Archive for the ‘Antarctic Blog’ Category

Penguins, seals and whales

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

I assume my usual position in a piloting chair in the Bridge. It’s 9:30 am and I had just finished my cup of coffee and bowl of granola down in the galley. “In your seat again I see,” says David, the Chief Engineer on the boat, as he walks into the Bridge. He comes up often to give the mate on shift a hard time and to see the wilderness like the rest of us. I smile in reply and continue knitting.

“Penguino!” shouts Sam, one of the crew members who works in the Bridge helping the mate on shift. I put down the knitting and jump up grabbing the camera.

“Where?” I reply as I turn on the camera and remove the lens cap.

“Port side 10 o’clock.” I dash out the door and run down the stairs to the 02 level. The lower you go the closer a shot you can get. The penguins he spotted were 3 Adeles and 1 Emperor on an ice flow about 200 feet away from the side of the boat. The Adeles get very frazzled by the big orange ship that is approaching them and they tend to run around like chickens without heads. They usually run back and forth on the ice flow flapping their wings in distress. Sometimes they jump off the ice flow just to jump back on and run around some more. Don’t feel bad for the little guys though, it’s absolutely hilarious. The Emperor Penguin, which is a good 2 feet taller than the Adele, stands tall and proud on the ice flow completely un-amused by the approaching boat. After losing most of the feeling in my fingers and snapping about 25 photos I climb the steps back up to the Bridge. “Okay so you have seen your penguins, now what do you want to see?” asks Chris, the fourth mate on the boat. He graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy in 2008 and this is his fourth month on the NB Palmer.

“How about some seals and then maybe some whales…” Before I can complete my sentence the Captain chimes in in his Latin accent, “She’s demanding, getting picky now.” “No, no,” I insist, “that is now what I meant. All I am saying is that first we wanted to see some penguins and just the chin-straps fulfilled that wish. Then we stepped up to the Adele and now we have seen the great Emperor. So the next step would be some seals with the final step some whales.” Although I have rightly explained myself, not demanding at all, the Captain doesn’t let up and the banter continues for a few minutes. Later on in the morning Rachel comes up the stairs and flops in the chair next to me.

“Still knitting?” She asks not looking at me but gazing over my shoulder to the field of ice flows that are just past the window. She is making a peculiar face as she adjusts her eyes to the bright white.

“Still applying to jobs?” I reply back. These have been our tasks for the past couple of days me knitting and her applying to jobs; she is finishing her postdoc in May. She sighs and I quickly change topics knowing that she came upstairs to escape the stress not make the scab bleed more. “Do you think that there are parts of the world where the distance between you and the horizon is greater or is it a standard distance? I feel like I can see forever up here but I can’t decide of it is an optical illusion. If the white of the ice meeting the white of the sky just makes me feel like I can see into infinity.” Rachel looks at me now, tilting her head into her thinking pose. She begins by reasoning with science, explaining how the bulge of the tide at the equator would block your vision if you were standing on a beach in say New Jersey, whereas the less extreme tides at the poles create a flatter surface allowing you to potentially see further.

“But I understand what you are saying about optical illusions with the ice,” she adds. “The floating ice on top of the water makes me feel as if the water should be much shallower than it is. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that we are over some of the deepest waters in the world and yet there are these ice flows and an entire community that lives near and above the ice.”

“I completely agree. When I was up here yesterday and the ice was flows where smaller yet denser I felt as if I was on a toy boat in a huge bath-tube with the ice being the suds, with the white of the sky being the never approaching boundary of our world. I feel as if I should be able to step off the boat and the ice would come up to my hips. And then you have these gigantic ice burgs that are just magnificent mountains popping out of the water. I haven’t even begun to process those.” We fall to silence for a moment enjoying each other’s company and gazing outside to see what there is to see. It’s a beautiful day, a bit more windy than yesterday but not really windy at all. Yesterday it was so still the water looked like glass.

“Seal!” yells Sam “Starboard side!”

“You got your wish,” chuckles Chris. “Now where are the whales?”

“Just a matter of time, patience” I reply as Rachel and I dash out the door camera in hand.


A lot of firsts

Friday, December 10th, 2010

The past couple of days have been a lot of firsts – which is extremely refreshing when all you have seen the past 5 days is water. The crab researches are doing a portion of their survey work on the Palmer and then transferring onto a Swedish research vessel named the Oden. They finished the survey work that was assigned for this cruise, allowing us to pack up our things and begin steaming south again towards the Amundsen Sea – where the Oden will hopefully meet us. I say hopefully because Punta Arenas had been experiencing 50 – 80 mph winds that prevented boats from leaving or entering the harbor. In addition to the weather delays, Spain had an air strike and there was a large snow storm in France. Both events prevented scientists from coming into Punta Arenas. As we move closer and closer to the polynya we began to see larger and larger ice chunks. This afternoon the ice chunks were so large they sounded as if they were scrapping off piece of the side of the boat as we passed them. Small ice burgs have also begun to become visible!! I also saw my first two whales. We think they were humpback but they were so far in the distance that all was visible was the spray of water out of their blow hole.  We are expecting to start breaking our way into the polynya Wednesday night into Thursday morning. I am so excited for this! Seals tend to hang out on the patches of ice as we glide on by and whales tend to play in the wake of the boat as we break ice for them. Thursday night will be our first day on station and we will most likely be up into the wee hours of the morning doing work. We will then be on station at least once a day and begin working around the clock. The plan that has been created is 12-18 hrs on and 6-8 hrs off - time of the day will not matter at this point as long as you are sleeping and eating whenever you can.

We crossed the Antarctic Circle last night (66.66°S). Crossing the Antarctic Circle, as well as the Arctic Circle and the Equator, is a very ceremonial occasion. Having knocked one off my belt I am beginning to feel more like a salty. You can see some more photos and details about the crossing ceremony on the blog

hope all is well


We have made it out of the Drake

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The Palmer steamed out of its port at Punta Arenas at 8:00 pm local time on Friday November 26, 2010. Boats can only come in and out of port escorted by Chilean officials aboard the pilot boat. Once they get the boat out of port the Chilean official jumps out of our boat, which is steaming at full speed, and back into the pilot boat to head back to dock. We steamed for a day and a half, with fairly calm seas, until we entered the Drake, which we stayed in for about two days. The Drake is the passage of water between the southern tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. Due to the narrowness of this area, it is customary to experience above average swells and winds. We were lucky enough to have moderate seas while in the Drake and the size of the boat made for a fairly pleasant ride comparatively to what other boats have had in the Drake. We were unfortunate, however, to be graced with a really nasty storm when we exited the Drake on Tuesday. This storm brought with it waves that were worse than the ones we saw in the Drake – it was pretty exciting to see the furry in the ocean around us.
The ship continued to steam south into Margaret Bay which is off of Adelaide Island. Today, December 1, 2010 marked the first day that the Schofield team (Tina Haskins, Rachel Sipler, and myself) started our underway sampling. The underway sampling utilizes a FIre machine and an AC9. The FIre machine measures the happiness of the phytoplankton cells while the AC9 measures the light attenuation and absorption in the water column. We will be completing underway sampling continuously 24/7 for the next two and a half weeks, or until the ship has reached the polynya, which will then mark our station sampling. A polynya is area of water surrounded by ice; it can either be formed by wave action or hydrothermal action. The polynya that this cruise is sampling in, which is located in the Amundsen Sea, is caused by warm deep water that rises and melts the ice. Now that the sampling is underway some of the other teams are also beginning to collect data. There is a team comprised of members from the University of South Hampton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, University of Alabama, and Florida Institute of Technology that is collecting data on the migration of king crabs into the Antarctic Circle as the sea temperatures in that region rise. There is a relationship between magnesium and temperature, as the temperature increases the magnesium decreases allowing the king crab population to extend their range. In colder temperatures there is a higher level of magnesium, which acts as a paralysis in the crabs.

Sea Ice

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

1-2/10thsSomething I have learned during my time here in Antarctica is that sea ice takes glider piloting to a whole new level. It can be an unpredictable moving obstacle that can mean danger for a glider. So in order to have a better understanding of this obstacle I spent some time learning about the different categories of sea ice and learning how to read sea ice coverage maps. Tom Holden is the Special Support Coordinator at NIC the National Ice Center and each morning his team sends the LTER scientists a sea ice image for the Anvers Island area. We then use these images to monitor the area and decide whether or not it is safe to fly the gliders.

Dec 3rdTypically, my image categorizes the Anvers Island area sea ice into four categories (see image Dec. 3rd). On the December 3rd image you can see an example of the sea ice being broken down into A, B, C and D. Level A ice is classified as 1-2/1oths, Level B is 3-4/10ths, Level C is 5-6/10ths and D is 7-9/10ths. The classification of sea ice is actually based on a percentage, so Level A ice in an area actually means the area is about 10-20% sea ice compared to that of Level D which means an area is about 70-90% sea ice. To go even more in depth Tom sent me the following description which explains how the age of the ice also plays a role in how they analyze the images and than categorize.

The A, B, C and D that you see on the charts, are used to designate attributes to each individual area.  Each area you see is analyzed, based upon the ice type (classification) AND the concentration.  Ice types are based upon thickness and age of the ice.  The purpose for this, is generally, older ice, is harder and thicker. The reason it is harder, is that gravity pulls on the brine content and it drains its way through, leaving nearly pure frozen water behind. New, Young ice is easily broken and Multi-year and glacial is the hardest to break.

Leopard SealUnfortunately, even with all this information the bottom line is still the more sea ice in an area, the more tightly it will be packed together, making it more difficult for a glider to surface. Comparing the various types and actually seeing them in real time and seeing the consistency of the ice allowed me to determine that a glider should be able to surface in Level A ice without problems. However, level B, C and D are a different story and therefore we avoid those areas.

5/10th'sHowever, aside from the fact that sea ice can be a nuisance and prohibit us from taking zodiacs out or potentially cause a glider to not surface it serves many useful purposes. Various species in both the Antarctic and Arctic use sea ice as a means of hunting, breeding, feeding and even resting. Down here in Antarctica we have seen numerous leopard seals hauled out on large chunks of sea ice napping. The same also goes for the various avian species such as the Adelie penguin.

A Visit from Neil Armstrong!

Monday, November 23rd, 2009
Neil Armstrong with B-019

Brian, Tina, Alex, Neil Armstrong, and Carol

This past weekend Palmer Station had a very exciting visitor, NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong and his wife Carol. They were aboard one of the National Geographic cruises that stops by Palmer. Neil and Carol got a full tour of the station and then we got to spend some time with him and talk to him about gliders. He was very interested and even started testing the flexibility of our glider wings which made us all a tad nervous. After his visit on station, the National Geographic Crew invited us aboard their boat to watch Neil give a talk later that evening. It was quite the opportunity and we were all very appreciative of the offer.

Deep Glider Deployment!

Monday, November 16th, 2009

DeployedWednesday November 11th marked the first glider deployment for this years Antarctic field season. We couldn't of asked for better weather, it was a balmy 30 degrees, clear sunny skies and flat calm seas. We journeyed out to Station E and after surveying the water depth in the area, we decided it was a good spot to splash RU25. After she completed a few short missions it was time for her journey to begin. The main mission is to obtain a battery curve for this glider in preparation for her flight to Rothera later in the season. However, we will also be running the CTD and optics puck and collecting some science. Enjoy the photos!

Passing a Bergimg_6319

Meet The Scientists!

Monday, November 9th, 2009

p10107861Currently here at Palmer Station there are 7 scientists representing 3 different groups. In the picture to the left starting in the back row and working our way across we have Kristen Gorman, Maggie Waldron, Brian Gaas, Tina Haskins, Alex Kahl, Jenn Blum, and Dan Whiteley. Kristen and Jenn represent B-013, their work consists of the monitoring of various seabird species around the peninsula including the Penguins. Their PI is Bill Fraser, who has been coming to Antarctica since 1974 monitoring various seabird colonies, primarily the Adelie penguin. Maggie and Dan work under Hugh Ducklow and are exploring the world of microbial ecology and population dynamics here in the Western Antarctica Penisula. AKA they are the bacteria folks on station. Lastly, you have us Phytoplankton nerds in group B-019 working for Oscar Schofield. One of the things we are trying to understand is how changes in phytoplankton dynamics, such as an increase in fresher water due to melting ice, propagate through the ecosystem - with such effects ultimately affecting fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Collecting this information involves various methods including sea water sampling, bio-optics, and the use of AUV's otherwise known as Slocum Gliders.

Operation Ice Bridge

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

nasa-dc-81This is just a little bit of fun science for everyone... NASA currently has a satellite called ICESat up in space that is about to reach its operational life expectancy. ICESat stands for Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite and it is critical because it monitors the massive ice sheets that cover the polar regions. The replacement satellite, ICESat-II, won't launch until 2014 at the earliest. This leaves researchers with a 6 year gap but NASA has a plan, Operation Ice Bridge. NASA is launching the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown. They have outfitted a DC-8 jetliner with various sensors including ones that were not on the original ICESsat. The jet flies out of Punta Arenas Chile and will crisscross ice shelves, sea ice, glaciers and the massive western ice sheet collecting critical data for researchers. Here is a link to the article.

What was really cool for us here at Palmer is that on Saturday Oct. 31st the DC-8 radioed into our station letting us know they were going to be flying over head. So we laid out our bright orange float coats to spell out "HI" and gathered on the pier to watch them fly overhead. They later sent the overhead picture to us.

Meet Bruiser!

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

BruiserYesterday (Tuesday) was our first sampling day here at station. We would have gone Monday but if the wind is blowing over 20 knots they don't want us out on the water. Which is fine by us, no one wants to feed the fishy! So since the winds had laid down it was time to head out on our trusty zodiac 'Bruiser'. As you can see Bruiser is kind of a beast! The good news is that since it's such a heavy boat it would take an Orca to flip it, so hopefully I will have better luck here than I did in the Azores! Anyway back to the science, we have two main goals while sampling, first is the lowering of our bio-optics cage and second is collecting seawater samples. Yesterday we lowered our optics cage to 60m and collected water in Niskin bottles at 50, 25 and 10m and then two surface samples. Once we have what we need it's time to head back to the lab and filter the samples. As you can see we have a lovely filtration system setup. Filtration SystemWe use 25mm filters and filter the seawater in incriminates of 100ml until we see pigment on the filters. Right now since the water is so clear there is not a lot of activity so we have to filter more water. This will change as the weather warms and the water livens up as we head deeper into the Antarctic summer. We follow this process twice, once for chlorophyll samples and a second time for HPLC samples. Once we have the filters we store them in either the deep freeze or in liquid nitrogen. And that's a wrap!

The Season Begins!

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Palmer Station and the GouldGreetings from Palmer Station Antarctica. This year Alex (veteran from last year), Brian, and myself (Tina) are here for the LTER summer season. Some changes this year are the addition of a third person and a third glider to our group which will hopefully allow us to get even more accomplished. We will be working very closely with Maggie and Dan who are from Hugh Ducklow's group  since we are all sampling the same water and at the same depths. We will also be working closely with Kristen and Jenn who are the Penguin girls from Bill Fraser's group. Together the seven of us form the LTER science group! We have been spending the past week finding all our gear and setting up our respective labs. Today we are hoping will be our first sampling day however we are faced with a very high tide and 20 knot winds. Neither of which yields to successful boating. So instead we play it by ear and hope for a break in the weather.

Adelie Colony on Torgersen Island

It hasn't all been hard labor though... we were all lucky enough to go to Torgersen Island which has a couple Adelie penguin colonies on it. It was a beautiful day and quite the experience.