January 1: PAL-LTER Expedition Underway!

Post by VIMS Graduate Student John “Jack” Conroy.

1 January 2017

11:29 pm local

59° 22.081’ S 62° 38.215’ W

Tricia Thibodeau modeling with the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) mannequin in Punta Arenas. Photo by Jack Conroy.
Tricia Thibodeau modeling with the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) mannequin in Punta Arenas. Photo by Jack Conroy.

Happy New Year! I left Virginia after breakfast last Tuesday and arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile in time for a late Wednesday dinner. This small port city at the end of South America hosts the 230-foot research and supply vessel Laurence M. Gould, our home for the next six weeks.

After a day spent loading the ship and trying on “Extreme Cold Weather” gear, we departed from Punta Arenas. Friday afternoon we sailed through the Strait of Magellan and then turned south towards the Drake Passage. This stretch of water between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is known for strong winds and rough seas, but we have been fortunate with calm weather thus far.

A victorious Kharis Schrage in her immersion suit. Time: 24 seconds. Photo by Alec Chin.
A victorious Kharis Schrage in her immersion suit. Time: 24 seconds. Photo by Alec Chin.

These first couple days have been focused on getting organized while we wait to start sampling. We set up shop in the Gould’s wet lab, which was totally empty when we arrived. Now you might confuse it for the zooplankton ecology lab back in Chesapeake Bay Hall. We also assembled our workhorses for this cruise: a 2-m2 net to catch large zooplankton and a 1-m2 version for smaller critters. I’ve spent free time looking for birds and whales, talking science with friends, and getting to know new faces.

Deb Steinberg, Joe, Tricia, and Kharis wondering how all our gear is going to fit in the wet lab. Photo by Jack Conroy
Deb Steinberg, Joe, Tricia, and Kharis wondering how all our gear is going to fit in the wet lab. Photo by Jack Conroy

There’s a fun community on the ship as much of the crew, staff, and science team has worked together for years. We all gathered for New Year’s Eve bingo with prizes including snowman Pez dispensers, temporary tattoos of dogs wearing shoes, and a neon toilet light. The VIMS zooplankton lab made out great as both Tricia and Joe won bingo rounds. (Kharis also claimed gold earlier in the day when she dominated the race to don our survival suits during safety training). The foghorn served as our fireworks when we counted down the end of 2016 on the bow.

I’m off to drop a temperature sensor over the side of the ship. This will continue to a long-term dataset NOAA uses to monitor the Drake Passage. Here’s to a happy 2017!

– Jack