Antarctic Blog 2013


photograph © 2013 Lorena Lagos Pailla and Leticia Barrientos

Day 7: Nelson Island (Isla Nelson) and really cold hands (25.2.2013)

This day's samples: D6—D8: Nelson Island

With a zodiac trip to the southwest from King George Island we mounted a (short) expedition to Nelson Island (-62 14 08, -59 00 05). Sampling of research groups on the trip involved sediment at the ocean's edge for microorganisms from an antibiotic bacterial genus with unusual genes; we took samples under moss and lichen; and one group took soil from 20 cm down (using their auger) in search of microbes with methanogens and interest in specific metabolic pathways.

Everything started out OK except for the light rain, mixed with snow, but since we were all dressed to kill we were prepared. The return trip was cold however, because the rain and sampling had thoroughly wet our gloves.

And here's where I saw an exchange between two scientists, two people, that I'll remember the rest of my life:

While we sampled on Nelson Island in freezing rain the temperature stayed above freezing. So far so good. But by the time we got back into the zodiac after 2 h of sampling, our gloves were wet. Remember Day 1: cold and dry maybe OK, but cold and wet dangerous.

On our way back to Escudero Base from Nelson Island, longer than expected for various reasons, we moved slowly near Nelson Island because of the shoals, but when we finally got back out into Fildes Bay and El Capitán pointed our boat for home and brought her up to speed, that's when we got into trouble.

Initial body positions in the zodiac--as always sitting up on the round sides (see Day 9 photograph)--changed to more guarded thermal positions as we sped home, say 1 or 2°C but with a 25 km/h wind chill. Soon everyone but El Capitán was facing the center of the boat, parka hoods up and tightened around out faces, exposing as little skin as possible with everyone wearing sunglasses.

But our gloves were wet. All of us to various degrees were wet and cold and getting colder as the wind sucked the heat from our hands. No one on that zodiac will tell you we weren't cold; everyone was cold and there was little we could do about it except get back to base as fast as possible.

One of us was particularly cold and you could see it by the way she held her water soaked-glove, frozen hands, motionless on her lap, her face frozen in a rictus of pain.

And the researcher next to her noticed how cold she was too (a women not in his research team) and


and he took off his own gloves--and putting hers away in his pack--gave her his gloves, damp, sure, but not as wet as hers.

The philanthropist had glove liners and then polymer lab gloves on under his foam filled outer gloves--he needed sterile gloves when he sampled for methanogens on Nelson Island-- so he wasn't stripping down to bare skin but he was donating his outer glove layer and he was going to suffer the consequences. And he did it anyway without saying a word.

I was strongly impressed by this act of professionalism, human kindness and support. That's why I wrote it here.


Where do many penguins in Antarctica get fresh water (15.7 MB)?

Nelson Island
Nelson Island
View from Nelson island
Note the rainy cloud cover that soaked everything.
Moss and lichen on Nelson Island


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