It is wonderful to be back in Antarctica after a year away. New colleagues, faces, and a reintroduction to the amazing ice above water. After a slough of trainings we also began to dive again under the ice. The first trip under was the three of us that have dove here before. We still do the same briefing and checkout dive as everyone else, but are used to the immediate shock of the cold… followed by the shock of the amazing animals underwater.
Every year is amazingly different in a place where many of the animals live decades if not centuries. This year I was incredibly surprised to see soo much of this sponge (the upright bush looking thing) are one of our most frequented sites “The Jetty”, named after it being right next to the jetty where the water intake pipes for the station sit (those pipes bring in salt water for us to desalinate and drink, as well as pumping nice and cold, fresh seawater into the aquarium room). This sponge is one that grows quickly and then poof is all gone, but the bushes were dense this year!
The other difference is that there is a bunch of snow on the ice, making it very dark underneath. Last year it was pretty dark, this year it is DARK. A really interesting fact is that the ice thickness doesn’t really impact the amount of light, but it is all how much snow is on the top. I have dove with 18ft/6m of ice over my head and it is bright as an overcast day, and under 3 ft of ice with a bit of snow on it and it is the darkest night.
But the diversity that lives here remains to astound me with each foray under the frozen ocean surface. It is good to be back underwater and in the most amazing, if not warmest, place on the planet.