I.D. Antarctica Begins Soon

The R/V Laurence M. Gould in front of an Antarctic glacier.

Welcome to the first post of our I.D. Antarctica series. Over the next 6 weeks, Andrew Corso, a PhD candidate at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will post weekly “mysteries” during his research cruise off the coast of Antarctica. This is his first post from the Southern Ocean.

The R/V Laurence M. Gould in front of an Antarctic glacier.


Greetings from Antarctica! We left from the tip of Chile in South America on our research vessel, the R/V Laurence M. Gould. After crossing some of the roughest seas on Earth, we have arrived near the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Here is a picture of the entire ship sitting in front of a glacier, I am standing in the front part of the ship where the black arrow is pointing.

Brown algae colored sea ice off the bow of the R/V Gould

As you can see, we are completely surrounded by sea ice. Hopefully, our skilled captain and crew are able to navigate the dangerous ice safely and we don’t get stuck (which has happened before)! That’s the front (or bow) of our ship in red.

You may notice the ice is cracked where we have already broken through and is reddish-brown in areas. I wonder, what might cause the ice to get discolored? Do you have any ideas?

Much of this type of ice forms each year during the Southern Hemisphere’s fall (during our springtime in April). It thickens during the 24-hour darkness of winter, and partially melts during summer. When there is enough light in early spring, whole communities of microscopic organisms called algae form below, and within, the sea ice. They convert sunlight to energy through a process called photosynthesis and serve as a valuable food source for all the marine creatures that live underneath the ice. These algae are what give the underside of the sea ice its rust (or even greenish) coloration. We can see the underside only because some pieces have flipped upside-down after we broke through. I expect we will be able to explore these under-ice communities more closely later in the research cruise!

Look for Andrew’s next post on Tuesday, January 14, with our first mystery creature to identify.  If you will be following along with your school, please comment below with your school name and city, so we know you are part of the mission!

23 replies
  1. Stacey Strong
    Stacey Strong says:

    Wow, Andrew! This is amazing! The East Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth Massachusetts will be following along. Our second graders were lucky enough to meet Capt. Sean Bercaw just before his trip down to Antarctica. (He is working aboard with you as the Marine Project Coordinator on this research cruise.) Please tell him we say hello! Fair winds and following seas!

  2. Patricia Hester-Fearon
    Patricia Hester-Fearon says:

    Hello ID Antarctica,
    So very excited for your research mission and connecting with our middle school ‘eco-minded’ students from Kearny, New Jersey!
    We are looking forward to solving some mysteries and to learn about the happenings down in the Western Antarctic Peninsula.
    Safe Travels,
    Pat Hester-Fearon
    Lincoln Middle School
    Automation & Robotics Instructor
    Eco Debate/Create Club Moderator
    4-H School Garden Club Advisor

  3. Monica Cavanaugh
    Monica Cavanaugh says:

    Hi! This is Monica Cavanaugh, a first grade teacher at Crestwood Primary School in Mantua, Ohio. A friend of mine, and former first grade teacher, Miss Harr or now Mrs. Lizarde, was fortunate enough to take this expedition! I am so glad to be able to share this experience with my class!

  4. Patricia Hester-Fearon
    Patricia Hester-Fearon says:

    Hi Andrew Corso,
    Currently I am a member of an ecology club at Lincoln Middle School in Kearny New Jersey http://www.kearnyschools.com and am curious about your research regarding fisheries science down at Palmer Research Station in Antarctica. Here are some additional questions in the hope of learning more about your research: Do you work with a group of scientists and what is your specific topic and how do you collect your data?

  5. Lynne Avdellas
    Lynne Avdellas says:

    We are following along! Mrs Avdellas’ 6th grade class from Leesburg, VA. We were also wondering if you all have seen any smoke from the fires in Australia.

  6. Meredith Salmon
    Meredith Salmon says:

    Hi Andrew! Best of luck with your research!

    My Marine Science class at The Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey will be following your expedition. Looking forward to it!

  7. LiNDA Librizzi
    LiNDA Librizzi says:

    Collier High School
    Wickatunk NJ
    grades 9-12

    Looking forward to exploring with you!
    Thank you!!

  8. Becky Puterio
    Becky Puterio says:

    Hi Andrew! Thank you very much for sharing your adventures! My sixth grade science classes in Brambleton, VA will be following along on your journeys! So far the kids have loved solving your first dichotomous key challenge, and we look forward to the new ones each week. Mr. Puterio says “Hi!” 🙂

  9. Linda Librizzi
    Linda Librizzi says:

    We loved the first assignment! My students are learning a how to use a dichotomous key. We will be using a dichotomous key again in the spring to identify trees so this is a great way to introduce the topic to the students.
    Thank you,
    We love the photos too!

    • Linda Librizzi
      Linda Librizzi says:

      your photos are wonderful. We are having so much fun working with you. Thank ;you for all your hard work
      We loved the answer picture for # 3 and # 4 looks like fun too.
      thank you again from NJ!!

  10. Cara
    Cara says:

    Good afternoon. My students are eager to learn which species was the correct one for Mystery Creature #2. Can you please post the answer for last week? Thank you

    • bean
      bean says:

      Hi Cara,

      So sorry; that should have gone out on Friday. I just reposted it in case there was a problem, and I apologize to everyone who didn’t receive it. Eager to hear how your students respond!

      Best wishes,
      Christine Bean
      Rutgers University

  11. Tracy Chorches
    Tracy Chorches says:

    Hello from Room #113 at East Falmouth Elementary School !!!!! We love reading the updates and looking at all the fabulous pictures you post! 🙂 We can’t wait until Captain Sean comes back to visit our school in the Spring to tell us all about his latest trip!!!

    Thank You for all you do!!

    Be safe!

    Mrs. Chorches Class

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