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Here's mud in your eye

Here's mud in your eye
Here's mud in your eye
I PEER out into the dawn mist. It is snowing softly and the sea is flat calm. Then they appear, three great grey shapes cruising powerfully alongside our ship. They take steady short breaths, briefly engulfing us in a fishy cloud of steam, then turn and dive under the hull.
"A-frame in!" shouts Josh into his radio, and the whine of hydraulics snaps me out of my whale-watching trance. Above, the bright orange confusion of steel struts and levers that is our precious box-corer swings wildly on its tether. Dave DeMaster, chief scientist, gives me a timely reminder to stop staring out to sea and to "haul in the tag lines". The swing is brought under control and we land the corer gently onto the deck. "Good core!" he shouts. We whoop with excitement. Our combined efforts have brought yet another beautifully undisturbed lump of green deep-sea mud onto the deck.Magazine
Myself and 16 other scientists from around the world are aboard the Antarctic research vessel Laurence M. Gould. The rugged mountains and ice sheets of the Antarctic Peninsula, just 50 kilometres away, contrast with the fertile seas we have come so far to study. During the summer months, bathed in sunlight 24 hours a day and fed by deep-water nutrients, these waters support a teeming array of marine life. But in the winter, the sunlight is gone and the energy pump that is the Sun's rays is switched off. Nowhere else in the world is this seasonal effect more dramatic, and this is what we have come to study.
Two months previously, I was explaining to friends back home that I was off to Antarctica. "Wow!" they would exclaim: "What are you doing there ? Studying penguins, or killer whales, perhaps ?"
"Er, no. Worms actually," I would reply enthusiastically. "They are amazingly diverse in the Antarctic and no one has worked out how they feed in the winter. Part of our project is to..."
At this point their eyes would glaze over and I knew the conversation was over. But marine worms, the diverse group known scientifically as polychaetes, are the subject of the PhD thesis that I am working on at the Natural History Museum, London. So when Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii invited me to join him on an Antarctic research trip I jumped at the opportunity to collect some more. And of course, if there just happened to be a side order of humpback whales breaching, beautiful ocean sunsets, penguins leaping off icebergs and teeming fur-seal colonies, then they would be a welcome bonus.
So here I am found, on the back of a heaving ship, shovelling thick, oozing mud from one bucket to another. Our "box corer" is cleverly designed to bring back an undisturbed section of the seabed 500 metres below. Once on board, the job of sorting the mud from the animals falls to that endless source of cheap labour that is the PhD student. But I am soon rewarded with plenty of wriggling polychaete worms. Craig has estimated that there may be up to 20 000 per square metre of seabed, a density possibly unmatched elsewhere in the world.
Under the microscope, a wondrous variety of forms is revealed. Giant pink and purple scavenging scale worms dwarf tiny burrowing types. Predatory "glycerid" polychaetes extrude their tiny jaws from mouthparts that are almost as long as the worm itself. An agitated "phyllodocid" polychaete swims aggressively around the Petri dish, laying thousands of tiny pink eggs as it moves. They do not live for long. Having survived a huge change in water pressure, it is the heat that finally kills them. Soon I add formaldehyde preservative and the rest are quickly finished. The collector's job is often a cruel one. Bound and packaged, they are shipped home to the Natural History Museum, no longer for the greater glory of the empire, but just my small contribution to a huge international programme of research.
POLYCHAETES, ANTARCTIC OCEAN
0262-4079
48-49
Glover, A.
31dd7ea2-17b9-47c4-866f-4be9b9a4a991
Glover, A.
31dd7ea2-17b9-47c4-866f-4be9b9a4a991

Glover, A. (2000) Here's mud in your eye. New Scientist, 167 (2255), 48-49.

Record type: Article

Abstract

I PEER out into the dawn mist. It is snowing softly and the sea is flat calm. Then they appear, three great grey shapes cruising powerfully alongside our ship. They take steady short breaths, briefly engulfing us in a fishy cloud of steam, then turn and dive under the hull.
"A-frame in!" shouts Josh into his radio, and the whine of hydraulics snaps me out of my whale-watching trance. Above, the bright orange confusion of steel struts and levers that is our precious box-corer swings wildly on its tether. Dave DeMaster, chief scientist, gives me a timely reminder to stop staring out to sea and to "haul in the tag lines". The swing is brought under control and we land the corer gently onto the deck. "Good core!" he shouts. We whoop with excitement. Our combined efforts have brought yet another beautifully undisturbed lump of green deep-sea mud onto the deck.Magazine
Myself and 16 other scientists from around the world are aboard the Antarctic research vessel Laurence M. Gould. The rugged mountains and ice sheets of the Antarctic Peninsula, just 50 kilometres away, contrast with the fertile seas we have come so far to study. During the summer months, bathed in sunlight 24 hours a day and fed by deep-water nutrients, these waters support a teeming array of marine life. But in the winter, the sunlight is gone and the energy pump that is the Sun's rays is switched off. Nowhere else in the world is this seasonal effect more dramatic, and this is what we have come to study.
Two months previously, I was explaining to friends back home that I was off to Antarctica. "Wow!" they would exclaim: "What are you doing there ? Studying penguins, or killer whales, perhaps ?"
"Er, no. Worms actually," I would reply enthusiastically. "They are amazingly diverse in the Antarctic and no one has worked out how they feed in the winter. Part of our project is to..."
At this point their eyes would glaze over and I knew the conversation was over. But marine worms, the diverse group known scientifically as polychaetes, are the subject of the PhD thesis that I am working on at the Natural History Museum, London. So when Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii invited me to join him on an Antarctic research trip I jumped at the opportunity to collect some more. And of course, if there just happened to be a side order of humpback whales breaching, beautiful ocean sunsets, penguins leaping off icebergs and teeming fur-seal colonies, then they would be a welcome bonus.
So here I am found, on the back of a heaving ship, shovelling thick, oozing mud from one bucket to another. Our "box corer" is cleverly designed to bring back an undisturbed section of the seabed 500 metres below. Once on board, the job of sorting the mud from the animals falls to that endless source of cheap labour that is the PhD student. But I am soon rewarded with plenty of wriggling polychaete worms. Craig has estimated that there may be up to 20 000 per square metre of seabed, a density possibly unmatched elsewhere in the world.
Under the microscope, a wondrous variety of forms is revealed. Giant pink and purple scavenging scale worms dwarf tiny burrowing types. Predatory "glycerid" polychaetes extrude their tiny jaws from mouthparts that are almost as long as the worm itself. An agitated "phyllodocid" polychaete swims aggressively around the Petri dish, laying thousands of tiny pink eggs as it moves. They do not live for long. Having survived a huge change in water pressure, it is the heat that finally kills them. Soon I add formaldehyde preservative and the rest are quickly finished. The collector's job is often a cruel one. Bound and packaged, they are shipped home to the Natural History Museum, no longer for the greater glory of the empire, but just my small contribution to a huge international programme of research.

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More information

Published date: 2000
Keywords: POLYCHAETES, ANTARCTIC OCEAN

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 8818
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/8818
ISSN: 0262-4079
PURE UUID: 83304af6-dac6-4f05-b087-7b530dc0d3c4

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 13 Sep 2004
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 17:12

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