Plant and soil succession in a glacier foreland in South Georgia
This Austral summer we’ve spent two months conducting fieldwork in sub-Antarctic South Georgia, a very interesting and beautiful place to carry out fieldwork. Our main project was based at a field site in a valley near Husvik on the north-side of the island. Here we studied the succession of plants, microbes and soil function in a glacier foreland, along a series of moraines that span nearly one century, with the overall aim to quantify and scale changes and rates in biological and geochemical succession in South Georgia.
During our stay in South Georgia we also conducted a short fieldwork trip in St. Andrews Bay (the world's largest King Penguin colony), and several stays at King Edward Point (KEP; the main station in South Georgia), with fieldwork in close-by Maiviken.
We had a very fun and productive field team, involving institutes from Europe and South America: Ludovica D’Imperio (post-doc, CENPERM, U. of Copenhagen, Denmark), Diego Knop Henriques (post-doc, U. of Brasília, Brazil), Carolina Isabel Galleguillos de la Paz and Rasme Agbel Hereme Ruedlinger (PhD and MSc student, both U. of Talca, Chile), and myself. Thanks to all, as well as the supporting people back at the various institutes, for making the fieldwork a success!
But the fieldwork was not without its challenges. Even getting to Husvik took us about two weeks from door to door, with our team divided between two different ships, lots(!) of biosecurity cargo clean-ups (to avoid introducing non-native species to the island) - let alone the months-long period of planning, filling in paperwork, courses, and preparation of cargo (and to make sure that, when arriving, we wouldn’t miss that one crucial screw-drive etc!). But it all went smoothly, and we managed to get even more done than expected!
One month living amongst a Fur Seal colony
During our fieldwork in Husvik we stayed next to the old whaling station at Husvik at the “Manager's Villa” ("Villa" may be a big word, but it was a beautiful old Norwegian house where the manager of the whaling station used to live with his family). Such a beautiful place, full of character and history - and right at the coast, in the middle of a Fur Seal colony!
What a privilege to be spending a month living between the seals, and experience the season go by: males fighting, females giving birth, puppies growing up. It was so nice to see the puppies from the moment they were born (and already aggressive!) to the moment when they start to venture out, have their first swimming lessons, and start forming small “gangs” around the colony that are up to no good! ;)
It was also interesting to spend time in next to a historic whaling station, and think of the impact the whaling in South Georgia has had. What a sight this place must have been several decades ago, when the whaling station was still in operation. There were plenty of rusty artefacts around to remind us of the nature and the scale of the industry... But the seals have now fully taken over, sleeping amongst the rusty barrels and collapsing houses of the station.
Work in progress...
The fieldwork might be done, but the project has only just started. As soon as the samples are back, we have many months of analyses to do, and lots of communication between the different institutes. I’m looking forward to see the patterns emerge from our data as we get started..!
Hi! I am Elise Biersma, an evolutionary biologist studying polar plants and microbes.