2010 Expedition to Antarctica

Week 2

Tuesday, January 5

Yesterday evening as most of us slept and a few of us started to switch over to the night shift (8 p.m. to 8 a.m.), the ship motored through the Straits of Magellan and down the eastern coast of South America. Chief scientist Eugene Domack scheduled briefings and science meetings for the next few days to take advantage of the downtime during the transit. Although an incredible effort has already gone into the planning of the cruise, little progress would be made without continued communication between Captain Joe, the helicopter pilots, and Professor Domack and the other participating scientists, especially at this early stage of the cruise. We are still hammering out helicopter logistics and sampling schedules for each of the three research groups on the cruise: marine ecosystems, marine geology, and cryosphere and oceans. Lunchtime gave us the opportunity to celebrate electronics engineer Ronald Ross's birthday with a galley special: triple layer white cake with chocolate frosting. Representing the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado, Ross is working with glaciologists Terry Haran, Ted Scambos, Erin Pettit, and Martin Truffer on the glaciers that line the coasts of the Larsen system (see image). The glaciologists will be working closely with helicopter support to transport themselves and their gear from the ship to target locations on the Crane Glacier. For all hands to become more familiar with the work of the glaciologists, NSIDC scientist Ted Scambos gave a talk about reconnaissance work on the western side of the Antarctic peninsula that his group performed just weeks before embarking on this cruise. Scambos's 20-minute presentation was the first of a series of science talks that we will schedule throughout the cruise for all of us to learn more about each others' work.

Wednesday, January 6

Last night and into the morning, we exited the Strait of Le Maire and made our way into the Drake Passage. Prior to leaving port, all of us paid extreme attention to securing both science equipment and personal belongings in preparation for rough conditions. Although we experienced average weather in the Drake, with waves reaching 45 to 50 feet only a few times during the roughest parts, backpacks and shoes were making a tour of my four-woman berth by the morning hours. Our sister vessel, the R/V Lawrence M. Gould headed out of a port a few days prior to us and experienced calm conditions that some referred to as the "Drake Lake." At breakfast today, however, E. Domack decided to cancel all briefings for the day. Those of us with strong stomachs used the down-day to catch up on reading, e-mailing, blogging, and reviewing papers. Others chose to wait out the day in their bunks or by having a movie marathon in the TV lounge. Work and briefings would proceed as the weather calmed, presumably tomorrow of the day after.

Thursday, January 7

By breakfast, we had made it through the roughest parts of the Drake, and work and briefings resumed. This evening National Geographic photographer Maria Stenzel, camera-woman Sarah Park, and writer Doug Fox held a briefing about LARISSA photo opportunities. The three discussed their ideas for covering helicopter operations with the PHI helicopter pilots Barry James and Chris Dean, helicopter mechanics Randy Perrodin and Jay Cox, and the science group. Working with the helicopters is an extremely orchestrated event, given the limited space in the helo hanger and the helo pad and the inherent dangers of flying in the Antarctic. The long range helicopters have been stripped of all excess weight, such as padding on the inside of the doors, to accommodate larger loads to and from the ice. All passengers and their cold weather clothing and science gear must be weighed for each flight, and any personnel in addition to the pilots and scientists working on the ice must be carefully considered. Overall, we are all enjoying the participation of Stenzel, Park, and Fox on the ship; having had experience working in the Antarctic prior to this cruise, all three are interested in our work and lend a hand or an ear when need be, and needless to say, their presence means a chance to be a part of a National Geographic story! Following the briefing, all stayed for the second science talk of the cruise, given by Gent University senior PhD student Lieven Naudts. The leader of the Belgian ROV group, Naudts discussed his work on gas releasing methane cold seeps in the Hikurangi Margin on the eastern side of New Zealand's North Island. One of the main goals of the Larissa cruise is to find and sample the cold seep that was previously identified during the Lawrence M. Gould cruise in 2005 (Nature paper), using the ROV. With the Larsen cold seep on our minds, oo's and aaah's broke out in the conference room after Naudts showed a video of high activity, methane-releasing seeps in the Hikurangi Margin. Today, I also gathered information about others blogs coming out of the LARISSA cruise; at least nine groups are blogging and posting pictures about their experiences. Most of us write for a general audience but the plethora of blogs going on offers various perspectives. In particular, Lamont-Doherty Earth Obsevatory PhD. student Debra Tillinger at Columbia University writes her blog for middle school students with additional background and questions built into her entries. Check them out; links are available in the left column of this Web site.

Friday, January 8

On Thursday, at 8 p.m., the night crew started their shift, and if able to pull themselves away from their work, they had the pleasure of observing the first ice berg sighting on the cruise. The day shift awoke on Friday morning to a beautiful icy scene with rumors of seal and penguin sightings throughout the night! During the night, we made it past the South Shetland Islands, across the Bransfield Strait, and into the Antarctic Sound. After breakfast, before starting my 8 a.m. shift, I took a trip up to the bridge to take a look myself, when Captain Joe promptly pointed out a group of adelie penguins huddled on a small ice berg. Throughout the day, we performed testing on two of our bathymetric reading programs and prepared for our first science operation: retrieving a whale bone lander in the Antarctic Sound. In March 2009, University of Hawaii, Manoa professor Craig Smith deployed a whale bone lander attached to an acoustic release, and we are back, 10 months later, to retrieve the bones for analyzing the organisms that have been feeding on the scientific bait. The lander came up at the close of the day shift, requiring many of us to stay up through the night to finish sampling the whale bones before redeploying the device for another year. For most of us on the ship, creating a time series analysis on any subject, be it whale bone degradation or glacier ice dynamics, is a priceless tool for determining what is going on in a particular system. At the close of my day, all were in good spirits with the first science objective as a success, and we all look forward to making our way farther south.

Saturday, January 9

At the beginning of today, the projected course of the ship was into the NW Weddell Sea via the southern side of Seymour Island and into the pack ice toward the Larsen B embayment, a journey of about 150 nautical miles. Pack ice is what we refer to as broken up pieces of sea ice that has literally been packed together through the workings of the wind and water currents. While the Palmer can maneuver through pack ice up to three meters, or about the height of a basketball hoop, pack ice can be a limiting factor for transit in the Antarctic. By mid-day, it was clear that our current course would not get us into the Larsen B embayment, and chief scientist Eugene Domack and Captain Joe reconfigured our route. We are now heading north again and then cutting back south into the Prince Gustav Channel, which will lead us into the Larsen A. We also expect to see fast ice here, based on current satellite imagery of the Antarctic Peninsula, but the ice should be thinner than what we were experiencing south of Seymour Island. Fast ice is sea ice that has formed along glacier or ice shelf fronts. As the ship was muscling to get us to our target areas, work continued in the labs and on the decks. Glaciologists Martin Truffer and Erin Pettit, both at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, conducted a crevasse safety training class on the helo hanger in preparation for work on the glaciers. All glaciologists, the three National Geographic representatives, and interested persons such as Hamilton College post doctoral fellow Caroline Lavoie and I participated in the class. We learned how to tie basic climbing knots, such as the figure-eight and butterfly knots, and how to hook into a line. Usually three people are connected via harnesses to the line (generally 30-40 m climbing rope) when glacier walking. We also learned how to prepare a pulley system, anchored into the ice or snow, in order to extract someone or something from a crevasse, and on the other end of the line, how to use the rope to climb out of a crevasse. The training gave us all an opportunity to be outside after several days inside the ship. In the evening, another science briefing took place to discuss stable isotope sampling of the water, sediment, and organisms throughout the cruise. As with previous briefings, communication among the scientists is crucial for complimenting rather than overlapping each other's work. The meeting ended in time to enjoy the sun set in the background of open water and ice bergs.

Sunday, January 10

By 8 a.m. today, the ship made it into the Prince Gustav Channel, and we maintained a good clip for most of the day. During lunch, we had a chance to celebrate Raytheon electronics engineer Sheldon Blackman's birthday with a double layer white cake with chocolate ice cream. In the afternoon, helicopter pilots and mechanics were busy untying and rebuilding parts of the aircrafts in preparation for two missions tomorrow. One helicopter, flown by Barry James, will support an ice reconnaissance operation to scope out conditions southeast of Cape Longing. At the moment, we are trying to decide if our current course will allow us to get to the Larsen A. The helicopter will take two passengers: Scripps Oceanographic Institute at the University of California, San Diego, professor Maria Vernet and the Palmer's ice pilot Vladimir Repin. The second helicopter, flown by pilot Chris Dean, will head out with Berkeley Geochronology Center professor Greg Balco and National Geographic writer Doug Fox to collect rock samples for exposure dating. While the helicopter preparations were underway, the Palmer halted movement for safety purposes. Before dinner, Captain Joe in communication with Chief Scientist Eugene Domack decided to wait for tomorrow's ice reconnaissance reports to determine further plans of action. Those not involved in the helicopter operations are catching up on other work, including writing papers and finishing the whale bone sampling. I heard rumors of either a movie watching opportunity or a foosball tournament after day shift ends.

— Commentary and photos provided by Kimberly Roe '08