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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.

 

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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)


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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.

 

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Bird Island


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Several albatrosses


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On the JCR in open sea


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JCR in Stanley Harbour, Falkland Islands

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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


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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

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Water-filled wallow and tussock grass

 

IMG_8824.jpgSooty Albatross with chick

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Hiking inland from Corral Bay

 

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Ice drifiting in the sea

 

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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".

 

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The lichen genus Cladonia in the centre of the image


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The lichen genus Usnea

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The lichen genus Diploschistes

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The fern genus Polystichum


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Moss stream


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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.

                    IMG_8431.jpg

Sjörling Valley


IMG_8466.jpgLönnberg Valley

 

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

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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.

 

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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.

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King penguin colony in St Andews Bay

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Soil sampling in St Andrews Bay

 

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                                                                          Water sampling in St Andrews Bay

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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.


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Nordenskjöld Glacier, Barff Peninsula


IMG_8491.jpgHeany Glacier, Barff Peninsula

 

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Penguins wandering onto Heany Glacier


 

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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

 

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IMG_9034.jpgThe hut at Greene Peninsula

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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

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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


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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.

 

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Grytviken


IMG_9116.jpgMuseum in Grytviken


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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.

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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.

 

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IMG_8007.jpgReindeer in Jason Harbour

 

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


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IMG_7903.jpgIMG_7939.jpg

Icebergs in coastal water of South Georgia


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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


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Buenos Aires, Argentina


DSCF1247.jpgDeparture from Buenos Aires, boarding the MS Delphin


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


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Albatross passing the ship


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