Bacteria breathing in the ocean

I’ve been doing a lot of sampling for my own experiments at Palmer Station and studying how bacteria “breathe”.  In fact, “breathing” is a good word because the seawater bacteria I study are breathing almost exactly like we are!

Humans breathe IN oxygen gas and eat food (which is a type of organic carbon) to make energy so we can live.  Some of this carbon we are breathing OUT as carbon dioxide gas.  Here people are eating lunch at Palmer and breathing out carbon dioxide.  Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are invisible gases in the air around us.

Bacteria in the seawater are eating up organic carbon (like pieces of algae or other dead plants and animals), and they breathe out carbon dioxide.  The main difference between us and bacteria, is that bacteria in the seawater in Antarctica are living at below freezing temperatures!!  How do they eat and breathe in such a cold place?  That is part of what I am studying.

Here we are in the Zodiac, collecting some seawater on the sea covered in ice.  My friend Alice is siting on the very edge of the boat collecting a bottle filled with seawater. Eddie, another student, keeps the boat steady.  Alice is so brave!

I collect some water too, by pumping liters of  it into a carboy.  It’s difficult to move around with a Mustang suit and I have to hold the carboy between my legs.  All three of us are students studying bacteria in the seawater.

When we try to drive home, big pieces of ice get very close to our Zodiac and each one makes the boat bump!

There are a MILLION bacteria in every DROP of seawater.  So I get lots of bacteria in the water we collected.  Here I am in the lab in my lab coat, setting up experiments.  I am feeding the bacteria different types of organic carbon to see which one they like best.

I get to use a microscope to see all the cool microbes swimming in the water. Do you remember the definition of a microbe from my first blog post?  Here is a picture of seawater bacteria after I stain them with a fluorescing blue dye. Aren’t they pretty?

I hope my experiments work!

Also, guess who we found hanging out on station yesterday?  Yup, an elephant seal!  It had crawled onto the pier near the boats and was sleeping.  When I went to take a picture, he opened his eyes but still didn’t move.

He lifted his head and growled a little bit when my friend Zena went to take his picture.

Male elephant seals can be very aggressive sometimes.  They are territorial which means they don’t like other seals coming into their space.  But this seal seemed really lazy, like it ate too much and just wanted to sleep!  He didn’t wake up all day and night.  Finally this afternoon he woke up and he flopped away into the water.

I love working in Antarctica.  I get to see so many cool things!  See you guys soon!

 

1 Comment


  1. Wow Mrina,

    Adam thinks the pictures are spectacular. Dustin thinks that the elephant seal looks sick because it has a red eye. Isaac likes the bacteria picture under the microscope and thinks it looks like the stars!
    This blog was great. You did a great job explaining it to us!

    Can’t wait to talk to you on Tuesday, at 2:00!

       Reply Posted January 19, 2012, 7:59 pm

Leave a reply