Wolfson in Antarctica

Life at the Extreme for Professors Melody Clark and Lloyd Peck

Melody Clark
30/01/2024

Wolfson is one of the few Cambridge Colleges which carries out research on all seven continents. 

Melody Clark

College fellows Professors Melody Clark and Lloyd Peck are currently carrying out research with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). They will be broadcasting live from Antarctica with University of Cambridge on Wednesday 7 February.

Melody has also reported back to Wolfson from Rothera Research Station about her work in this year's Antarctic summer. Here is her story of "Life at the Extreme" and how Wolfson hats are being put to good use.

"While the UK was experiencing sub-zero temperatures and the odd storm or two, we were basking in the Antarctic summer. It’s not very warm down here, usually below zero and snows quite a bit, but at least we didn’t have to cycle to work in Storms Henk, Isha and Jocelyn! 

We both work as scientists for BAS and are currently at Rothera Research Station, which is half-way down the Antarctic Peninsula (Latitude. 67°34'8"S, Longitude. 68°7'29"W to be precise) for just over six weeks.

Lloyd is leading the team who are using several different methods to characterise the underwater biodiversity. These comprise underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) footage, drop camera stills imaging, sediment analyses and collecting environmental DNA (eDNA) to identify what lives at the end of the runway. 

The first half of the team completed all the ROV and drop camera work before Christmas, then we flew in to carry out sediment and eDNA sampling.

As a seasoned diver with more than 850 Antarctic dives under his belt, there is nothing Lloyd likes more than donning the neoprene and submerging in 0°C water surrounded by ice. While this may sound glamorous, that is not really the case. This season he is spending a lot of time underwater collecting mud samples in very fine scoop nets in zero visibility. 

We then have hours in a cold room sorting out very small animals from the mud to add to our biodiversity surveys. The mud is then dried and sifted to work out particle sizes for a bizarre construction-related requirement.

In contrast, I much prefer the tea and biscuits approach to field work, remaining firmly ensconced in the lab where it is warm and dry. This proves that you don’t have to be rufty-tufty to work in Antarctica. 

You do have to be prepared to make cups of tea to warm up the divers when they return from the icy depths. This is hardly arduous, especially if they don’t notice that there are a few chocolate biscuits missing from the opened pack!

My scientific work involves pouring litres of water though filters, from which I then extract eDNA. I also extract it from sediment samples. This will all be returned to the UK for sequencing and analysis. The eDNA work will be compared with the imagery and sampling work to see if we get similar answers. If we do, getting water samples in the future will be much easier than deploying loads of tech. 

All is going well so far and hopefully the UK weather will be more conducive to cycling when we return home in February. 

We are pleased to report the success of Wolfson hats as seen in the photos and look forward to catching up with everyone in College soon.”

A recording of the event is available at https://www.linkedin.com/events/lifeattheextremes-livefromthean7157781957014114305

An interview from Melody from Rothera is  also available in this podcast The origin of Europe's MS disease, and South Pole sequencing | Podcasts (thenakedscientists.com)

Wolfson hats, as worn by Melody and Lloyd, are on sale at the Porters’ Lodge, in the College.

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