Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CTD Palooza

Me freezing in Flandres Bay.
For the past two days we have been working almost non-stop, but we have gotten a lot of good data from it! There are several different groups of scientists on board the ship, and I am part of the "biology" group (even though I'm a chemist); there are also geologists (they study rocks and sediments), glaciologists (studying the movement and melting of glaciers), and physical oceanographers (studying the currents and the movement of water masses in the ocean). All of us have different research goals, and depending on the location of the ship and weather conditions, different groups have been working at different times. The past two days was our turn to work a lot, because the weather was too bad for the helicopters to fly (for the glaciologists), and we were not in a good location to collect sediment cores (for the geologists) because there was hardly any sediment on the ocean bottom.

The CTD entering the water in Flandres Bay.
When we are working, we mostly use the CTD rosette in order to collect water. It has 24 bottles on it, and each bottle can be closed at a different depth in the water in order to collect water from that depth. We watch the instrument as it moves down in the water on a computer screen that shows us what all of the sensors are reading (like temperature, salinity, etc...) and from that we can decide where we want to collect samples. Then, we press a button on the computer in order to close the bottle when we are bringing the instrument back up to the ship at certain depths. Each time we put this instrument in the water it takes about 1 hour for it to go down to the bottom and back up again (about 300 meters, or 600 feet down), and then we collect the water and filter it or process it in various ways depending on what we are measuring. The filtering can take anywhere from 1-4 hours, so it is a lot of work! We did 20 CTD casts in two days, so we were all very exhausted afterwards. Most of us slept for only 3 hours during that time, so we took long naps today in order to catch up. We did the sampling in a very beautiful bay called Flandres Bay, so it was worth it. There are several glaciers feeding into this bay and we were interested in seeing if the melting of these glaciers was effecting the circulation (currents in the bay) and the biology (the growth of phytoplank
ton, and the growth of animals that live on the seafloor).

Crabeater seals in Flandres Bay.
Now we are mostly done with the biological work, and the geologists and glaciologists will be trying to finish their work for the rest of the cruise. We are now trying to go to different locations so the glaciologists can fly the helicopters to the land in order to install some instruments, but the weather is bad in a lot of places so it is difficult for them to get their work done. They are all kind of sad about that, so we are thinking sunny thoughts so they can hopefully fly!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Day in the Life

My lab space on the R/V Araon.
When you go on a family roadtrip most parts of the trip are amazing. Some days you wake up and the drive is beautiful, you are singing along to Disney songs and playing car games, and everyone seems to be getting along. Then there are those days, maybe only a few, when the car breaks down and it is too hot outside and you are hungry all day and your brother just won't stop poking you. Well, being on a ship is kind of like that.

It is difficult to describe life on a ship. Imagine you wake up just like any other day, and plan to get dressed and go have breakfast. Only, you wake up and you have to hold onto to your closet before you get to the bathroom because your whole room is moving. Then, once you finally manage to get dressed in the dark (because your roommate is probably sleeping), you head down to breakfast. There are 30 other people also having breakfast, who you only just met and now they are looking at your un-brushed hair. Their hair looks a little un-brushed though too.
The gym on the Araon.

The day could get interesting from here. You have your coffee, then you might put on as many clothes as you can find and go outside to see what the weather is like today. If you are lucky, it is sunny and calm with no wind, and you can see some penguins sliding on the ice in the distance, as a whale slowly passes by. This is one of those good days on the family roadtrip. You could also have no work to do today because the boat is moving for the next 12 hours to your next station, so you spend the day walking around on the deck and taking pictures, talking to your fellow scientists and eating too many cookies that the cooks left out in the galley the night before.

Mattias doing what oceanographers do best- filter!
If you are un-lucky, you go outside after breakfast and can stay out there for about 5 minutes before you feel like you might loose a toe from frostbite. You also have to change clothes once you come in because a whole pile of snow blew right into your face and down your jacket the moment you set foot on deck. Then, when you come in to change you see that your lab is flooded because the drains on the ship are all frozen because it is too cold. Next, you might have to stand and filter some seawater for the next 12 hours, then go to bed and do it all again. This is one of those bad roadtrip days.

My stateroom on the cruise, much larger than on other ships!
The good news is, in fact the great news is, is that the bad days don't happen very often. In fact, hardly at all. And when you look back on a day in the life of your average oceanographer, you only remember when you saw those penguins, that beautiful sunset, got that great data, and those wonderful friends you made. Not a bad job at all!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ice, Ice, Baby

Today we spent another day on the eastern side of the Peninsula, and it is much, much colder now than earlier in the cruise. Today it was about -10 degrees Celsius, or about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Everything keeps freezing outside, including all of our equipment. It makes things interesting! We were chased out of one area because of some bad weather, but we got to take another ice core before we left and saw a cute seal sunning himself on the ice. The helicopters were flying that day and luckily made it back in time before the really bad weather hit, but it was close! The  landings were a bit tricky, but the pilots we have are very good at what they do.
Sea ice starting to form once the temperature dropped.

Since it is so cold now, we have been able to see sea ice form really quickly on the surface of the water. It is amazing how fast it can freeze once it gets cold and the wind starts blowing. First, a really thin layer of ice forms on the surface, and you can see it really well, because the water looks very calm and slick in that area. Then pancake ice forms, which really looks like pancakes, and then it just keeps getting thicker and thicker throughout the night. In a matter of 30 minutes a few inches of ice can form, and coat the entire surface of the ocean for as far as the eye can see. Pretty amazing!

Pancake ice forming on the surface of the water.
Yesterday, we picked up a piece of scientific equipment, called a mooring, near the coast. This instrument is kind of like a fancy buoy, but it stays slightly under the water at a certain depth and can stay in one spot for many years at a time. This particular mooring has been in its spot for almost exactly a year; the scientists on board dropped it off last year around this time. This instrument has been taking measurements such as salinity and temperature for that whole year, and it also had sediment traps attached to it in order to catch any of the particles falling through the water column towards the sediments. The traps are really interesting, because you can get an idea about the kind of phytoplankton, and other invertebrates such as krill that might be living in this area. We saw some cool little critters in those traps!

Sediment trap from the mooring with cool critters!
Today was a busy day of science and getting water samples, but tomorrow the weather should be good and the helicopters can fly to the glaciers again. Usually when the helicopters are gone we can not do much else on the ship, because they want to make sure all of the crew members are ready in case anything happens with the helicopter flights. Safety for these flights is the first priority of the ship during that time. It is ok for us though, because it leaves more time for sight-seeing and penguin spotting :)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Eastern Peninsula

Mattias Cape and Maria Vernet collect an ice core.
Yesterday we had a great day, after arriving on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We are searching for a safe way to get close to the coast through all of the sea ice, which has proven to be tricky. The Araon can break 1m of ice going at a speed of 3 knots, which is pretty slowly. We started having to break ice around 5am yesterday, and it sounds like there is an avalanche outside when we are doing it. Needless to say, we did not sleep much during that process. We also have to back up and change direction often, in order to find the best path through the ice. In the end we were surrounded by ice bergs without a clear path to the coast, so tomorrow we will have the helicopters fly around and try to determine a good way for us to travel.

The top 1m of an ice core, with the layers shown from shallow to deep.
Otherwise, the weather was so beautiful and we are close to James Ross Island and Snow Hill Island, which are beautiful and full of massive tabular icebergs that look like mesas. There is also tons of wildlife around these islands, so we saw tons of penguins! There were small emperor penguins, and adele penguins near the ice edge, and lots of birds and some seals. Since we have to wait around until we find a clear path, we decided to do an ice core station on the ice edge. The ship pulled up next to the ice and we were allowed to get off the ship to drill some ice cores. It was so fun! We took so many pictures, and did lots of hard work drilling the ice cores.

Young emperor penguins on the eastern side of the peninsula.
The sea ice on the eastern side of the peninsula accumulates over many years, and leaves a thick layer of ice, in this case it was almost 3 m thick (9 feet!). We have a large coring device that we have to do by hand in order to core this entire length of sea ice, and because it was so long we had to do it in 3 separate cores. Then, we remove the cores and and place the layers into separate bags and label them according to the depth of the core where the layer came from. The ice forms in layers like sediments, so we measure the temperature in each of the layers and then take chlorophyll, pigment, and isotope measurements in each layer. This gives us information about the conditions under which each  layer of ice formed: what the atmospheric temperature was, if there were sea ice algae present, etc...The ice is interesting in that it will (approximately) maintain the temperature of the atmosphere in which it formed, so each layer can have a different temperature. Pretty cool!

All were happy at the end of the day after seeing the penguins, and we celebrated by having a nice dinner in the galley and staying up late chatting and sharing pictures. A great time!!!

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!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Land Ho!

First view of the Antarctic Peninsula
Today we reached the Antarctic Peninsula, into one of the many fjords
(glacial carved bays) on the western side. We arrived to a snowy,
windy landscape with numerous seabirds and lots of floating icebergs
nearby. Our trip across the Drake Passage was miraculously calm, which
was very lucky for all of the new scientists on board so we could get
used to the rolling of the ship and gain our "sealegs" so we won't get
seasick. Last night we hit a small storm which caused a lot more
rolling of the ship, but early this morning we arrived into the
protected bay and are much more sheltered.

Mattias Cape, a marine biologist on board, enjoys Korean BBQ.
It is very cold outside now, and in order to go outside I have to put
on several layers of clothing including:

- long-underwear pants and shirt
- pants
- wool socks
- another shirt
- fleece jacket
- fleece gloves
- down jacket
- wind proof jacket
- neck protector
- beanie
- boots

This is a lot of clothing for this southern California girl! It is
worth the beautiful view outside though. One of the goals for the
scientists on this cruise is to fly to the land from helicopters we
have on-board the ship in order to sample the glaciers and install
some new weather stations on the continent. The weather was not good
enough for the helicopters to fly today, so now we are going to map
the seafloor sediments using a multi-beam, which basically allows the
scientists to see what the seafloor looks like in this bay, and where
there might be interesting sediments for them to sample. I am part of
a small group of scientists on the ship that is interested in taking
samples from the water, or water column as we call it, in order to see
the types of phytoplankton (plants in the water), and nutrients that
are present in these narrow bays. We will be starting our sampling
tomorrow by going out on a zodiak (small inflatable boat) to collect
some glacier ice to start an experiment. More soon on the science!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Setting Sail

The Araon as seen from a fish-eye lense at the dock in Punta  Arenas
We have now set sail! We began our journey in Punta Arenas, Chile (the very southern tip of Chile) by first loading all of our scientific gear onto the ship, the Korean ice-breaker the Araon (in Korean meaning "the whole sea"). This is a very complicated process because we have to load all of our scientific equipment, as well as all the food, clothes and safety equipment needed for one month at sea in Antarctica. We managed to do all of this in only 6 hours because the ship arrived late and we were trying to remain on schedule. This was very busy indeed! Loading the ship involves using cranes to bring the heavy equipment on board, and then everyone pitches in to help put everything in its place, and also to tie it down before we set sail. We have to "secure" everything because as the ship starts moving, all of the equipment and supplies start moving too.

Leaving the dock in Punta Arenas heading for the fuel dock.
The Araon is the largest ship I have ever been on, it is more than 100 m (about 300 feet) long and 20 m (about 60 feet) wide. The Korean scientists on board gave us a tour once we arrived, and they showed us some of the amazing features of this boat; it has spacious bedrooms with couches and TVs in each one, the toilets have about 10 buttons on each one (including one that plays music and heats the seat!), there is a sauna, several lounges for movies and games, and a karaoke room (!).

We first went to a fuel dock to get some fuel for the journey, which took about 2 hours of travel and then we were docked there for 9 hours. Last night around 10 pm we left the fuel dock, and are making our way through the Straits of Magellan toward the Atlantic Ocean. It will take us another day to reach the very southern tip of Chile, and then we will cross the Drake Passage (the part of the ocean between southern Chile and Antarctica, across the Southern Ocean) to Antarctica. We will be going to the western Antarctic Peninsula, and we will be sampling very close to shore because some scientists on board will be flying helicopters to the land in order to collect ice and rocks. More on the science on board another day! Wish us a safe passage across the Drake, known as one of the roughest seas to cross in the world. Lucky for us, the forecast looks good!
Our proposed cruise track from Punta Arenas, Chile to Antarctica.