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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.                                                                              

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                                                                     Tussock grass at Cape Pembroke, Falkland Islands.


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                                                                              Diddle-Dee in Fitzroy, Falkland Islands.


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                                                        Fieldwork with the Habitat Restoration Officer, Falklands Conservation.

 

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                                                                               Collection of soil using a corer.

 

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                                                                      Collection of soil for molecular analysis.

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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.

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Elephant seals laying between grass and tussock.

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

 

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A very sleepy fur seal next to our hut.

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Fur seal pups near King Edward Point station.

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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. 

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King penguins on St Andews bay.

 

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Gentoo penguin.

 

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Giant petrel.

 

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Skuas.

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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.

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Buxton Glacier.

 

IMG_1467.jpg    Nordenskjöld Glacier.

 

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Calving glacier front.

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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.

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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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