Thursday, April 18, 2013

Up, Up and Away

Minke whale off the stern in Beascochella Bay.
Helicopters on the Araon about to take off with a group of glaciologists.
We have spent the past few days in the fjords on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. These bays are really beautiful, and they are full of sea life and beautiful mountains. We were able to see some Minke whales and a bunch of different types of sea birds, like Cape Petrels and Snow Petrels. When we enter one of these bays, we start by using the multi-beam (an instrument to map the sediments) and then we begin other types of sampling including using the CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth), and net tows to collect phytoplankton and zooplankton. Some scientists have also taken sediment cores in order to look at the sediments formed in these bays in the past, in order to gain some information on whether or not the bay used to be completely iced covered or not and when that has changed over time. The CTD gives us information about what the temperature, oxygen, phytoplankton and salinity are like from the surface all the way down to the bottom of the bay.

Even more exciting are the group of glaciologists on board the ship, who are studying the melting of glaciers in this region. They have to install and gather data from the top of the glaciers themselves, and in order to do that they take a helicopter from the ship. Yesterday we had the first helicopter flight and it was very exciting! The helicopters are piloted by two Chilean pilots and two other Chilean engineers, and then 3 other scientists were also on board. Communication was difficult on these flights, because the pilots speak Spanish, the scientists speak English, and the captain and crew speak Korean. They had to have several meetings before the flight in order to work out all of the safety details to make sure everyone was on the same page. The flights went really well though, and all of the scientists and pilots were very happy. Their pictures and videos look amazing! We are compiling a bunch of video clips from the cruise, so I will share that at the end of the trip.
Scientists from University of Houston, Hamilton College and Colgate.

We are now headed over to the east side of the Peninsula, which everyone is very excited about because that is where we were supposed to go initially. We had decided to come to the west side instead because there is too much ice on the east side right now, but now it has opened up again and so we are going for it! The ship has the ability to break through about 1 meter of ice and we have a special "ice pilot" (Russian ice expert) on board, so we will be able to hopefully get some data from over there. The east side of the peninsula is very interesting because a large ice shelf just collapsed there in 2005, called the Larsen B, and the scientists on the Araon are interested in how the ecosystem has changed because of it. The ice shelf was about the size of Rhode Island, and used to cover the ocean in that area but now the ocean is open to the sunlight which can allow for phytoplankton to grow, which are at the base of the food web. So there could be some very important effects from the collapse of this ice shelf. More updates from the Larsen B soon!

Life on board has been great so far, we wake up everyday and have breakfast in the galley (ship term for dining area), and then we do some science throughout the day and have usually had a break at night. Sometimes at night people play cards, chat together in the lounge, watch movies, or start a mad game of ping pong in the gym upstairs. The Koreans are dominating everyone on the ship, of course. They are really good!

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