More than 30 contributing scientists have been involved in a significant amount of preparation and anticipation in advance of the LARISSA project 2010 cruise. Within a week of the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer's estimated time of departure, the LARISSA port call has finally arrived. Several scientists, including Hamilton College professor and Principal Investigator Eugene Domack, left their homes on Christmas day to arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile. Others will trickle in until a couple days prior to departure to set up their laboratories and move onto the ship. To support ice coring and GPS placement work on the Antarctic Peninsula, two PHI helicopters were flown onto the ship's helo pad and moved into the hanger this morning. The Palmer has only supported helicopter operations one other time in the ship's 18 years of service, and we are excited to see the helicopters in action. Several members of the science team in addition to the helicopter pilots and mechanics have taken Helicopter Underwater Egress Training (HUET) back in the United States in order to fly in the helicopters over open water. The training taught us how to exit a helicopter if it went down and flipped upside down. Although the prospect of having to employ our training may scare some out of flying, I gain reassurance from the two pilots themselves, who have flown at the McMurdo Station collectively for 20 years.
While work has already begun at the Punta Arenas port, I left to join the others this afternoon. After spending the holidays with my friends and family, I departed from Boston, and will arrive in Punta Arenas, 30 hours later on Wednesday evening. A Chilean-based company, AGUNSA assists all United States Antarctic Program participants in their travel to Punta Arenas, making the lengthy travel plan as smooth as possible. Upon arriving in Santiago, Chile, AGUNSA representative Jimmy Videla met me as well as two other LARISSA cruise members who shared my flight.
After a little snow at the Dallas airport and a four-hour lay-over in Santiago, I made it to the Finis Terrae Hotel in Punta Arenas around 10:30 p.m., or 8:30 p.m. eastern time. The sun was just beginning to set at this point in the day; the farther south we go, we will have even more hours of sunlight during the austral summer day. During port call, all scientists stay in hotels all over Punta Arenas, as our berths on the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer are cleaned and prepared. One of the two United States Antarctic Program vessels, the Palmer services a number of National Science Foundation grantees each year, and the ship's laboratories must be cleaned and reconfigured for each research party during port call. For the LARISSA cruise, we have rearranged the dry lab, where we process all sediment cores as well as perform a number of analyses on sediment and water samples. We have also loaded a Remote Operating Vehicle (ROV), which is controlled by a three-person team from the Renard Center of Marine Geology at Ghent University in Belgium. The ROV allows us to move about the seafloor, capturing real-time images as well as sediment, gas, and water samples.
The ship is humming today as we say goodbye to 2009! The Raytheon Polar Services crew, our support team, is transporting boxes and equipment from the port warehouse, where the scientists have shipped their materials months in advance, onto the ship. Just as quickly as the boxes arrive on deck, the scientists are unpacking their equipment and setting up their respective laboratories. This morning I went to my extreme cold weather gear issue appointment, where I collected my basic kit, which includes rain pants and jacket, insulated bibs, two pairs of silk long underwear, a pant and pull-over fleece set, a USAP parka (complete with a fur fringe around the hood), a number of multi-purpose gloves, Carhartt overalls, goggles, two flannel shirts, wool socks, hats and neck warmers, and two sets of boots (one for deck work and another for snow). All equipment is washed and reused cruise after cruise, so trying on and inspecting the gear is a must before heading out. Today also provided an opportunity for me to start meeting everyone on the cruise. The LARISSA project involves a large number of scientists and students from three main fields: marine and quaternary geosciences, cryosphere and oceans and marine ecosystems. The chance to meet and interact with leading scientists in these respective fields on the LARISSA curise is a priceless opportunity for graduates student like me. Today was a long day for scientists and crew alike, although most found a nice spot to watch Punta Arenas fireworks and ring in the New Year! Feliz ano nuevo y prospero ano!
At the beginning of the day, our scheduled time of departure stood as Saturday, Jan. 2, at 1 p.m. By mid-morning, however, the winds picked up and whipped up to 50 mph on the pier, which halted cargo loading operations. Estimated time of departure was rescheduled for Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. We continued setting up and securing our laboratory equipment. Luckily, by early evening, the winds subsided and allowed us to test the Remote Operating Vehicle (ROV) off the stern of the ship. We are especially interested in locating and probing methane cold seeps beneath the former extent of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, where we have identified at least one cold seep during the 2005 field season. The main controller of the instrument, Dries Boone, jokes about how his years of Play Station practice have thoroughly prepared him for using the ROV. Fortunately, the ROV test at port went well as the crew worked into the evening. Earlier in the day, all hands moved out of our hotels and onto the ship. Most of us share a room and head (the head is the term for a ship bathroom) with one other person; the captain and chief scientist are provided with their own rooms and a day room, which they keep open for visitors. I am in a room with three other women, on the second deck right across from the TV lounge. The TV lounge is well equipped with reclining sofas and an aged, yet eclectic VHS collection for planned group movies after shift. Later in the day, all scientists and crew met for a safety meeting conducted by the ship's Chief Mate Sebastian, who is first under Captain Joe Borkowski III. We went over the ship's security details, learning useful information about the ship, from what number to call if your shower backs up to emergency situation protocols. The meeting gave us the opportunity to practice putting on our lifejackets and our survival suits, AKA gumby suits. The term "gumby suits" is entirely appropriate, as the one-piece, quarter inch thick suit covers your entire body to provide added warmth and floatation in the water during an emergency situation. The gumby suits, however, are difficult to put on and off and restricts a lot of movement and dexterity. We all had some fun watching each other struggle with the suits, silently contemplating the situation where we would actually have to don the costume. During the meeting, we loaded into one of the ships emergency boats (there is one on each side of the ship). The emergency boats are stocked with survival equipment; examples include extra blankets, flashlights, and survival brownies, in case of an abandoned ship situation. Each of the brownie slivers is packed with 2000 calories, a day's requirement for survival in a lifeboat, and supposedly chews like a piece of rubber. After a thorough run-through of the ship's security, we finished our preparation work for the day, and many of the scientists and crew met off the ship at a local restaurant called LoMitt's for one last meal on the town. The impromptu pre-cruise party provided a chance to get to know our shipmates after a hard day of final preparations and toast for a successful cruise!
Due to a delay in the delivery of vital laboratory supplies, the estimated plan of departure was pushed back to Monday, Jan. 4, at 3 p.m. The unexpected change of schedule provided us all with extra time for more set up, to do our laundry and check our e-mail accounts, and to run into town for last minute chocolate and snack purchases. We have internet access while in port, but as soon as we embark, we will lose the signal. After passing a technology security tutorial, everyone on the ship received a private e-mail account to use while on the cruise. We are all anxious to hit the water, although the extra days have been well used for additional preparation and provided time for a pick-up basketball game at a local gym. University of Hawaii (Manoa) professor Craig Smith rallied the troops, including one of the cooks, a few Raytheon Marine Technicians, and fellow scientists for a quick 5 on 5 game. Monday, Jan. 4 Departure day, has finally arrived! All hands were required to be on board by 1 p.m. with a projected departure of 3 p.m. Most of us jumped off the ship for a quick jaunt into town, one last time, and the basketball team was at it again for another game. To be honest, it is not unlikely for people to play basketball while at sea in the helo hanger; however, this time, the two helicopters are nestled into the tight space, and we had to remove the hoop to accommodate the rightful occupants of the hanger. Foosball and the ship gym will have to suffice for two months for the gamers. Most of the crew vow to continue exercising while at sea, as soon as we get into a schedule. Although we are still readying our labs and holding science briefs, we will not settle into 12-hour shifts until after we cross the the Drake Passage. Transit down to the Antarctic Peninsula brings us through the Straits of Megallan, the Strait of Le Maire, and the Drake Passage, which takes about four days, depending on weather. Novices and Antarctic veterans alike are curious about conditions in the Drake, which notoriously boasts powerful and rough waters and hence, a potentially nasty bout of sea-sickness. The Drake Passage refers to the strip of water between the southern tip of South America and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans converge. A couple hours past the scheduled time of departure, we cast off with the help of the Punta Arenas port pilot and are well underway as I write.
— Commentary and photos provided by Kimberly Roe '08