19 March 2021

#AntarcticLog: What’s the Ecostat?

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#AntarcticLog is a series of comics by Karen Romano Young. You can find the originals here

As promised, I’m back with more of that invisible science.  That’s what the Antarctic Artists and Writers program of the National Science Foundation sent me to Palmer Station to do: take a close look at invisible phytoplankton and create pictures to tell their story. 

First, the team from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences set up the Ecostat, a device designed to mimic the ocean environment offshore — complete with wave action.  That’s Carlton Rauschenberg, Paty Matrai, and Pete Countway. 

Next we’d go out on Hadar, a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), threading a path through the brash ice, bergy bits, and icebergs to get to Station E, our sampling spot two miles offshore. 

On station, we’d deploy (drop in) a rosette equipped with bottles. It was programmed to gather water from 5 meters below the surface. My job was to help send the rosette overboard and bring it back aboard, then to pipe the seawater from the bottles to larger containers. Good catch! 

Back at the lab, the scientists would transfer the water to the Ecostat — an outdoor cradle designed to nurture phytoplankton — and understand the conditions under which they produce dimethylsulfionioproprionate (DMSP) — an aerosol with that special seashore briny smell, which affects cloud formation. 

Next week: more visual stories about invisible science. I love to see all this invisible stuff, don’t you? 

Karen Romano Young is a writer, artist, deep-sea diver, and polar explorer. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram