We arrived at Syracuse Airport early on Thursday, October 24, to begin our journey down south, what I like to call our “great migration.” We were eager to board our first flight. Over the course of the next couple of days we would be traveling to places neither Alex nor I had ever been. Our first stop was Atlanta, Georgia. After a lengthy layover there, we began our nine-and-a-half-hour flight to Santiago, Chile, and then proceeded even further south to our final destination in Punta Arenas, Chile. Our preparation for the cruise began the following day.
After a much needed night's rest, we woke early and set off to the National Science Foundation U.S. Antarctic Program warehouse. This enormous warehouse houses important gear and equipment that scientists and other Antarctic-bound patrons utilize. Before we had a chance to collect our lab equipment, however, we had the very important task of gathering our issued “Cold Weather Gear.” Some important pieces included steel-toed rubber boots, Karhart overalls, and lined rubber gloves. Since weather down in the Antarctic is uniquely cold and harsh, it is crucial that travelers have clothing that can withstand the extreme conditions. Once we gathered and packed our gear, we began the important task of organizing and preparing our lab equipment.
While onboard the R/V L.M. Gould, we were given access to labs where would be conducting our science. A significant amount of time was spent filling and labeling the many, many drawers and cupboards with our lab tools. We also cleaned and sterilized several spaces in the lab and began installation of the Magnetic Susceptibility (MS) system. Before we ended our workday we had to prepare the lab for the upcoming rough voyage. To prevent lab materials from being broken during the rocky traverse through the Drake Passage, we had to make sure all equipment was securely fastened or in a locked drawer. This was an experience to which only scientists at sea are commonly accustomed.
At the end of our busy day, we celebrated the beginning of the cruise with a dinner at a favorite local restaurant within walking distance from the port. With scientists and crewmembers around the table, we toasted to a safe passage and an exciting trip.
This is our second day aboard the R/V Laurence M. Gould on the open ocean. We are currently heading towards the Drake Passage. This part of journey will be the roughest part of our trip, with swells reaching more than 10 feet. We have been prepping our labs and our rooms for this part of the journey, making sure everything is secured.
We attended a meeting to learn what to do if we ever need to abandon ship. The abandon ship boats are orange and completely contained and can weather storms and rough seas. The interior is pretty sparse, but contain necessary survival gear. They are definitely not like our cozy bunks.
On the science side of things we finished setting up the magnetic susceptibility machine. Getting all the drivers ready and making sure the track is straight so our cores can move smoothly.
As we travel towards the Antarctic Peninsula, we will continue to prep for the science portion of the trip, and keep ourselves busy with the work we receive from Hamilton.
Today was a quiet day on the ship. With our lab equipment successfully organized and unaffected by the ships rocking motion, we devoted this day to a discussion about the scientific significance of our project.
During this cruise we will devote five days to science — taking sediment cores from carefully chosen places within the Boyd Strait and Hugo Island Trough. We hope that the 9m gravity cores will reach the glacial Holocene interface. This specific stratigraphic contact is important because it allows us to date when the overlaying sediment was deposited, as well as temporally constrain the retreat of the ice stream. Overall, we hope to better understand when the ice stream retreated from the continental margin during the last glacial maximum.
The work we will be doing on this cruise is not the beginning of a new project, rather a continuation of a project that began in the early '90s. Due to varying sea state and weather, researchers have been unable to core wherever they pleased. As a result, pieces of evidence are missing, and it is our job to fill some of these voids in an attempt to better understand the timing of deglaciation in a geographic sense.
Why is it so important to know the time deglaciation occurred?
The larger question we aim to answer is, “What caused this major deglaciation?” Was it a change in the winds or the deep water? Was it caused by forcings in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere? In order to understand the cause of this Antarctic deglaciation, we need to know when this event occurred.
After our morning lecture we were free to read some assigned scholarly papers regarding the Antarctic Peninsula in the cozy lounge area. We were also lucky enough to get a guided tour of the engine room. There we learned, and saw, how our ship is equipped to deal with the sea ice we will soon encounter.
Sometime later tonight we will have reached the 200-mile mark. We will officially be at least 200 miles away from any Chilean-claimed land. The next land mass we see will be Antarctica.
We have finally reached the Antarctic Peninsula! After a three-day journey from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the coast of Livingston Island, the Gould completed the passage to the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. These past few days have made everyone eager to start our assignment. We have been looking at maps and reading papers in order to prepare for the mission. Some members of our team have had to battle seasickness, but all of us are looking forward to tomorrow.
Everyone aboard the ship has the unique opportunity to help setup the U.S. research post on Livingston Island, known as Cape Sheriff, tomorrow morning. This post is a seasonal research station, meaning that it is only open during the summer months in the Antarctic. Livingston Island is also unique because it is an Antarctic Special Protected Area or ASPA, which means that everywhere on the island, except the stretch from the beach to the outpost, is protect from human interference. When we are moving supplies tomorrow, we will tread very carefully as to not disturb the native wildlife.
The team that we will be assisting tomorrow is a NOAA-designated science group. Their research has been to track the habitation and migration practices of seals and penguins. The data the NOAA scientist are gathering involve: geo-tagging the animals to track migration, installing cameras to see animal interactions underwater and weighing and measuring. This will help the United States and the rest of the world create better fishing practices that avoid disturbing the wild animals. All of us aboard the ship are exciting help these guys get set up and running.
With the launching of the NOAA team, we are a step closer to our team’s main goal of retrieving cores around Palmer Station. In preparation of this endeavor we had to figure out what coordinates to give the captain, so he can position the ship.
Amelia Shevenell ’96 (Chief Scientist) and Amy Leventer, gave us a crash course in map plotting. After our lesson, we plotted the previous core sites from older cruises to practice our skills. We also looked for potential new sites to collect some coring data. On the old sites we hope to expand the scope of knowledge about what lies beneath ocean bottom. In the long run we hope that the coring data will help us attain a more accurate chronologic record of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Today was the most exciting day yet. After several travel days at sea, we were ecstatic to reach our first destination, Cape Shirreff. This small station, nuzzled between two towering mountains, will now house five scientists who have been traveling with us. While we were sad to see them go, we had the amazing opportunity to help them “put in” their station. This laborious process includes packing and organizing food, boating them over to the station, and then unpacking and bringing the materials to the station. With the entire crew and scientists at work, we began this task immediately after breakfast.
Five months of material is hard to imagine. It wasn’t until I stepped on deck that I realized how much stuff you need to live modestly, but comfortably. A massive trailer sat on deck loaded with boxes and boxes and boxes containing fruit, vegetables, toilet paper, batteries and electronic gear, among many other items. We created an assembly line across the deck and began placing boxes in massive bags. These would then be lifted by the ship’s crane and carefully placed in a small rubber boat that was battling the swelling seas off the side of the vessel. It was much like a crane arcade game…however here the stakes were much higher.
After an hour of helping on the back deck, it was finally time for Alex and me to head to land. After an exhilarating hop onto the boat, we gripped on for the 15-minute boat ride from the Gould to land. After a couple of cold splashes, we made it to land where we were greeted by some of our shipmates who had traveled over earlier. Our work began immediately.
We spent the next couple of hours loading large sleds with the materials that we had just transported over. This proved to be a difficult yet rewarding task. The five scientists were incredibly grateful for our help, and we were just as grateful to have been there. Just as we were finishing up, the waves began to pick up, and we decided to head back to our vessel. We said our final farewell and wished our peers good luck.
The rest of the afternoon was spent recovering from our hard work. I spent most of my time looking through and comparing the pictures my peers and I took. While these photos are awesome and incredible, they don’t do the experience justice. The Antarctic continues to surprise, impress and impact me in a profound way.
Today we arrived at Palmer Station, a base operated by the United States that is open year-round and is located on Anvers Island in Antarctica. This will be our last stop before we begin the science portion of our trip.
On our way to Palmer Station, we saw some of the most spectacular sights. We instantly knew we were getting close to Anvers Island when the sound of ice breaking against the hull of the ship woke us up. With cameras in hand, everyone on board went to the bow of the ship and began snapping pictures furiously. The scenery was something straight out of a National Geographic documentary. We were in the Gerlache Strait, surrounded by mountains capped with glaciers on either side of the R/V Gould. The icebergs that floated by the ship were spectacular with white pinnacle tops and perfect sky blue bottoms that extended beneath the surface of the water. After withstanding the cold air for so long, we made our up to the bridge to warm up and gain a better vantage point.
On the bridge of the ship the scenery was only more impressive. We could see the floating ice debris as it approached the ship. Although the ice was beautiful, it harbors hidden danger. Above the surface of the water only a fraction of an iceberg is visible. The bottom extends well below the surface so the ship's pilot must use extreme care. Luckily we had the expertise of Ernest, the ship's chiefmate, at the helm. He gracefully guided the ship through the Gerlache Strait and Crooker Passage.
Between leaving the Gerlache Strait and reaching Palmer Station the back deck of the ship had to be prepped for guide rails. These rails would aid in the launch of our coring equipment. We went to the back and scrapped paint off where the base of the rail would be bolted down to the deck. Although this was a minor task, it is important so the rail system could be set in place as soon as possible. Working out on the back deck we were able to witness at eye-level the ship breaking ice. Once we finished up this task we were minutes from Palmer Station.
Upon arriving we immediately went to the Palmer Station store. We loaded up on Antarctic souvenirs to handout to family and friends. We also ran into some of the people stationed at Palmer, from scientist types to people who make the station run year round. Talking to some of these folks, we realized the tight bonds this community has with one another. They welcomed us into Palmer to experience a small part of living in the Antarctic.
Today we had the opportunity to experience the Palmer Station during the day. This busy station is home to about 45 residents ranging from scientists and students to technicians and cooks. After a quick breakfast we gathered up some reading materials and headed over to explore the station. With 40-knot gusting winds we bundled up and made our way into the galley. This area functions as the kitchen, eating and lounging space. Luckily, a Palmer resident had just added a few logs to the wood-burning stove…we made ourselves comfortable there.
While we planned to get some reading done, we were constantly approached by friends we made on our journey down to Palmer. One particular woman, Allyson Comstock, an artist, gave us a personalized tour around the workspaces, her room and the lab. Allyson was one of two artists whom we brought down to Palmer on the R/V Gould. She and April Surgent will be spending the next three months incorporating their specialized art forms with the ongoing science and Antarctic scenery. They are part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Artists and Writers program. Allyson and her fellow artist April work alongside the Palmer Station scientists in the labs of the Biology building. This is a testament to the close-knit community at Palmer.
After viewing the labs and facilities at the station, we headed back to our vessel to make final preparations for our departure. We corrected and finalized some of the waypoints, or locations, where we will be coring. Since the weather in the Antarctic is unpredictable, our chief scientist, Amelia Shevenell ’96 is responsible for monitoring the state of the sea and wind strength at our desired coring locations. Sea ice and high winds can present dangerous working conditions and inhibit our work.
Tomorrow we will be leaving Palmer and our science will begin.
Today we spent the day at the Palmer Station before departing for the research portion of our cruise. We decided to hike on the glacier that sits behind station. We all got dressed in our official Antarctic gear, and, donning the infamous red jacket and snow pants, we checked out on the station blackboard and picked up radios from the communication manager. Due to the rapidity with which weather can change, these precautionary measure are a necessity.
After gathering the gear, we headed out through Palmer's backyard to the base of the glacier.
A little less than halfway up the glacier the views of Palmer Station and the surrounding islands were amazing, and the team was able to fully capture the vastness of the Antarctic. With a newly migrated ice pack, the bay that surrounds the station was just a white expanse. Using the ship for a sense of scale, the surrounding landscape seemed to keep growing. The glacier appeared to go on forever on either side of us. As we moved higher and higher up the glacier, the view became even more impressive, but the weather also changed rapidly.
Upon reaching the top of the glacier the winds were howling. It seemed as if they cut right through our layers of clothing. It became apparent to us why all the safety precautions we completed before the hike were necessary. We quickly took pictures and headed back towards the base. After checking back in and verifying to the station manager that we were safe, the group headed back to the Gould.
We returned to the ship and made final preparations before departing around dinner time. Amelia Shevenell ’96 finalized our game plan before we departed, and the rest of us made sure the lab and equipment were running smoothly.
While we were able to enjoy part of the day, it was a different story for the ship's marine techs and crew who spent the majority of the day setting up the back deck of the boat in preparation for coring. The techs built the different cores that we would be using, while double-checking that everything was safe and secure so we could go out and look at the cores when they came up. This required the techs to work about eight hours. All of us on the science team were grateful for their time because of how critical set up is to the success of our project.
As we are make our way to Palmer Deep, we are hoping that all of today's preparations will lead to a successful first core.