to Barff Peninsula


During our multi-day field trips, we would stay at the lovely well-equipped field huts that are maintained all over South Georgia.

IMG_8581.jpgThe hut at St Andrew's Bay



IMG_9034.jpgThe hut at Greene Peninsula


During the first week of our trip, we made an exciting discovery! In one of the ponds in Maiviken Cove, we found cyanobacterial mats.


Maiviken is a a beautiful cove on Thather Peninsula,only a 1 hour walk away from KEP. The cyanobacterial mat were in a small pond close to the scree slopes on the eastern side of the valley. The cyanobacterial-based mats were a lot more gelatinous than, for example, mats from the McMurdo Ice Shelf, but nevertheless clearly definiable as lift-off mats of up to 1 cm thickness.


Back in the lab, I had a look under the microscope and the mats were comprised of various morphotypes of Oscillatoriales includig Phormidium and Leptolyngbya, the unicellular order Chroococcales as well as Nodularia, which is a genus in the nitrogen-fixing order Nostocales.


A few weeks later, I also found cyanobacterial mats with a similar taxa composition in apond in Hapon Bay, which is also on Thather Peninsula. This finding is interesting as there is very little know about mat-forming cyanobacteria from South Georgia. Therefore, we collected material for more detailed microscopic and DNA analyses of the cyanobacterial diversity in these mats.

IMG_8116.jpgCyanbacterial mats in Maiviken Cove


On Barff Peninsula, I found a meltwater stream where the cyanobacterial genus Nostoc was growing on some of the rocks. The Nostoc nodules were ca 1 cm in diameter. It was difficult to get a good image beause of the reflection of the sun in the fast flowing water.

IMG_8398.jpgNostoc in a stream on Barff Peninsula


We arrived in King Edward Point Research Station the day after our visit to Jason Habour. It was a cloudy day and the sea was very choppy, therefore it took a while to get us off the MS Delphin into KEP’s Jet Habour Launch boats and safely back to land.


King Edward Point Research Station is a small station nestled just below Mount Duse in Kind Edward Point Cover, which is part of Cumberland East Bay. In summer there are usually around 20 people based including the South Georgia government officers, boat officers, engineers, a station doctor and several researchers who aremonitoringkrill and fish populations in the coastal waters of South Georgia.However, this year was a particularly busy year due to renovations of the Discovery house that was built in 1925 during the Discovery Investigations, the rat eradication program as well as a research team from National Centre for Atmospheric Research and our team.


The Government of South Georgia also has a fishery patrol and logistics support vessel called the MV Pharos SG, which dropped by KEP several times during our stay.



IMG_8192.jpgKing Edward Cove


King Edward Point Research Station

IMG_8039.jpgPost office at KEP

IMG_8106.jpgMS Pharos SG


Grytviken is also in King Edward Point Cove, whichused to be a large whaling station. Most of the former whaling station has been removed with some structures remaining as historic site, as well as a small church. There is a nice museum documenting the whaling history of South Georgia, and displays on some of flora and fauna found in South Georgia.




IMG_9116.jpgMuseum in Grytviken


On the fifth day, we saw the shores of South Georgia for the first time. We had the chance to go on land first time in Stromness Harbour, which contains the ruins of one of the many former whaling stations found in South Georgia. It was a great opportunity for us to collect our first samples. We also had a chance to admire some of the wildlife, that is so common for the shores of South Georgia.


Stromness Harbour is also famous for its importance in the rescue of the members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Ernest H. Shackleton on the Endurance. Here in Stromness Bay, Shackleton's party finally reached the first human settlementafter their 36 day crossing of South Georiga, and could organise the rescue of the rest of the expedition members from Elephant Island.

IMG_7813.jpgFirst views of South Georgia


IMG_7841.jpgShackleton Valley


IMG_7832.jpgWater sampling of astreams that is fed by several meltwater streams running of the snow covered slopes of the surrounding valley

IMG_7825.jpgRuins of whaling station and moulting king penguins

IMG_7846.jpgGentoo penguins with chicks

IMG_7856.jpgFur seals and king penguins

IMG_7855.jpgFur seal pups


After visiting Stromness Harbour, we also had the chance to get on shore at Jason Harbour, where we were greetedby the as usual slighty grumpy fur seals. We also saw a blonde fur seal that are seals with very pale coloured fur, apparently 1 in 1000 seals is a blonde variant.



Jason Harbour

IMG_7986.jpg Blonde fur seal


We also saw some elephant seals. Many elephant seals molt during this time of the year and they love doing it by laying on top of each other in smelly mud holes, so called wallows. There were also plenty of reindeer in Jason Harbour, which were introduced to South Georgia during the whaling era.



IMG_8007.jpgReindeer in Jason Harbour


We passed several incredible icebergs in between Stromness and Jason Harbour.



Icebergs in coastal water of South Georgia


South Georgia is probably one of the most remote places I have ever travelled to. First part of the journey was to fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a nice change from rainy London to sunnyBuenos Aires, Argentina. The second part of our journey was on the MS Delphinfrom Buenos Aires to South Georgia via Montevideo, Uruguay . The journey took us 6-days and it was a very pleasant way to watch wild lifeand catch up on work. From the second day onward, we frequently saw whales and abstrarosses passing the ship.


DSCF1143.jpgNatural History Museum, rainy January 2013



Buenos Aires, Argentina

DSCF1247.jpgDeparture from Buenos Aires, boarding the MS Delphin


The MS Delphin, our home for the next 6-days


Albatross passing the ship


A field team with members from the Natural History Museum and University of Sheffield will spend five weeks in January to February 2013 at King Edward Point research station in Cumberland Bay on South Georgia, Southern Atlantic Ocean. The project is funded through a Research Grant by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.


The aims of the field trip are to collect samples from soils and streams around Cumberland Bay such as Greene and Barff Peninsula to perform a comprehensive characterization of the bacterial and microbial eukaryotic diversity using next generation sequencing. The sample collection will enable to map bacteria and microbial eukaryotic community richness, composition and geographic distribution. Nutrients analysis for especially nitrogen and iron will also be performed to evaluate the relationship between microbial diversity and nutrients present in soils and streams.


This is important because bacteria and microbial eukaryotes are a major component of soils, and are essential for maintaining terrestrial ecosystems. Microbes are also important for processing of organic biomass and minerals in the soils, and nutrients generated in the soils can be transported into coastal waters through terrestrial runoff, and could subsequently potentially provide a source of nutrients for phytoplankton and fish in the coastal waters of South Georgia.


South Georgia is an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean and located south of the Antarctic Convergence, which is a climatic boundary between air and water masses of the Antarctic and subantarctic regions. South Georgia is around 170 long and between 2 to 40 km wid.


map1.jpgSouth Georgia in Southern Atlantic Ocean


map2.jpgSouth Georgia and Cumberland Bay (based on BAS map of South Georiga)



The landscapes of South Georiga characterized by steep barren mountainswith Mount Paget being up to 2.934 m high, numerous large glaciers and snowfields. The vegetation is dominated by mosses, lichen, grasses and a several flowering plant species . Ponds and streams are often rich in algae and mosses (


IMG_9101.jpgCumberland Bay



By the way, here are links to two webcams on South Georgia next the Kind Edward Point station:


South Georgia Webcam1



South Georgia Webcam2