Select Page

by Nicole Schanke, Instructor in Biological Science

This school year has had a major theme that our Warner community has followed, #MyAdventure #MyWarner, with it, has come many exciting times for the students and faculty.

When asked about my recent trip to Antarctica, I find myself responding, “I saw amazing places, met amazing people and did some amazing science.” That seems like such a simple answer to summarize my nearly six-week journey to the southernmost reaches of the world, but it is a pretty accurate statement.

During this entire experience, I was most surprised by the beautiful scenery. Before embarking, I had a mental image of what I thought Antarctica would look like, with bitterly-cold wind and freezing temperatures. However, that was not the case. Because Antarctica is in the southern hemisphere, they have their summer while we have our winter. So, yes, it was cold, but if you bundled up just right it could be quite pleasant outside.

For the first week, we were traveling through open ocean, which is beautiful in itself. As we approached the continent, our views became more and more dotted with icebergs. I don’t know what was the most impressive, the massive size of these pieces of ice, the brilliant blue colors caused by the refraction of light, or the complete silence of this isolated sea.

Days later, this sprinkling of icebergs was replaced by a seemingly infinite sheet of ice, where we had our first seal and penguin sightings. These animals are known for their beauty and grace, when they are in the water. On the ice, seals and penguins are awkward, uncoordinated and adorable.

On several occasions, the ship was followed by groups of penguins who were either intrigued or frightened by our presence in their home. However, it was on my last day that we had our best animal sightings. Not only were we accompanied by the usual seals and penguins, but as the ship broke through the pack ice we were also joined by a pod of orcas. In the stillness, you could hear the orcas surface and exhale before gracefully diving below the ship. It was the perfect way to spend my last day at sea.   

The research I was a part of was a collaboration between groups at the College of Charleston, Stanford University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. We were also joined by scientists from Rutgers University, the University of Otago in New Zealand, and the Università degli studi de Napoli Federico II and Università degli studi de Napoli Parthenope in Naples, Italy.

Our science involved experiments and samplings to study the phytoplankton communities of the Southern Ocean. These polar seas are some of the most productive areas of the ocean, and the  phytoplankton community is responsible for taking up large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Our aim was to investigate how iron and other trace metals impact the growth, physiology and species composition of several phytoplankton communities throughout the Southern Ocean.

A dense phytoplankton community giving the sea ice a brown color

The administration was gracious in allowing me to take time off so my schedule would fit the time frame of this trip. My colleagues willingly filled in for me when it came to covering courses and answering students’ questions. But most importantly, this community encouraged me to take this opportunity and I know they were faithful in covering me in prayer while I was away.

I cannot fully express how thankful I am that #MyWarner supported #MyAdventure