Sunday, May 12, 2013

Homeward Bound

King Sejong Station on King George Island.
Crew members loading supplies onto the barge and into zodiacs.
Frozen aftermath of the bad weather, a life-saving buoy on deck.
For the past five days we have been at King Sejong station, the Korean base on King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. We came to the station to give the researchers more supplies for the winter (including food and fuel), because  many of them will be spending the winter on the Island. There was no pier at the base in order to offload supplies and our boat was too large to pull directly up next to the base, so we had to transfer the fuel and supplies via small zodiacs and a large barge. The first day we managed to get most of the food supplies offloaded, but then the weather got really bad and we could not offload anymore. When the wind picks up and the waves start to get too big, it is not safe for the zodiacs and the crane. Since we were their last chance to resupply for the winter, we had to stay at the base for five days until there was a window of good weather to finish resupplying. Unfortunately, the weather was also too poor for any of us to go to the base, so we waved enthusiastically at the Korean scientists but did not get to meet any of them. We finished loading on Friday, and yesterday began our long and slow journey back across the Drake Passage to Chile. In a way it was a blessing we had to wait at the station, because the weather across the Drake has been horrendous the past few days and we are managing to slip right in between two very large low pressures systems in order to make our way across. We are expected to get some high seas by later tonight, but that should be just in time for us to start rounding Cape Horn and getting into Chile. We are hoping the weather cooperates for a few more hours! We should be arriving in Chile on Tuesday, after going through the Straits of Magellan in relatively protected waters for most of Monday. Many of the scientists are sad about our late arrival though, because everyone had to reschedule their flights and tell their families they would be home later than expected. This is quite common on these trips though, as the weather and the ship can often be unpredictable. Overall, we are happy we were able to give the station the supplies they needed, and so far we are happy that the weather has been our side for this crossing. Wish us luck for the next 20 hours or so, I woke up to a red sky which can sometimes be ominous based on an old sailor's saying:

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.."

We know a storm is coming though, so hopefully we make it past before it hits us. It is looking pretty good though! We are looking forward to being back in port and having a nice dinner in Chile!

Monday, May 6, 2013

March of the Penguins

Gentoo penguin at Spring Point, Antarctica.
Yesterday was one of our last days of doing science on the boat, and it was a great day! All of the students on board got to go with the glaciologists to repair a seismic station on land at a place called Spring Point. A seismic station is an instrument that records seismic events, usually something like an earthquake or anything that shakes that the ground. In Antarctica, this can also be when a large piece of ice collapses, or falls into the ocean. This station at Spring Point can then record when these events happen, so the scientists have an idea of how often large pieces of ice are falling into the ocean and melting. In order to get to the seismic station, we all went by a zodiak and hiked up to the station. We wore lots of warm clothes, and went with an experienced mountaineer who could show us the best way to hike up to the tower. The glaciologists did all of the repairing, so that left a lot of time for sightseeing for the rest of us. A small colony of Gentoo penguins live there, and they were pretty interested in us so we spent most of our time taking pictures and laughing at the penguins. They are very curious, so they get pretty close to you as long as you sit down on the snow and don't look too threatening. We also saw a bunch of seals, and some other birds throughout the day. It started to snow pretty heavily at the end of the day, so we rushed back to the boat and got warm inside before having a great dinner that the crew had prepared for everyone in celebration of most of our work being finished. It was a great way to end all of our hard work!
Gentoo penguins and the R/V Araon in the background.

Korean BBQ night on the R/V Araon.
Today we traveled to the Korean research base in Antarctica, called King Sejong station. It is located on King George Island, in a beautiful bay. Unfortunately, there is huge storm here now so we are sitting just outside the bay waiting out the storm before we can navigate the narrow passage into the bay to deliver supplies to the station. About 15 Korean research scientists will be staying on the base over the Antarctic winter (our summer), so we are delivering them food, fuel and other supplies. The storm made our trip to the base a very eventful one, there were 60 knot winds (hurricane style winds) and large waves coming all the way up to the 4th deck of the ship. The ship rode pretty well most of the time, but early this morning we had to take a heading toward the station at an angle to the waves (instead of straight into them), and that made a lot of the waves come over the side decks, which ended up flooding the room with our CTD instrument. This room is made to get wet, but not to flood, so we were all frantically grabbing the stuff floating around in there so that the CTD would not get damaged from other bottles and equipment slamming into it. At the end of the day everything was ok once we stopped, but there was a big mess to clean up and not many people slept well last night. Tonight should be better because we are still stopped outside the bay, and it seems like the wind is calming down. Wish us luck delivering the supplies!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Flandres Bay

Me and the pilot in the helicopter flying over Flandres Bay.
Today was a great day in Flandres Bay. We woke up to beautiful skies, and relatively warm weather. We saw some penguins, whales and a few seals, and were outside watching the glaciologists take off in the helicopters. There were headed over the mountains to another glacier on the other side of the Peninsula called Crane Glacier, but unfortunately when they went over the mountains there were too many clouds and they had to come back. That was not very good luck for them, but it was nice for the rest of us because all of the other people on board got to go on helicopter joy rides! We went four at a time, and got a tour around the bay and back again to the boat. It was so beautiful, with no wind, and the pilots took us by some icebergs, out over the water and near the mountains. I took some video, and lots and lots of pictures! It was so fun! It is pretty thrilling to be in a helicopter in Antarctica, you can see so many things that no one else has seen.
Helo crew with the biologists.

View from the helo deck.
To top the day off, we had a small pod of about 8 whales circling the boat for a few hours showing off and eating some phytoplankton and krill. Overall it was a great day!

Minke whale in Flandres Bay.
Tomorrow night we will head to the Korean base on the Peninsula to give them some supplies for the winter (it is winter here during our summer in the northern hemisphere) and we will visit for a few days. Then, we will be heading back to Punta Arenas, Chile across the Drake Passage. The cruise has gone by pretty fast!