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

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 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

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

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

December 27: Christmas

Post by VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

27 Dec 2016

22:07 – 65° 19’ S, 109° 5’ E

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View of the Heli Deck on Christmas Day

Merry Christmas! When is the best time to celebrate Christmas, if not Dec 25th? Two days later on a ship stuck in the ice! The voyage leaders and watercraft operators were working hard to finish off the final bits of resupply at Casey on Dec 25th, so Christmas was postponed.

Now that resupply is complete, we are making our way east to the Totton Glacier to begin marine science. Crunching through thick pack ice isn’t always forgiving, even for a huge ice-breaker like the Aurora. The captain decided to pause the ice breaking to give the pack ice an opportunity to loosen up. In the meantime, we celebrate Christmas!

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The food spread arranged by the galley staff. This was only about 1/3 of the food served!

The amazing galley staff on the Aurora arranged a feast of a Christmas lunch, with more crayfish, ham, and fruit cake than you can imagine. There was also a special surprise of beer and wine to celebrate the holiday.

After lunch, we played games and exchanged presents. We had a visit from Santa Claus, who seemed to have lost his beard while traveling south from the North Pole. Santa brought presents for all 81 passengers on board. I got a kite!

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Santa and sea ice
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Merry Christmas from V2!

Mar~

Dec 09: Getting Underway!

Post by VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo.

Date: 09 Dec 2016
Time: 23:03
Location: 47° 10’ S, 144° 22’ E

The Aurora Australis at the port in Hobart, Tasmania.

Hello there! I’ve officially set sail on the RV Aurora Australis, a bright orange ice breaker. This ship is massive, at 311 feet in length and a capacity to hold 116 passengers. There are about 50 expedition participants, and many more crew members, aboard on this voyage.

Every week we have drills to prepare us for fires or other emergencies where we have to put on our survival suits and lifejackets.

I landed in Hobart, Tasmania about a week ago. Before coming on board, I had to attend days of training sessions ranging from hypothermia awareness to workplace safety to make sure we’re all prepared for the cold, harsh conditions in Antarctica. I once read somewhere that Antarctica is the only place on Earth similar to Space. I had to get ‘kitted’ by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to get the proper clothing and was given three duffel bags filled with thermals, coats, boots, gloves, hats, and more. Most of the outerwear is bright and fluorescent shades of yellow and orange. It was close to about 50 lbs of gear.

Waves crashing on the trawl deck at the ship's stern.
Waves crashing on the trawl deck at the ship’s stern.

For now, we are steaming toward Casey Station, a base in East Antarctica maintained by the AAD. We’ll be completing a resupply mission there, delivering 1.1 million liters of fuel and food for the winter season. The seas are a bit rough for now. The medical officers on board advised that we all have sea sickness pills on hand, even if we feel like we don’t need it. They were right.

Meet our 2016-2017 VIMS Bloggers

During the next few months, VIMS scientists will be providing an inside look into their experiences as they visit the waters around Antarctic on research expeditions. Mar Arroyo, a first-year VIMS graduate student affiliated with Dr. Elizabeth Shadwick’s laboratory, will take part in a cruise to East Antarctica from mid-December through January. Meanwhile, researchers led by Dr. Deborah Steinberg will be taking part in the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research Program (PAL-LTER) at the U.S. Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula from late December to mid-February.

Shadwick Lab Expedition

Mar Arroyo

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VIMS graduate student Mar Arroyo

I’m a first-year graduate student in Dr. Elizabeth Shadwick’s lab at VIMS. I received my BSc in Marine and Atmospheric Science from the University of Miami in May 2016, with a focus in chemical oceanography. At UM, I spent more than 60 days at sea, participating on research cruises with NOAA and CLIVAR/GO-SHIP. I’m interested in inorganic carbon chemistry in the Southern Ocean and the impacts of the changing sea-ice environment on the carbon cycle. For the next six weeks, I will be on a voyage to the Southern Ocean and the Mertz and Totten Glaciers in East Antarctica on the RV Aurora Australis. The Totten Glacier has been recently named the fastest thinning glacier in East Antarctica. I’m excited to see the changes to the carbon system from years ago because of this glacier melt.

Steinberg/PAL-LTER Expedition

Patricia Thibodeau

VIMS graduate student Patricia Thibodeau
VIMS graduate student Patricia Thibodeau

Growing up on the coast of Maine, the ocean has always been an important part of my life. Studying at Bowdoin College, I realized I was very interested in the interactions between the physics and biology of the ocean. Plankton are the ideal organisms for studying these interactions as passive drifters of the ocean. The Antarctic represents an environment still relatively understudied, particularly regarding plankton. My interest in climate change and plankton led me to pursue my Ph.D. in Dr. Steinberg’s zooplankton ecology lab. For my dissertation, I have the opportunity to conduct research on the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research cruise every January. Specifically, I am studying pteropods, open-ocean snails important in food-web and biogeochemical cycling, and how they may be affected by climate change in the region.  

John Conroy

VIMS graduate student John 'Jack' Conroy
VIMS graduate student John ‘Jack’ Conroy

I am a first-year graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science working with Dr. Debbie Steinberg. Our research group is participating in the 25th annual Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research (PAL LTER) cruise this January. I went on my first PAL LTER cruise two years ago as a William & Mary undergraduate and have since hung around the Steinberg lab with hopes of getting back to the ice. My broad scientific interest lies in how ecosystems respond to climate change. Rapid warming in the region we study—the Western Antarctic Peninsula—has lead to substantial ice loss in recent decades. I am excited to join researchers from around the world working to identify the implications of these changes.

Kharis Schrage

kharis_schrageI’m a senior honors student at William & Mary. Knowing I wanted to study marine biology, I joined Dr. Jon Allen’s lab during freshman year and started working on both the ecology and development of acorn worms. Since then I’ve participated in field courses in Virginia, Wales, and Bonaire. Last winter I spent three weeks at Lizard Island research station in the Great Barrier Reef doing developmental work on Crown of Thorns Seastars. I spent last summer on an honors fellowship in Maine doi
ng my Honors thesis on acorn worm ecology and intertidal zonation. Dr. Steinberg offers a spot on the cruise to a William & Mary undergraduate each year, and this year I was lucky enough to get chosen! I look forward to expanding my research experience through this trip!