62 28' S
49 54' W
23 knot winds
clear skies and rolling seas
beautiful 1/2 moon rising in the east
We left the Larsen A area on Monday night and headed up the Prince Gustav Channel. We spent Monday night and Tuesday transiting the channel. In the channel, we experienced some high winds (up to 45 knots) and a temperature spike of +12 C. That's 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit at 10 pm. Temps cooled again, but were around 6-8 C most of the night.
We finished up our research in the eastern Antarctic Peninsula region in grand fashion on Wednesday. Early Wednesday morning, the night crew collected a 40 foot jumbo piston core, the longest ever collected on the Gould. This sample was taken in an area known as the Vega Drift, an undersea collection of sediment we identified in 2001. The large accumulation of sediment results from relatively fast moving, sediment laden waters moving north up the Prince Gustav Channel slowing as they enter the Erebus and Terror Gulf and depositing the sediment in a large mound as the flow rate decreases.
After this success, the ship moved to the western side of Vega Island to collect a cache of plesiosaur fossils that had been excavated by a US/Argentinean research group earlier this season. We had been asked to on-load these sample boxes and return them with us to Punta Arenas for shipment back to the U.S. High winds and choppy seas made transferring the heavy sample boxes quite a production. Using a zodiac inflatable raft, MT's TJ Hurlburt and Greg Buikema along with Bruce Huber and I moved the sample boxes from the shore to the ship in two long trips.
After the samples were secured, the ship moved to a new position on the south side of the island that was more sheltered from the wind. Once repositioned, the zodiac was again lowered over the side, and MT's Jesse Doren and Emily Constatine began running people to shore.
Vega Island is a mix of sedimentary and volcanic rocks with sandstone units and basalt flows holding up the high mesas that look strikingly like areas in the southwestern United States. Occasional capping glaciers remind you that you are still in Antarctica. The more gradual slopes are composed of Cretaceous rocks that were originally marine muds similar to what we have been collecting over the past few weeks. Marine fossils are weathering out of these units, including some large marine vertebrates like the plesiosaur. Unfortunately, we did not find our own plesiosaur.
Many of the students commented on the amazing quietness. The ship is constantly noisy but you do not appreciate how noisy until you get off and hear true quiet. Land legs were also a problem. Our bodies have adapted to the constant motion of the ship and standing on solid unmoving land confused the inner ear balance centers. Short hikes, photographing a cooperative seal and photographing the beautiful grounded icebergs quickly passed the time we had. All were back on the ship by late afternoon, and we sailed back along the western edge of Vega Island and turned northeast to begin our long transit toward the South Orkney Islands.
Our transit will take the better part of two days. Then we begin working to recover and redeploy instrumented moorings for Bruce Huber. At our current speed of 11 knots, we should be on station to begin the mooring recovery around 5 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) evening. Ice images show the area to be relatively free of ice, so it should not be a problem. Weather charts show a small high pressure area over the South Orkneys, so hopefully calm seas will prevail as well.
Now that we are back in the open ocean, the smooth, ice damped waters are a thing of the past and the rolling ship motion has returned. Conditioned by our crossing of the Drake earlier, this motion is being taken in stride, for now.
Icebergs appear in bands as we travel northeast. We passed through a long section with only a few scattered bergs visible, then into a band where they are fairly dense.
-commentary provided by Dave Tewksbury, geology technician at Hamilton College
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