Heading South for the winter

The rainy cold weather which traditionally marks winter in London is finally here, a little later than traditional but misery-making nonetheless (non-UK residents note: unlike your puny winters, in the British Isles winter rocks from about September to May, with a brief confusing hot spell usually appearing for a week in February). So I’m leaving Steve and the rest of the lab and migrating south until January.

Iceberg: Uta Wolf (Wikimedia Commons, BY-NC-SA)

Quite far South, in fact: hopefully around 75 degrees. The reason for this is I’m joining a sailing expedition from Rio to Antarctica in a 62-ft sloop called Elinca, with former colleagues from Ocean Youth Trust. Along the way we’ll be taking observations for the UK Met Office, keeping a cetacean log and also making a workload model. The idea behind this last set of information is that if we find out we have sufficient spare time between working watches on the boat, we could – hypothetically – conduct some metagenome sampling on a future return trip (neither GOS nor Tara Oceans managed to spend very much time down there, although there are good reasons to).

Emperor Penguins: Ian Duffy (Wikimedia Commons, BY-NC-SA)

I’ve spent a little bit of time in the Arctic, but the Antarctic is a totally different beast, so there’s lots to think about. For a start, the logistics are much more involved than the Arctic, as we’re well beyond the range of any rapid help. Secondly, from a navigational point of view, there are strong currents and winds, and that nasty hard rocky stuff known as ‘land’ to hit. There’s the obvious cold (air temperatures will be within about 5 degrees of zero, but windchill and sea spray will helpfully push this another 5-10 degrees lower still). And finally, and best of all, there’s the fauna: Big exciting cetaceans like Minke, Fin and Blue (!) whales; bolshy pinnipeds; and a gallery of interesting sea-birds including the Emperor Penguin, the only animal in the world to reproduce, lay and incubate on the ice.

Clearly all this means that my bioinformatics work in the lab will be ‘on ice’ (sorry) while I’m away, so for the last month or so I’ve been working on the adaptive convergence pipeline which we used for our recent paper on convergence to make it slightly easier to use, and training the other postdocs, in particular Kalina, in using it. This has involved simplifying some things, automating some of the dependency-checking, and starting work on the GUI design (still in wireframe, sadly). This is all useful work since the goal for the first couple of months of 2014 is to release the pipeline as a public alpha, with associated methods paper and documentation. Hopefully we’ve done enough as I’ll be lucky to get more than a few kilobytes of data per day out from the boat!

So, have a good Christmas and New Year everyone – see you in 2014!


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