Today, we stepped on solid ground for the first time in four days to offload cargo at Copacabana Field Camp on King George Island. Our operation ashore was delayed several hours because of winds that registered upwards of 30.0 knots. We spent the morning hours preparing the batteries for our Spring Point cGPS install tomorrow and waiting for the wind to die down. By lunchtime, winds still gusted near 30.0 knots and we were anxious to know whether or not we would be going ashore at any point during the day.
Eager to get off the ship, we walked around the weather decks and took some pictures of Admiralty Bay and King George Island. The bay is surrounded by rocky, snow-covered cliffs, and icebergs dot the horizon. Through binoculars we spied what we thought was an extensive penguin colony right next to Copacabana! This was not surprising given that the research station is dedicated to monitoring Gentoo and Adelie penguins in their natural habitat during the austral summer.
Our hunch about the penguin colony was spot on! Around 14:00 we received word that conditions had changed, and we were permitted to go ashore. We were able to carry cargo; fresh groceries, frozen food, propane and other supplies to the Copacabana field team. The whole crew quickly bundled up in our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear, cleaned off our boots for ecological reasons, piled cautiously into zodiacs and headed to shore. The zodiacs also provided an ideal vantage for Brad to take some water samples by hand. As the zodiacs whipped closer to shore, we could see thousands of penguins!
The Copacabana offload was a team effort and a great success, even with the tide coming in and bergy (small iceberg) bits lingering dangerously near the shoreline. One team of LMG crew members formed the “surfers.” The surfers stood in the shallows with survival suits properly donned and unloaded the zodiac’s cargo onto the island. Other crew members were the “sherpas” who loaded the cargo onto sleds and dragged them up a slight hill to the field station. This group included all of the members of the Hamilton team.
In between zodiac runs, we had time to mingle with the penguins and photograph the incredible wildlife and scenery of King George Island. We were also graced with the presence of two elephant seals behind the field station. Later, a hungry leopard seal poked his head up to breathe near the zodiac drop off point, but it was too fast to be photographed. No doubt the leopard seal was lurking in the area in hopes of dining on penguins. The little Adelie near the shore were on alert, sensing the seal in the area. Luckily, he or she refrained from diving into the bay to feed.
Cold and wet from the zodiac ride back to the ship, we hung up our gear to dry and sat down for a well deserved dinner. After dinner, the science team met and discussed the coming day. We are leaving Admiralty Bay and the South Shetlands tonight. Unfortunately, our weather delay this morning has strapped us for time, and at this point, we are unsure whether or not the Spring Point install will go as planned and on schedule. We may steam ahead to Duthier’s Point to maintain seismic equipment there depending on ice conditions in the Bransfield Strait and our arrival time in Hughes Bay tomorrow.
The first part of the day on the ship started out a little bit rough. The final portion of the Drake Passage proved to have the harshest conditions of any of the sailing that we have experienced, and boy, did we feel it onboard. Just making it down the one flight of stairs to the dining hall or walking the short hallway to the lounge was more of a challenge than we anticipated. With our mobility impaired, this resulted in a relaxing day of watching movies and reading, intermixed with several hours of napping. We were able to step outside on the deck of the ship for a few moments during the harsh part of the sail, and the scene was pretty amazing. The waves washing up onto the side of the ship were bigger than we had ever seen; we estimated them to be around 20 feet!
The unsteady footing and brief moments of nausea were definitely worth it though when after dinner the first icebergs came into view! Everyone on the ship made time to go out on the deck to see the enormous white figures emerge from the mist on the horizon. If the three days of sailing hadn’t already done it, the sight of icebergs really started to make the experience seem real!
As for work on the ship, we continued to take turns collecting a water sample every six hours for analysis of diatom content by Professor Leventer and the geology department at Colgate University. After dinner there was also a meeting onboard for everyone who wanted to volunteer to help out tomorrow when the ship reaches the Copacobana field camp. Tasks will include going to shore on King George Island by zodiac (small boats) and carrying supplies the short distance up to the field camp. In helping out and going on shore we will also be able to walk around and sightsee, which means that we can expect to see penguins and seals!
First icebergs and now penguins, it’s definitely starting to feel like Antarctica!
Last night as we were all falling asleep, we began our journey through the Drake Passage. Although we are amazed by the size of these waves (5-10 feet, with winds up to 30 knots), we have been told multiple times by Antarctic cruise veterans that we have been lucky with how “calm” it has been. We hope for a smooth sail the rest of the way to Copacobana field camp, which we will reach around 4 a.m. Sunday morning.
Today we had a very relaxing day in the lounge room on the ship. The students were able to catch up on some homework, while Gene, Brad and Amelia were able to stay on top of all the work they have as professors from their respective institutions. Because we all have little preparation to do before we reach Copacobana, we have been able to gather in the lounge with other crew members and other scientists and hear about their research, as well as enjoy some casual conversation and television (today was 30 Rock!). We learned, for instance, from one of our fellow shipmates, Sue, that at the Copacobana field camp, they are studying the decline of krill and other environmental changes in the area and their effects on three types of penguins in the region.
Tonight, we started to sample water for Amy Leventer, a geology professor at Colgate University who regularly participates in Antarctic cruises. She will be looking at diatoms in the water samples that we will collect and filter every six hours on our journey south. There have also been drifter samplers released at every degree of latitude to test for current speed, salinity, sea surface temperature and other parameters.
Pressure patterns across the Drake Passage show a storm coming in tomorrow, which will produce larger waves and a more unsettling environment on the ship. Hopefully we will make it through these trying conditions without getting sea sick! In between our water sampling tomorrow, we look forward to getting more academic work done, along with any other preparations for our arrival at Copacobana, if the seas allow.
LMG Cruise 12-11 is officially underway! Everyone on the ship was excited as we pulled away from the dock in Punta Arenas, Chile last evening.
We began our trip from Hamilton College towards the Antarctic Peninsula on October 4th. We headed from Syracuse International Airport to Santiago, Chile, with a quick layover in Atlanta, Georgia. We then spent the next day in Santiago going to the zoo and breaking out our Spanish and quickly left early on October 6th on a 4 hour flight to Punta Arenas, Chile; the Antarctic Gate.
For our few days in Punta Arenas, the science team worked to set up the two lab spaces onboard and the frame for our new cGPS station that will be deployed at Spring Point. Work in the LMG labs will consist of ocean floor sediment core sampling and analysis. The cGPS station is the seventh of its kind on the Antarctic Peninsula, part of the LARISSA network. These cGPS stations continuously transmit meteorological data and elevation data so that we can quantify crustal rebound and see how it relates to warming and the loss or gain of ice mass on the Peninsula. This short cruise (18 days) will be jam packed with around-the-clock science!
But before we begin our scientific mission we have to cross the Drake Passage, home to some of the roughest seas on Earth. It takes about three days to navigate the Strait of Magellan and head south to the maritime islands of the Antarctic continent. Our first stop is Copacabana field camp on King George Island in the South Shetlands where we will be dropping off several scientists studying penguin populations and their field gear.
During this, our first, day at sea, we have been reading scientific literature related to our eventual field work and coring sites. Along with Professor Dr. Gene Domack, distinguished Hamilton alum and palaeoceanographer Professor Dr. Amelia Shevenall ’96 (University of South Florida) and Geochemist Professor Brad Rosenheim (Tulane University) are accompanying us on LMG 12-11.