Association of Polar Early Career Scientists

Today is Friday so time to have some Fun! We asked some Early Career Researchers to tell us some stories or write about how amazing their jobs are in the different fields of polar sciences. If you want to share one of your stories, go to our Twitter or Facebook and use #PolarWorld!

Drama seal, grumpy seal, happy seal!

My PhD project focuses on understanding mercury (Hg) cycling in Arctic seals, with special interest on mother-to-pup transfer, through the use of Hg stable isotopes. What I find amazing about working with seal pups is that you can see how each of them has his/her personal character: during sampling, we always have at least a drama queen, always screaming even when nobody is close to her, a grumpy one that no one can approach, and the happy curious one, which really likes passing time with you and learn about this strange human who is cutting my fur! My personal favorite, was a white coat (harp seal 25-days-old pup) who apparently really really liked me. I had to do an entire day of sampling with him following me around and putting half of his body (70 kg given or take) on one of my foot.

Marianna Pinzone
University of Liège

When you have to eat ice cream for Science!

My first voyage into the Southern Ocean was on the RV Investigator with the CSIRO in Australia. I had joined the team as a student volunteer but was very excited to be heading south for the first time. My cabin mate, Swan Li San Sow, were on the genomics team and were collecting biological samples from the sea floor right up to the surface using a piece of equipment called a CTD. Unfortunately, the head of the team Eric Raes was a bit unorganised and had forgotten to bring any containers for us to put our samples into. We searched the whole ship, as we couldn't just turn around to go to the nearest shop, and luckily found some of just the right size. They were however inconveniently FULL of ice cream! So, for 5 weeks everyone on board had to eat ice cream at least once a day so that we would have a plastic 20L container ready for the next day! When I got home I was so sick of ice cream I couldn't eat it for months!

Nicole Hellessey
University of Tasmania

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The daily adventures of a polar scientist!

I never could have imagined that part of my life as a scientist would involve boarding a ship for 6 weeks, sailing into the ferocious Southern Ocean, riding a helicopter from the ship’s deck to the shores of a remote sub-Antarctic island, finding myself surrounded by inquisitive penguins, donning my backpack full of tubes and bags and labels, skirting carefully around a ‘wallow’ of grumpy elephant seals, and setting out into some of the planet’s windiest terrain to search for enigmatic beetles living under rocks. On days like this, I don’t think there is a better job in the world!

Helena Baird
Monash University, Australia

A different kind of daily commute.

I have spent two seasons down at the British Antarctic Survey Rothera Research Station on the West Antarctic Peninsula. Life on station is certainly different to living at home! I remember during my first season that the weather at my home town of Groningen, Netherlands, was freezing rain, sheet ice, snow and strong winds, while we in the Antarctic had a week of bright sunlight, minimum winds and relatively warm 4°C! We were getting daily emails, warning that the University was shut due to the weather and not to travel due to the dangerous roads. Meanwhile our commute involved 20 minutes cruising through Ryder Bay on our boats to our sampling location, avoiding the ice and overheating in our boatsuits!
Despite our limited internet access, we sent a tweet to the university that despite the bad weather, the Dutch Antarctic team were still able to get to work in the morning.

Alison Webb
University of Groningen

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Diving with seals.

West Antarctic seas are rapidly changing and one of the big questions is how marine biodiversity will change due to climate change. The aim of my research was to develop a detailed understanding of how the shallow water biodiversity around Rothera Point varies through space and time. In the summer months, I was diving from boats but in the winter when the sea froze I was diving through holes cut in the sea ice using a chain saw. As Weddell seals need to make breathing holes in the sea ice using their teeth, they were often very grateful for our dive holes. One day after carrying out a research dive, we were on our safety stop at 6m when we were joined by approximately 30 Crabeater seals. They were very curios of us and rubbed their whiskers on our dive masks, amazing. Another great experience while carrying out Antarctic winter research is being present during the birth of many seal pups.

Terri Souster
Open University

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