Post by VIMS graduate student Lori Price
After our visit at Rothera we headed south to get the birders to Charcot Island to sample the small penguin population there and to do our third and final Process Study.
This southern part of the grid is exciting for us because for the first time we run into a lot of sea ice. After a few attempts getting through the sea ice, the birders were successful in getting their diet samples from the penguins. We then headed even further south where the satellite tracks told us the penguins were feeding and sampled a station at a location that is further south than the L.M. Gould has ever been before!
We did net tows in the middle of the sea ice, which is always an interesting experience. Three years ago the net got caught on a small ice floe and rocketed out of the water, completely destroying the entire net and steel frame. We vowed not to do that again this year. All of our net tows in the ice went fairly smoothly—I think we only caught ice in two of the tows. The second mishap ripped the net, which was replaced relatively easily. All in all, it was a successful ice-towing experience. We seem to be improving every year!
After finishing the third Process Study in the ice we headed back north, hit a few stations on the way, deployed some moorings (those pieces of equipment that stay in the water all year, collecting information on currents and water temperature) and basically finished most science operations.
The day before arriving back at Palmer Station we went to Prospect Point, a beautiful area where we can get off the ship and actually set foot on the Antarctic Continent (up until then we had only been on islands). There is a population of penguins on small islands in that area so while everyone else was stretching their legs Joe, Kim, Kate and myself got to help the birders sample some of the penguins! We helped hold the penguins while they took measurements of their bills and flippers and helped diet sample the adults. It was really fun learning how to work with and hold penguins properly. They are surprisingly strong and heavy, like little balls of pure muscle.
Finally, all of the science for the cruise was officially completed and we headed back to Palmer Station. Usually this is a very relaxing time because all we have left to do is pack everything up, which we can do during our 5-day trip across the Drake Passage. However, this year Kim, Kate and myself are staying at Palmer Station for another two months to continue our work, so things were a bit crazy and stressful trying to separate out all of the gear we needed for station from everything else that could stay on the ship.
We arrived on station Feb. 4 and spent the entire day moving personal and lab gear from the ship to station. That evening we had a little party to say goodbye to all of the ship folks, complete with a polar plunge and record-setting number of people in the hot tub on station. The ship left the next morning after all of our goodbyes and we did a proper polar plunge off of the dock where the ship had been.
Although the cruise is over, our blog will continue with our stories of science and everything else from Palmer Station where Kim, Kate and I will call home for the next two months.