Monthly Archives: June 2013

Adios Antarctica

Sunrise over the Straits of Magellan

Sunrise over the Straits of Magellan

Crossing the Drake Passage was challenging as multiple lows moved through the area. We could see the ship’s officers constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the weather as well as our course. They really worked hard to make the ride as comfortable as possible. We really had a very comfortable ride, especially given the sea state. After crossing the Drake Passage for several days, we passed Cape Horn and entered the Straits of Magellan. The winds, often reaching >40 knots in the Drake, and really picked up (to 50 knots) for a while. The tidal currents are in excess of 2 knots, unfortunately not in our direction of travel, so we were losing propulsion given our traveling speed is 10 knots. Nonetheless, our arrival in Punta Arenas is inevitable and much anticipated. Our science gear is all packed up, some of it, particularly our samples, will be shipped back to GSO or UMB. Other gear, sample jars yet to be filled, will remain in Punta Arenas for our next cruise.

This first cruise has been spectacularly successful and lucky. We did not miss any research time due to weather or equipment failure, all aboard are returning happy and healthy and we have hundreds of samples, both physical and electronic to reveal the many questions we are asking about E. superba’s ability to survive in the beautiful but challenging polar austral winter. The crew and the science staff on board were outstanding, motivated and dedicated to enable our research. We are immensely grateful to everyone and look forward to the next cruise. Once we arrive home (in the land of unlimited internet access!) more movies and pictures will be uploaded to the blog. We will certainly be in touch from our next cruise. Until then, many thanks for all your feedback and interest in this expedition.

Categories: Musings of an Oceanographer | Leave a comment

Headed home…

We’ve left for home and are heading across the Drake Passage.  We should be at the dock by Wednesday morning.


This is the rudder mechanism for the port side rudder.  The two big blue pistons spin the shaft to move the rudder.  When we transit the ship is put in auto-heading.  This is a mode that lets the ship steer itself.  These rudder pistons are constantly moving to change the rudder angle and keep the ship on the desired course.


Here is a photo looking out the front of the bridge. The view is great, but you can really feel the rocking motion of the ship this high above the water. The wind is about 45 knots blowing from the port (left) side of the ship.  The circle in the window is a small section of glass that is heated and can spin.  If spray starts to freeze on the windows this will keep a small spot open so you can look out.


This trip across the Drake Passage has been a bit more interesting than our last one.  On these graphs you can see we are moving between two stormy areas.  The dips in atmospheric pressure generally indicate bad weather.  The wind has also been strong, reaching more than 40 knots. On June 8th the wind sensor was frozen in sea spray and stopped working for a bit.  You can also see a big temperature increase when we turned left out of the Bransfield Strait to head northwest to South America across the Drake.  The water in the Bransfield is colder than the water offshore and it creates a boundary for weather patterns.


Categories: Life at Sea, Musings of an Oceanographer | Leave a comment

Homeward Bound

Unbelievably, we are now homeward bound. At 1900 hours, the last CTD cast was completed, collecting water for a final grazing experiment. After that the marine technicians, with the assistance of scientists, got busy dismantling the larger pieces of gear, and bringing equipment inside. The Camera system with the 300 lbs of lead weight was hauled in and the heat turned up. On ship science of course is continuing for a few days, as incubations run their due course, live cultures are taken care of and some last on ship measurements are made. While the scientists were busy cleaning up and packing their equipment, the Nathaniel B. Palmer was occupied with 2 local missions, assisting Palmer station and the Lawrence Gould. After these missions were complete at 2100 hours on Friday night, the NBP turned northeast and started heading up the Gerlache straight for the long way home to Punta Arenas, which is not even home for most of us. We will be in Antarctica until June 9th at midnight and then headed into the Drake passage. The weather does not look as calm as on the way over, so we might get to see the Drake at its famous, stormy state. Irrespective, we are now irreversibly homeward bound and the excitement is evident in the scientists and the crew, some of whom are ending several months of deployment for a much deserved holiday.


Categories: Musings of an Oceanographer | Leave a comment

Setting Up Sampling and Camera Equipment

The MOCNESS is controlled from the forward dry lab when it is towed by the ship to catch krill.  A computer program talks to the net through the tow cable.  The cable provides power and a communications link to the net when it is underwater.  Alison can trigger the nets to open up at different depths.  There are also screens showing things like the ship’s speed, wind, temperature, position, cable out, tension….Ship operations require you to pay attention to a lot of different things.


The CTD is also controlled from the dry lab.  Mike is operating the CTD while Bethany and Kerry let him know when to trigger the sample bottles.  Bottles on the CTD will capture water at different depths and bring it back to the surface.  The screen on the right shows that the CTD is at 422 meters depth and going down at 50 meters per minute.


Ships have lots of small spaces that are often crammed with pipes and equipment.  Here is where the dock lines are kept while we are at sea.  Before we get back to the dock the lines will be taken back up to the deck so we can tie up to the pier.  There are also lots of other smaller lines for handling equipment.


Gabby and Dave are putting the final touches on the camera system before a dive.  We added some fins to the back of the camera’s frame.  These will let us tow the camera around and use a sonar to map patches of krill that are near the bottom.  Fins with flames are always better than those without.


The camera system is getting ready to go in the water.  The back deck of the ship is heated from below, just like radiant floor heating.  This melts the ice and keeps the deck from getting slippery.  The deck is wet most of the time.


On a recent camera dive we had a seal visit us and swim in front of the camera for about 10 minutes.  The camera was down about 200 meters.  The seal seemed to like the lights and may have been using them to help catch fish.  We still need to identify what kind of seal it was. 200 meters is very deep for some kinds of seals.


Categories: Life at Sea, Musings of an Oceanographer, Science Updates! | Leave a comment

Research Aboard the Palmer

Bethany is dipping a small filter disc into liquid nitrogen.  The nitrogen is about -176 degrees Celsius (-270 Fahrenheit) and flash freezes the sample.  The sample is then moved to a -80 Celsius freezer (-112 Fahrenheit).  The samples need to be frozen quickly to preserve the genetic information.  The samples will be processed back at URI to better understand exactly which species of plankton are in the water.


Kerry is making notes and keeping track of samples.  She has taken hundreds of samples on this trip.  Being organized and keeping good records is very important.


Becky is keeping track of core samples.  Everything is labeled so it is can be sorted out later and matched to other samples.


Each net tow sample is labeled and stored.  All of the samples will be shipped home at the end of the cruise.  Some are stored in solutions to preserve them.  Some samples are frozen and need to be shipped cold.


Gang is filtering seawater to sort phytoplankton.  Seawater is being pulled through different sized filters.  This separates the different size plankton so we can see what sizes are the most common in the water.  Thus far we have found that there are very few large plankton and lots of small plankton.


In our last multicore we captured this jellyfish that was likely swimming just above the bottom.   The multicore collects sediment and the water just above it in a clear plastic tube.  You can see the top of the sediment in this picture.  This jellyfish was later set free.


This is the ship’s forward dry stores.  Things like cereal, crackers and flour are kept here, just like a giant pantry.


This is the walk in refrigerator.  The ship can hold food for 70 people for 65 days.  We’ve been out here for about 3 weeks, and are now starting to run out of fresh vegetables.


This is the walk in freezer.  Meats and frozen items are kept here.  Since the ship does not go back to the United States the food is from local ports.  A lot of the boxes from Chile are labeled in Spanish.


The galley is kept spotless.  Bill is one of three cooks on board.  It is often said that the cooks are the busiest people on the ship.  Three people cook four full meals a day for more than 50 people.  They also do the dishes, clean the galley and keep the self serve pantry stocked.


Here is  a close up of a krill in a tank.  You can see how it moves in a swimming motion.


Categories: Life at Sea, Science Updates! | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at