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The Adventures of Dr. Emelia DeForce: Touch the Toe Before You Go!

Jan 03, 2013
Suzanne Kennedy

Dr. Emelia DeForce visited us at MO BIO Labs in December after the Plastics at SEA voyage was complete and provided us an amazing presentation of her travels at sea and the important work they are undertaking to determine the effects of plastic in the ocean ecosystem.  It was great to see the effort and passion Emelia and the whole crew has for our precious oceans.

Emelia’s next trip takes her to Antarctica where she has the unique opportunity to be a part of the 2013 field season of the Antarctic “Long Term Ecological Research” program. Rather than me tell you all about it, I thought it would be better left in the words of the expert extreme traveler and scientist adventurer herself.  So here is the first post of Emelia’s web diary of her trip to “The Ice”. She’ll be sending us more stories of her chronicles as she has time to write and reflect.  For those of you curious about the life and times of an extreme microbial ecologist,  we hope you enjoy what you read.  If you have any questions for Emelia, let us know!


Touch the Toe Before You Go!

by Emelia DeForce
Dec 28, 2012
53°9.36S X 70°54.25W
Punta Arenas, The Southern Tip of Chile
sunrise:  5:18am
sunset:  10:13pm

It took me 30 hours to get from San Diego, CA to the Southern tip of Chile, a distance of about 7000 miles.  I had a 10 hour layover in Santiago, Chile where I left the airport and rode the bus to the center to suck up the dry hot heat of the city that was preparing with carnival-like costumes and fake aerosol snow for the “End of the World New Years Eve.”  Our jam-packed plane left Santiago headed for Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the country (and not so far from the southern tip of the world).  We made a pit stop about half way in Puerto Montt, Chile known as the Lake District of central Patagonia.  From a bird’s eye view, Puerto Montt is an idyllic town with plush greenery, sky blue lakes, and white-tipped volcanoes aplenty.  The fiery full moon rising between the mountains reminded me that I have few opportunities left to see the moon in its full splendor, unmasked by the sun’s light.  Where I was heading, the sun reigns supreme in the long days of the austral summer.  After arriving in Punta Arenas, a little after midnight, I slept like a rock and woke up to the brightest freaking sun piercing my eyes!  Not in the Kansas anymore Toto.

Why am I here? I was invited by Dr. Hugh Ducklow of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (Chief Scientist of this expedition) to participate as a microbial ecologist in the 2013 field season of the Antarctic “Long Term Ecological Research” program, which was started in 1990.  This will be my first time to “the ice” and I cannot explain my anticipation.

Next up was a sailors heart-pounding event: meeting the ship.  I entered through the Chilean security gate, gave them my passport info, and rounded the large metal pole building that houses Antarctic equipment to meet the ship ARSV (Antarctic Research and Supply Vessel) Laurence M. Gould named after the distinguished educator and scientist who, 73 years ago to the day, was trudging through Antarctica by dog sled.  I was breath-taken by her bright orange hull and compact terrapin-like design.

She is meant to traverse some of the most challenging waters on this planet, in particular the infamous Drake Passage where explorers such as Ernest Henry Shackleton have braved the course.

From Punta Arenas, you navigate through the Straights of Magellan and on to the open ocean waters where thousands a ship and sailor have been laid to rest because of the rapidly changing currents, weather, and wind.  You don’t know quite literally from hour to hour what to expect.  To pay dues to Poseidon, all mariners passing through Punta Arenas must touch the toe of Magellan for fair winds and sailing seas.

Done! Check.

The Crew:

We are an eclectic group of 22 scientists and 34 crew heading south to add the 23rd year of data to the LTER program to better understand how global climate change is affecting our planet.  Our group consists of microbiologists, biological and physical oceanographers and marine biologists specializing in whale, fish, and penguin research, working collaboratively to understand the integrated Antarctic marine ecosystem and its response to climate perturbations.  We are also joined by a film crew from Rutgers University who will be making a documentary on our expedition as a means to improve public awareness of our work, and of Antarctic climate change in general.  I feel humbled to be here with such a group in a remote and largely untouched part of the world.

The plan for now – - to chug through Drake’s Passage, hope for calm seas, and arrive in port at the United States Antarctic Program’s Palmer Station (64°46.45S X 64°03.8W).  More soon from the end of the Earth!

Cheers! ~Emelia

Read on...

7 Responses to “The Adventures of Dr. Emelia DeForce: Touch the Toe Before You Go!”

  1. Rosemary Omniewski says:

    Wonderful adventure. Love reading about it, and I’m so proud of you!

  2. Seth Leslie says:

    Dr. DeForce is my extreme microbiologist hero!!! I can’t wait to read about the work you are doing on ‘the ice’…

  3. Courtney Moore says:

    Love reading about the exciting and new science Dr. DeForce is experiencing everyday! She’s my ultimate scientist hero!

  4. Molly Welch says:

    Emelia! This is incredible. Good luck and can’t wait to hear more!!! Hugs! Molly

  5. Petrrrr says:

    I’d love to meet this lady. Seems she’s living her dreams…Guess she’s hard to reach.

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