January 26: The Rothera Pitstop

Post written by VIMS graduate student John “Jack” Conroy.

1611 local time

69 35.99 S 75 37.01 W

Laurence M. Gould tied up at Rothera (Photo: Debbie Steinberg)
Laurence M. Gould tied up at Rothera (Photo: Debbie Steinberg)

Early Saturday morning, we arrived at the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island. This marked the halfway point in our thirty days of research west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Rothera pitstop has become a tradition on the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research cruise. Most of us on the Laurence M. Gould were craned over to solid land via the ship’s “man basket,” a small platform surrounded by ropes. As we were offloaded, men and women living at the British base were lifted onto the Gould. Both groups had been looking forward to Saturday as a nice change of pace from life on ship or station. A group stayed behind on the ship to host the Brits as they spent the day sailing near the island, eating large American meals, getting some productive science done, and trading stories.

Snow cat on the glacier as we prepared to hike up the glacier (Photo: Joe Cope)
Snow cat on the glacier as we prepared to hike up the glacier (Photo: Joe Cope)

The rest of us were welcomed with tremendous hospitality on station. After light English breakfast fare, we split up into groups for the day’s activities. Debbie went on a flight along the Peninsula to survey whales and to scout ice conditions. They saw about 35 humpback and minke whales, even catching pictures of them as they fed on krill and pooped! Tricia and Kharis went skiing down one of the mountains surrounding Rothera, getting rides on snow mobiles for run after run. Joe and I joined a group in a snow cat (little truck with snow treads) for a bumpy ride up a glacier. We jumped out and tied up to one another as we marched to the end to the end of the glacier and then scrambled up a rocky peak for an incredible view of the area. All of us went on an afternoon stroll around Rothera Point surrounded by seals, penguins, and ice bergs. 

The afternoon’s main event was a soccer match held on the runway, pitting the heavily-favored Rothera against the Gould. This annual game had been on hold for a couple years, and we were eager to renew the friendly rivalry. Chief Scientist Oscar Schofield (Rutgers) put on an inspired performance in goal, holding Rothera to a single, measly goal. Kharis led the Gould attack, but a few close misses kept us off the scoreboard. Veterans suggest this was the strongest American performance since the legendary 1-0 victory in 2011. We ended the day with “band night” as musical groups from the British base put on quite a show!

– Jack

Everybody was still friendly after the soccer match.
Everybody was still friendly after the soccer match.

January 25: A Full Week of Science

Post by the VIMS Palmer-LTER Research Team

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 2.37.39 PMAfter dropping off the birders at Avian Island, we had a full week of science ahead of us. We traversed 100’s of kilometers to sample near the coast and offshore in the deeper regions of the peninsula. When we reach a predetermined station (i.e., sampling location), collaborating labs on the ship deploy an AC-9 that measures turbidity and particle size in the water. The Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) is then deployed to the bottom of our station. When we sample near the coast, the bottom depth is relatively shallow (~300 m) so it takes less than an hour for the CTD to return to the surface. However, at the deeper, offshore stations we reach up to 3000 m and the cast can take 3 hours!

1A fun thing we do at our deep stations is to send the CTD down with colored Styrofoam cups which shrink to more than half their size due to the immense pressure they are exposed to at 3000 m. It is a fun keepsake to give to friends and family upon our return from the cruise. Once the CTD has returned to the surface, it is time for our zooplankton tows! We do a two meter (2×2 meter) square net with a large mesh size to catch large zooplankton like krill. We then deploy a smaller 1 meter (1×1 meter) net to catch smaller zooplankton such as copepods. Occasionally we will also do additional tows to catch animals to be used in experiments.

Limacina helicina antarctica
Limacina helicina antarctica

Dr. Steinberg has been using Antarctic Krill, Euphausia superba, and gelatinous salps, Salpa thompsoni, to conduct fecal pellet experiments as a way to measure zooplankton contribution to carbon flux (through poop!) in the WAP. Her Ph.D. student, Tricia, is also conducting experiments with an open ocean snail called a pteropod. Tricia is interested in determining how increasing temperatures and limited food availability affect pteropod respiration and excretion. She has been conducting a series of these experiments and so far has found that pteropods exposed to high temperatures (~4 °C) and low food may be the most physiologically stressed.

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January 12-14: Ninnis Glacier

Post from VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

12 – 14 Jan 2017
67° 40’ S, 146° 38’ E
Ninnis Glacier

After an exciting time at the Mertz Glacier, we have now sailed further east to the Ninnis Glacier and polynya for the next round of CTD stations. In fact, this voyage is the first ever to deploy CTDs in this region as this area of East Antarctic ocean is rarely explored! To our knowledge, there has been only one ship to reach the Ninnis Polynya: the US Navy’s USS Glacier in 1979 to collect a sediment sample from the seafloor during Operation Deep Freeze. This is almost like a consolation prize for the failed efforts at the Totten Glacier a few weeks ago.

Exposed dolerite bedrock at the western end of the Ninnis Glacier. The landscape was incredible.
Exposed dolerite bedrock at the western end of the Ninnis Glacier. The landscape was incredible.

Because this area is extremely understudied, we are zig-zagging around the polynya to map out the bathymetry of the seafloor with the ship’s sounding system, dropping CTDs along the way. The sounding system had picked up a relatively deep trench, recording over 1600m in an area with surrounding depths of ~800m.

The seas were calm, and the weather was perfect for two days of non-stop CTDs. Now, we’re forced to leave the Ninnis Polynya earlier than planned or risk having the thick, multi-year fast ice cut off our only exit to open seas.

mar12

On to the next mission: CTD stations along the repeat line SR03.

Mar

January 11: Sea Ice Sampling at the Mertz Glacier

Post from VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

11 Jan 2017
65° 7’ S, 121° 19’ E
Sea ice sampling at the Mertz Glacier

One of the main marine science projects onboard this voyage is looking into the links between the iron and carbon cycles around East Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, led onboard by Dr. Delphine Lannuzel, with my supervisor, Dr. Elizabeth Shadwick. In the Southern ocean, the availability of iron as a micronutrient limits primary production for marine phytoplankton. Around Antarctica, melting sea ice releases iron and other trace elements to the surface waters. This input of iron makes the phytoplankton happy, and they take up CO2 out of the ocean to make organic matter during photosynthesis. The drawdown of CO2 in the ocean allows for more CO2 to be drawn out of the atmosphere.

Delphine and her team on the Aurora have collected cores of sea ice to measure the concentration of iron and other parameters within pack ice while we steam around East Antarctica. In order to leave the ship and step foot onto the ice, safety training and inductions need to be completed. Tents, fire starting kits, radios, GPSs, food, and more are taken onto the ice at every station, just in case.

The tent that the sea ice team brings out onto the ice. This tent could sleep five people comfortably.
The tent that the sea ice team brings out onto the ice. This tent could sleep five people comfortably.

To prepare for a sea ice station, a field training officer first goes onto the sea ice to make sure it is stable and thick enough to work on. The ice station is located upwind from the ship, to prevent any trace metal contamination from the ship and exhaust. Once everything is clear, Delphine and the team go out onto the ice and drill for sea ice cores. Clean suits are worn to prevent any contamination from clothing.

Dr. Julie Janssens (left) using the sea ice corer as Dr. Sebastian Moreau moves snow out of the way. Ice cores are typically over three feet in length and weigh over 20 pounds!
Dr. Julie Janssens (left) using the sea ice corer as Dr. Sebastian Moreau moves snow out of the way. Ice cores are typically over three feet in length and weigh over 20 pounds!

For this project, four main sea ice cores are collected. One for temperature and salinity, another for trace metals, a third for total alkalinity and dissolved CO2, and a final fourth for exopolysaccharides (EPS). Duplicate cores are sometimes also taken at the same site. The cores are cut into sections every 10 cm from top to bottom and separated into buckets to give a vertical profile of each parameter measured. Snow and seawater from under the ice are also sampled for the same measurements. The core sections and snow are brought back onto the ship and are melted down for analysis.

I joined Delphine’s team for the final sea ice station on the pack ice next to the Mertz Glacier! The Aurora crunched through along the eastern side of the Glacier. The starting time for ice stations is quite variable and depends on the location and thickness of the ice flow, among other things. I was on call from 8 PM onward and had all of my survival gear packed and ready to go. I was finally woken up at 4:30 AM to go out onto the ice.

The sea ice team post-sampling at Mertz station, (from L to R) Sebastian, Me, Julie, and Delphine, in front of the Aurora and Mertz glacier.
The sea ice team post-sampling at Mertz station, (from L to R) Sebastian, Me, Julie, and Delphine, in front of the Aurora and Mertz glacier.

Walking out onto the ice was a bit like walking out onto snow-covered land. It didn’t feel like there was only a 4-foot layer of ice separating me with the seafloor ~400m below. I helped the team core through the ice and separate the cores into sections for melting. Roughly four hours and eight ice cores later, we were packed back up onto the ship. This was hands down the best experience of the voyage so far.

Mar

January 7-10: Mertz Glacier

Post from VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

7 – 10 Jan 2017
66° 45’ S, 145° 51’ E
Mertz Glacier

After a few long days of CTDs in the Dalton Polynya, the thick ice surrounding the Totten Glacier was much too difficult to crush through. After abandoning efforts to reach the Totten, we’ve sailed north and east for about a day to the Mertz Glacier and polynya. The skies were blue and the weather was calm. The Mertz looked like a wall, extending across the entire horizon. We were able to sail within 1 nautical mile of the glacier!

View of the western side of the Mertz Glacier tongue.
View of the western side of the Mertz Glacier tongue.

The Mertz Polynya region is an important area in East Antarctica because it is a site of deep Antarctica Bottom Water formation, supplying the deep Indian and Pacific oceans with atmospheric gasses, like oxygen. In February 2010, a massive iceberg named B9B had crashed into the protruding tongue of the Mertz Glacier, which changed the distribution of ice in the region.

Picture1
ASAR image of B9B crashing into the Mertz Glacier tongue on February 13th, 2010. The broken Mertz Glacier Tongue (MGT) was carried west by ocean currents into the Weddell Sea region, where most of the tongue has melted away.

Calving events like this one act as “natural experiments” to show what sort of modifications can occur in the polynya waters during changes in the landscape. On this voyage, we completed 15 CTD stations in narrow bands of clear water along the western and northern end of the Mertz. We actually sampled super-cooled deep water from the western end of the Mertz, at temperatures below -2.0 °C! Theoretically, this water should be frozen, as seawater will freeze at around -1.8°C, depending on the salinity and the pressure. Super cool.

A lot of fun, hard work!

Mar

January 17 – On the Open Seas

Post from William & Mary undergraduate student Kharis Schrage

When our research team set off from Palmer Station last week, I’d like to think the real research began.

Picture1Our cruise has scientists from all over the United States studying a variety of topics, from marine mammals to hydrology, phytoplankton, and our team’s focus on zooplankton. Along with our studies, there is a grid of oceanographic stations along the West Antarctic Peninsula that are sampled every year during these cruises. At each of these stations, a “CTD” sensor is cast to collect data on water Conductivity and Temperature at different Depths. (see Mar Arroyo’s previous post). While this is occurring, the whale biologists go out in the Zodiac, and our team deploys two nets off the back deck. When our nets come up, each needs to be processed—which requires sorting, counting, and measuring all the contents.

Picture2We mostly focus on shrimp-like crustaceans called krill, but there are other cool things like juvenile fish and squid, planktonic snails, and jellyfish! It takes anywhere between two and eight hours to complete the processing, so we usually complete two to three cycles per day. We did a few special net tows on the first day called MOCNESS (multiple opening closing environmental sensory system), which is a big fancy contraption with eight nets that open and close at discrete depths, so we pulled a 36-hour day!

Picture3The boat operates 24 hours a day and I’m on the night shift (midnight to noon) with Joe and Katie (a volunteer from Texas A&M Galveston), while Debbie, Tricia, and Jack are on the day shift. Luckily there are Midnight rations, or “midrats,” so we get to have some breakfast when we wake up. The best part about being on the night shift is that we get to see both the sunset and the sunrise! At this point, both occur only about an hour apart, so the sun dips below the horizon while the sky stays colorful, and then it pops back up nearby. They are by far the most beautiful I’ve ever seen!

Picture5The boat rocks a bit when we get seas more than a few feet so we have to keep all the drawers in the lab locked. Thankfully, we have no-slip place mats in the galley to keep our food in front of us. Tricia’s birthday was this past week, so we decorated the lab and the cook made her a cake at lunchtime. We watch movies in the lounge when we’re traveling between stations, and we have just started a ship-wide cribbage tournament! Jack taught me how to play last week so I’m ready to go!

Picture6The other day we found sea ice. We broke through it slowly but surely. The crunching was really loud and it jostled the boat a lot, but there were seals everywhere so it was really cool! Yesterday, we dropped the birders off at a field camp on Avian Island where they will camp for the next four days studying penguins. While we were waiting for them to get settled in, we got to take a Zodiac ride around and look at the glaciers and penguins and seals. It was spectacular! Now we are on our way to our next station, so back to work!

– Kharis

 

January 5 – CTD Stations

Post by VIMS Graduate Student Mar Arroyo

1 – 5 Jan 2017
65° 7’ S, 121° 19’ E

The CTD rosette as it is lowered off the side of the ship.
The CTD rosette as it is lowered off the side of the ship.

The CTD rosette is a large metal frame with mounted sensors for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (along with any additional sensors such as chlorophyll, oxygen, turbidity, etc). Around the edges are 24 heavy duty plastic Niskin bottles that can hold 10 liters of seawater, each with spring-controlled caps on both bottle ends. The caps are hooked up to a trigger system that is electronically controlled from the instrument room on board the ship. The instrument room is essentially the brain of the operations. The CTD is lowered off the side by a cable to just above the sea floor, which could be over 3000 meters deep in the waters we are sampling!

View of the computer screens in the instrument room. A watchstander will ‘talk’ to the CTD from these computers.
View of the computer screens in the instrument room. A watchstander will ‘talk’ to the CTD from these computers.

Data from the CTD sensors is transmitted up the cable to computers on board. This allows us to see different features in the water column in real time, such as changing temperature or low oxygen. As the CTD descends, we choose what interesting depths (or bottles) we want to sample from. Bottles are closed on the way back up to the surface, capturing the water from that depth.

Me sampling for total CO2 from a Niskin bottle. After I collect the sample, I add an aliquot of mercuric chloride as a poison to kill the critters living in the seawater. This ensures that there will be no CO2 released into the water sample by respiration.
Me sampling for total CO2 from a Niskin bottle. After I collect the sample, I add an aliquot of mercuric chloride as a poison to kill the critters living in the seawater. This ensures that there will be no CO2 released into the water sample by respiration.

As soon as the CTD is back on deck, water sampling begins! Sampling at the rosette is like a strategic dance, with everyone taking their turn at each Niskin bottle at the right time. Volatile gasses, like oxygen and total CO2, are sampled first, followed by other parameters, such as total alkalinity, salinity, and nutrients. On this voyage, I’m sampling for total CO2 and total alkalinity.

Time is of the essence when sampling. We’re usually at the next station by the time sampling is finished and ready to put the CTD straight back into the water. Different stations are sampled around the clock. We’ve completed 20 stations so far in the Dalton Polynya!

Mar

January 6 – Preparing for science at Palmer Station, Antarctica

Post by VIMS Graduate Student Tricia Thibodeau

After a successful crossing of the Drake Passage we finally arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula! We lucked out and had a very smooth crossing and the Drake Passage was jokingly referred to as the Drake Lake among everyone on the ship. Hopefully, we’ll receive the same seas on our return voyage!

Our good weather continued to follow us along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) as we arrived at Cape Shirreff to drop off two field biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) field camp. The camp is specifically designed to study the seal colonies present in the region. Afterward, we continued the rest of our journey to Palmer Station passing through the beautiful Neumeyer Channel! It is extremely narrow, so at times we seemed to have a 360 view of mountains.

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We had a friendly greeting at Palmer Station as we arrived in port and then began to offload cargo. The Laurence M. Gould Research Vessel is the only ship that is an appropriate size (260 ft) to dock at Palmer Station. The other research vessel deployed to the WAP is too large to dock. In addition, there is no airstrip for airplanes so all food, trash, and equipment to and from Palmer Station must be distributed through the Gould. Our first of two days at port was primarily dedicated to delivering needed cargo to Palmer Station. The second day we loaded scientific equipment and supplies to use for our research on the ship.

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We had some fun as well in the evenings including a dip in the Palmer Station hot tub (best view in the world!) as well as a trivia night. We also got to hike up the glacier right behind the station a few times. It was a great opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise, as well as get yet another spectacular view! Last but not least, we got a zodiac tour of the surrounding islands and stunning views of a humpback whale, a truly memorable experience.

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A special treat for our VIMS lab was getting to spend time with recent VIMS graduate, Randy Jones. He is enjoying his first year as the Lab Manager at Palmer Station and was very helpful getting all of the supplies we needed for the cruise.

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Early on the morning of Friday, January 6th we departed Palmer Station to begin our science! We’ll discuss this in our next blog post so stay tuned!

– Tricia

Dec. 30 to Jan. 5 – Dalton Polynya and Totten Glacier (almost…)

Post by VIMS Graduate Student Mar Arroyo

30 Dec 2016 – 5 Jan 2017
65° 7’ S, 121° 19’ E

Dalton Polynya and Totten Glacier (almost…)

After leaving Casey research station, we’ve spent a few days steaming east in open water or crunching through sea ice to reach our next stop two stops: the Dalton Polynya and the Totten Glacier.

The Aurora’s travel path in red. The black dots are CTD stations, both in the Dalton Polynya and in the waters in front of the Totten Glacier (more on this next).
The Aurora’s travel path in red. The black dots are CTD stations, both in the Dalton Polynya and in the waters in front of the Totten Glacier (more on this next).

The weather during the ~3.5-day transit was quite foggy and cold, with visibility less than 1 mile most times. Once we broke out of the ice reached the Dalton Polynya, the weather entirely changed. For those who don’t know what a Polynya is, it’s an open area of water surrounded by sea ice. It was super calm, with no wind present. The surface waters were so still that you could see the reflection of the clouds and icebergs on the water. There were penguins and seals on ice floes all around the ship.

Skyline in the Dalton Polynya. A polynya is an open area of water surrounded by sea ice.
Skyline in the Dalton Polynya.

As we reached the SW edge of the polynya, we headed for a narrow open crack in the pack ice along the edge of the coastline to reach the Totten Glacier. Most of the ice in the area is locked in by icebergs that are grounded on shallow banks, making it much more difficult to battle through. We were able to get through some of the pack ice, but after about a day of ice breaking, we couldn’t reach the Totten area of interest before the weather gave out. Strong winds (~40 knots) forced us to turn around and head back toward the polynya to wait out the bad weather.

A Weddell seal relaxing on an ice floe.
A Weddell seal relaxing on an ice floe.

Pro: CTD stations in the Dalton Polynya! More about this on the next post!

Mar

January 1 – Ringing in the New Year

Post by VIMS Graduate Student Tricia Thibodeau

View of the LMG from Punta Arenas, Chile
View of the LMG from Punta Arenas, Chile

To ring in the new year, we did a bingo night where people donate prizes and then we play a couple rounds of bingo to win them. Joe and I from the zooplankton lab won some rounds, yay! We won some soup, temporary tattoos, gum, and chapstick–the ultimate prize pack ;-). We played some card games until midnight and then celebrated the new year on the bow of the ship with apple juice and club soda (no alcohol allowed!). Made it a special way to ring in the new year.

View of Patagonia as we land in punta Arenas
View of Patagonia as we land in punta Arenas

Although the Drake passage is notorious for its rough seas and high winds, we have thankfully had a very calm crossing. We’ve been jokingly calling it the ‘Drake Lake’ with just a small roll noticeable. Most people haven’t had to take any sea sickness medication because it’s been so calm.

As we cross the drake passage, we’re helping to deploy some Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) sensors off the ship. This contributes to an oceanographic survey through Scripps Institute of Oceanography that’s been going on for over 25 years. The CTD we deploy is this little canister looking thing we just throw off the side of the ship and it measures temperature, depth, and salinity.

Enjoying card games waiting for midnight on new year's eve
Enjoying card games waiting for midnight on new year’s eve

The survey is 24/7 so select groups of people volunteer to deploy the CTD’s at all times of the day. Kharis and I have been working an 8am-noon shift while Jack and our Joe have been good sports and took the midnight-4am shift. Yesterday we spent most of the afternoon setting up our plankton nets. We saw some dolphins while we were on deck setting them up so that was very cool!

– Tricia

Peale's dolphins off the Argentinian coast
Peale’s dolphins off the Argentinian coast