2009 Expedition to Antarctica

Weekly Science Report: LMG09-03

Week of  March 29 to April 5

At present we are north bound, 2 hours from Deception Island, having left Palmer station last night at 20:00 hours (local). The last day of science operations is planned for today with the recoup of biological sampling under the B-038 program of R. Blanchette. The last week has been eventful and productive and all the objectives of the LARISSA program (C-515) have been met with the deployment of three GPS rebound stations at: Vernadsky base (April 1), Hugo Island (April 2), and Duthier's Point (April 3). In addition, the automated weather station on Hugo Island was replaced after having been off-line since 2003. Obviously we have been blessed with unusually calm weather over the last week which allowed for safe landings on the remote rocks off Hugo Island and splendid scenery within Andvord Bay and the Argentine Islands. This progress was unexpected a week ago (3/29) when we viewed the Duthier's Point site at late dusk, using spot lights from the bridge of the LM Gould. At that point it was difficult to assess a landing location and we were due at Palmer Station for first light on the 30th, so we departed Andvord Bay for an overnight transit to Palmer. On the way we took advantage of the available (night) time to run a 3.5 kHz seismic survey across a newly discovered grounding line zone at the southern end of the Gerlache Strait. This test of the hull mounted Knudsen chirp system included coverage of the Schollaert sediment Drift and grounding line (till delta) system, a feature recently revealed from newly processed multibeam imagery (NBP01-07 and 99-03 data sets).

We arrived at Palmer Station as expected on Monday, March30th and the next two days were spent with personnel transfer, cargo and fuel offload. Exceptional co-operation between the ship and Palmer Station staff allowed this stay to proceed efficiently and without delay. We departed Palmer with last light on Tuesday 31, March and proceeded to the Ukrainian base Vernadsky. There, by prior arrangement between NSF (Dr. Kelly Falkner) and the National Antarctic Scientific Center, we meet the station manager Dr. Oleksandr Lyashchuk, and his staff. We were ably assisted by the Ukrainian station personnel and installed the GPS monument and power array near the base. The Argentine Islands archipelago includes a series of low lying rocks composed of Antarctic Peninsula Volcanic Group (metavolcanics) and intrusives. We placed our monument on a bedrock rise, clearly sculpted by glacial abrasion, and near several large granitic boulders, erratics, left by the receding ice sheet some several thousand years ago. This site will help constrain rates of coastal rebound near the center of a paleo ice dome of the last Ant. Peninsula Ice Sheet and the results will be integrated with pre-existing GPS measurements collected by the NASC.

Upon the completion of the Vernadsky GPS site, weather reports were reviewed by Captain Joseph Abshire and under his astute recommendation we proceeded overnight to Hugo Island. Dawn gave us co-operative seas and low winds, essential elements for landing on the small islands some 45 miles west of the mainland. One zodiac was sent out to recon for a safe landing site, four persons jumped ashore, and a suitable location for offload of additional personnel and gear was located on the north end of Santa Claus Rock, (64 57.725 S and 65 40.041 W). This tiny cove offered: protection from the swell, a deep entrance, and a convenient bedrock ledge, all affording safe offload of equipment. An excellent location for the GPS station was located on flat bedrock about half way up the northern promontory of SC rock. Here, on dark banded gabbro (intrusive rocks rich in Fe and Mg) we installed the second of our GPS monuments and power arrays. Up on the hill RPS staff, under the direction of Mr. Kevin Pedigo, installed a new Automated Weather Station to replace the one taken down by elements sometime in 2003. As there were no prominent landmarks to mark 0 north and we needed to direct the solar panels on our GPS power array toward the best light, the LM Gould was directed to relocate due north of our position on SC rock. The bridge obliged in typical proficiency, our line of site was established, and we finished the GPS installation by 15:00 local time. An additional two hours were required to complete the AWS install during which time we removed the corroded remains of the old AWS and staged our tool kits for easy removal at the landing site. By 17:00 all hands were back on deck, boats were secured, and we set course for Duthier's Point. At this moment the new AWS is transmitting data back to the University of Wisconsin Antarctic Meteorology center and a vital peg has been reset in the collection and evaluation of weather data in this valuable location.

After a night transit we arrived off Duthier's Point on Friday, April 3rd. A first boat was sent to the shore to locate a safe landing spot and ascent route to a prominent rock ledge, upon which we hoped to station the GPS. An absolute flat calm sea made the landing selection easy and B. Johns and E. Domack climbed up about 150' to the rock ledge which supports an old iron tower, presumably erected as a navigation aid for the entrance to Paradise Harbor. A site was located on the nearly flat granitic outcrop which has been sculpted into prominent whalebacks and rouches moutonees. Nearly 1500 lbs of gear was transported up a relatively steep but stepped ascent. The equipment was transported in good humor by Kelly Falkner (NSF) and RPS staff, including: Al Hickey, Alden Strong, Paul Queiro, Russell Freeman, and Cindy Dean. We were extremely grateful for this assistance, it was a challenge, but was accomplished safely and without any significant risk. The GPS install was completed by 14:30 (local). The view from the point was spectacular even by Antarctic standards. We believe this site will provide the highest rebound rates in our network, as it clearly lies close to the ice center of the Bruce Plateau, it may even provide insight into short term accelerations in rebound due to ice mass unloading events by the nearby outlet and valley glaciers.

We completed three GPS station put-ins in three days which was quite a good run, and so we put into Palmer Station on the morning of April 4th. At that time the station was expecting a north bound departure at AM on April 6th. Since the Blanchett team of Ben Held and Brett Arenz did not complete their three days of work at Deception Island (see first weekly report) we requested that the departure date from Palmer be moved from early on the 6th to late on the 5th. There was congenial discussion of the matter with station staff, science reps and the ship's master. A consensus was reached to accommodate the science northbound with a slightly earlier departure, as the weather continued to be in our favor. We left Palmer Station after dinner last night. So, a good week aboard the LM Gould which once again proved itself to be a reliable platform with diverse capabilities for both marine and terrestrial field work. I sincerely hope that this ship can remain in the USAP fleet for years to come, as its true potential to support integrated science and supply needs in the Antarctic Peninsula region is just now being fully realized.


Eugene W. Domack
Chief Scientist, LMG09-03


Week of March 22-28

At present the LM Gould is on its way to Palmer Station after leaving Deception Island this morning at 6:00 (local). The past week has been mostly consumed with transit and holding on weather, which kept the ship at bay in the Straits of LeMaire for two days and in the Deception Island caldera for one day. Fifteen hours of science was completed ashore at Whaler's Bay and Pendulum Cove under Robert Blanchett's (B-038) program. At these locations Ben Held and Brett Arenz collected a number of significant samples. Their study is investigating microbial colonization of soils and fungal degradation of wood structures. They hope to continue their sampling at Palmer Station and were planning on another day on shore in Deception Island on the 27th. However, in the evening of the 26th and early on the 27th, a weather system moved across the Northern Antarctic Peninsula, 12 hours ahead of schedule. Winds increased within the Deception Island caldera to over 50 kn with a steady blow at 40 kn. Shore landings were out of the question and the LM Gould was not able to exit Neptune's Bellows (the entrance to Deception Island) until first light on the 29th, at which time the winds had subsided below 35 kn. During the preceding 30 hours the LM Gould ran a weather track up and down the bay within Deception caldera.

Yet during this time the underway seawater system collected some
interesting data. As part of a monitoring program, for dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater, pCO2 values are measured in near continuous time. Usually the system matches atmospheric concentrations or is slightly under-saturated, as during phytoplankton blooms. Within the isolated waters of the caldera values of pCO2 in the surface waters exceeded 550 ppmv for the first two days of calm weather. During the storm values dropped to 420 ppmv, still well above normal. We believe this represents CO2 addition (out gassing) to the water column from the volcanic system that comprises Deception Island. Therefore, the data collected during the weather track should be of interest to chemical oceanographers.

It was during this time as well that the LARISSA team (C-515) made last minute adjustments and tuning to the GPS rebound equipment, planned to be deployed in the coming week. Science talks were also held for all ship's company in the lounge. Excellent questions and comments came from all in attendance after talks by: Dan Golden (Stanford University), Ben and Brett (University of Minnesota), Bjorn Johns (UNAVCO), Mason Fried and Gene Domack (Hamilton College).

After a rough and delayed crossing of the Drake Passage (March 21st-25th) we are looking forward to making the Palmer Station turn-around efficient and effective. We are also hopeful for some cooperative weather for GPS installations at Hugo Island, Vernadsky, and Duthier's Point. Because of the weather delays we have decided to proceed with the Palmer Station call, in order to provide sufficient time for personnel to exchange out-briefings. We have therefore delayed the GPS station put-ins despite our best intentions to up front at least one of these installations prior to the Palmer Station call. Hence, at this point in the cruise we (ECO, MPC and Chief Scientist) are contemplating a request to extend our cruise by at least 24 hours, pending the outcome of our work in the next five days.

We have had an excellent working relationship with all aboard and we will miss those who disembark at Palmer Station, we wish them a successful and happy stay on Anvers Island.


Eugene W. Domack
Chief Scientist LMG09-03


Monday, March 23, 2009

It is my pleasure to provide the first weekly report, as I will do every Monday morning, from the L. M. Gould during cruise 2009-03. At present we are running a weather pattern in the Straits of LeMaire in order to avoid what has been called a storm with "ridiculously high seas" in the Drake Passage. Yesterday morning (3/22) we received advice and images from the Remote Weather Operations Facility (provided by Joe Kramer) that we avoid entering the Drake Passage. Predicted wave heights as the storm passed would have put us in the middle of 36 to 40 foot seas. So all due caution was exercised by Captain Joe Abshire and MPC Al Hickey and we have been running for the last 24 hours between Islas Estados and Cape Horn. Other ships have been doing the same, as we have been joined by four other vessels during the night.

We departed PA on time and in good order at 1400 hours on Saturday, March 21st. Our port call was efficient and all gear was made ready with the able assistance of RPS staff, AGUNSA, and ECO crew. We are thankful for the careful preparation of the Research Support Plan by John Evans (RPS).This cruise is multifaceted with the following objectives:

  1. exchange personnel at Palmer Station and provided needed cargo (fuel and food) to the base,
  2. deploy and engage three ground (bedrock) based GPS stations as the first part of LARISSA on the western part of the Antarctic Peninsula, and
  3. support the work of Dr. Robert Blanchett (University of Minnesota) in the study of microfungal ecology on Deception Island and near Palmer Station.

Toward these endeavors we have been assisted ably by RPS staff. In particular, the approval to place our GPS station at Vernadsky station has been facilitated by extensive communications between the US-NSF Office of Polar Programs and the Ukranian National Antarctic Scientific Center.

Recent communications from Dr. Scott Borg (OPP) as assisted by Dr. Kelly Falkner are most appreciated. Kelly is on board our cruise as an NSF observer. Also with us are Mr. Bjorn Johns of UNAVCO, Mr. Mason Fried (Hamilton College), Brett Arenz and Ben Held (University of Minnesota), and Mr. Dan Golden (Stanford University). Dan will be working to upgrade the VLF antenna at Palmer station which is vital to the operation of understanding ionospheric and terrestrial interaction of low frequency EMR. At present we are uncertain how long we will be delayed as we attempt to enter the Drake Passage. Alterations to the schedule will be made accordingly, once we proceed south.

Respectfully yours, at 0800 (local time) on 3/23/09,

Eugene Domack
Chief Scientist, LMG09-03