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!!!

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