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
Land!

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!

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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!

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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.

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– Mar

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.

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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.

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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