February 8: Coming to a Close

Blog post by William & Mary undergraduate student Kharis Schrage.

When Jack left off last week, I was the murderer in our ship-wide game. I was on the night shift, but there were people I had to kill off at dinner, so I woke up to kill them, but then at 11:30 pm I was challenged and killed off with just 30 minutes to go. We started a new murder game with specific targets, locations, and “murder weapons” – Debbie took out both Tricia and me. My demise came via a guitar and Tricia’s via a bucket. In other game news, Tricia is the only one from our lab still in the cribbage tournament – we’re banking on her!

EDSC_03370 copyAnyways, we deployed moorings and sediment traps on our way up from Charcot last week, which apparently went well! We cleaned up the lab and inventoried everything, entered data, and packed. We even had a King Neptune Ceremony where us “pollywogs” who hadn’t passed through the Polar Circle before were “tried for our crimes against King Neptune” by the “shellbacks” and had to perform a skit to appease him! Joe got to be King Neptune, Debbie was his Queen, and Jack was their baby! We made a whole morning celebration of it – it was lots of fun!

The last few days before Palmer Station, we spent in the northern bays so that the whale team could work. For a few days, anytime we went out on deck we were practically guaranteed a whale sighting. In Wilhelmina Bay, we saw dozens of humpbacks (and took hundreds of pictures)! It was spectacular! We even got to go on zodiac rides to watch them bubble feed. Our last evening there we saw a family breaching, and that was especially exciting!

FFDSC_0034 copyAt Palmer we all took a final hike up the glacier – it was nice to stretch our legs after being on the boat for a few weeks. After lunch, we got to go to Tourgison Island to see the Adelie penguin colony! There are a few hundred penguins on the island. They smelled pretty bad, but they’re also really cute, so it was worth it. We had to stay back an appropriate distance, but sometimes they approached us while we were sitting which was cool. The chicks are just growing out of their fluff and looked kind of funny! They were chasing adults all over the place trying to get food. That evening Jack and I did the Polar Plunge and then hit the hot tub. It was a great end to our trip.

Monday we started our journey home. It is quite bitter sweet. I have had such a great time getting to know everyone and experiencing this place. It has been the most incredible, surreal few weeks. The science went well, the people were fun, the wildlife was amazing, and the scenery was fantastic. We could not have asked for a better cruise.

Dr. Deborah Steinberg (L) with Kharis Schrage.
Dr. Deborah Steinberg (L) with Kharis Schrage.

– Kharis


January 21: Land!

Post from VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

21 Jan 2017
42° 88’ S, 147° 32’ E

View of Hobart as we sailed up the Derwent River.
View of Hobart as we sailed up the Derwent River.

We have finally reached port in Hobart, Tasmania! We were greeted by blue skies, white clouds, and green hills. The first feel of dry land is weird underneath my feet after spending the last 45 days with a constant buzzing from the ship below. We were welcomed ceremoniously by the Australian Antarctic Division at a pub down the street from the wharf. We received a pin from the AAD in recognition of our time at sea this season. And there was beer!


These past six weeks on the Aurora Australis were incredible. In school, I’ve learned the scientific side of oceanography and climate change, but it all became a little more real once I was surrounded by areas of sea ice and massive glaciers that are melting away. It was a huge motivator to work with knowledgeable and excited scientists and crew that all share in a common passion. Now that I’m back on stable ground, I look forward to what other adventures are to come in the future. Although, this cruise to Antarctica is going to be a hard trip to beat!


Thanks for reading!

– Mar

February 1: Charcot Island

Post from VIMS graduate student John “Jack” Conroy.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

2305 local time

64 30.81 S 66 04.56 W

This is the 25th year of Palmer Antarctic Long-Term Ecological Research (Pal LTER), but the far southern region of our study area has only been included within the past decade. There had been Adelie Penguin sightings along the southern end of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, but it was unclear where these birds were living. In 2008, the Pal LTER group went searching for southern Adelie colonies. They initially didn’t find anything, but close scrutiny of pictures from Charcot Island revealed pink splotches dotted with black and white. Black and white specks, of course, were tuxedoed Adelie penguins, and the pink came from their krill-colored poo. The LTER group realized current charts misplaced Charcot Island and proceeded to map the surrounding area. These efforts revealed a submarine canyon akin to those driving high productivity near Palmer Station and Avian Island where they had been studying penguin colonies for over two decades.

Charcot Island as we are slowly making our way out of the sea ice (Photo by Debbie Steinberg)

Adding Charcot Island to the research area made it possible to expand the hypothesis that a climate gradient along the Peninsula is driving the ecosystem. The northern region of the Antarctic Peninsula has undergone the world’s most rapid winter warming over recent decades and has transitioned from a cold, dry polar climate to a warmer, wetter conditions. Therefore, studying the ecosystem in the south informs our historic understanding of the northern region before its climate shift. However, heavy sea ice has prevented the Laurence M. Gould from making it to Charcot Island since 2013, and we were eager to venture further south this year. 

Emperor penguin on ice floe (Photo by Joe Cope)
Emperor penguin on ice floe (Photo by Joe Cope)

The ice reports were not looking great, and Captain Ernest half-joked, “We’ll make it to Charcot. The question is how we’ll get out.” Easterly winds pushed ice offshore and helped loosen up conditions near Charcot. We made it and the bird ecologists were able to census the small Adelie penguin colony on the island. All the other science groups sampled coastal waters and in the submarine canyon. We found high abundances of krill supporting the penguin population. Progress was slow for a few days as we pushed our way through sea ice, but we but we are back in the open water and on schedule. 

The scene of my murder (Photo by Tricia Thibodeau)
The scene of my murder (Photo by Tricia Thibodeau)

We are played a game called “Murder” on board. An individual holding the Queen of Spades can eliminate other people, but only if they are alone. I had a nice run as the killer but was ousted after an aggressive spree. Don’t tell anyone, but Kharis is the murderer now. The game ends at midnight.

– Jack

January 14-18: SR03 and King Neptune

Post from VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

14 – 18  Jan 2017
65° 20’ S, 139° 49’ E
SR03 and King Neptune

The final bits of gray skies and sea ice before heading toward open, blue water.
The final bits of gray skies and sea ice before heading toward open, blue water.

CTD stations in the Ninnis Polynya are finished! Now, we’ve steamed north to begin the final stretch of marine science: CTD stations along the WOCE line SR03. Steaming north means that we will be leaving the sea ice for good.

The typical cruise track for WOCE SR03. This track is the transect in 2008. On this current cruise, we only completed the 11 southernmost stations.
The typical cruise track for WOCE SR03. This track is the transect in 2008. On this current cruise, we only completed the 11 southernmost stations.

The SR03 transect is a part of the WOCE and CLIVAR programs as a repeat section expanding north to south along 140°E, between Australia and Antarctica. The transect is reoccupied every few years to ensure data is current. The major objectives of this program are to measure changes in water mass properties throughout the full ocean water column between the two landmasses.

Marine science for V2 is now complete! After the busy work of CTDs, we had a surprise visit from the King of the Deep, Australis Rex, as the Aurora traveled throughout the Southern Ocean, south of latitude 60°S. King Neptune, his wife, and his court of dignitaries formally welcomed all “first-timers” into the Southern Ocean in a messy ceremony involving a dead fish, a bucket full of slop, and salty blue juice.

And with that, I’m now an official South Polar Sea Dog! Next stop: land.


– Mar