Yesterday we experienced an Antarctic weather feature known as katabatic winds. Antarctica is the tallest continent – much of it is a long way above sea-level. You may have noticed from our pictures that the area we are working in is surrounded by mountains. Sometimes, especially on sunny days when the air right near the coast is warmed up by the sun and rises, the air from up on the tops of the mountains and plateaus flows down the mountain almost like a river of wind. This is what happened yesterday – with the wind funneling down the mountains and glaciers and out into the bay where we are working. It was pretty impressive feeling the power of the wind with nothing out here on the water to block it and winds gusting to 40 knots (nautical miles per hour). With wind that strong we try to plan all of our sampling so that the ship is going into the wind – that way the instrument gets pushed away from the ship, rather than getting pushed under it, and it’s easier for the ship to stay on a steady speed and direction. With the main part of the ship blocking the wind it was pretty comfortable working on deck, but when we turned you could feel the bite of the wind, and the salt spray being blown off the sea. All dressed up in water proof clothes, the wind really only hits your face, and a little bit your hands through gloves. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the early explorers of Antarctica to face these winds in the gear they had at the time. Conviently, since we’re so close to the land, the waves don’t have a chance to build up. If we had this much wind out in an open area, the waves would start to get bigger and bigger, but here in Flandres Bay, there’s just not enough space of water the wind can blow on (we call this “fetch”) to let the waves grow.
Today the winds have dropped, and the sea is almost glassy. We’ve only got a few more days to work down here, so we’re packing in all the sample and data collecting we can to try to answer not only the questions we came here to answer, but also some of the questions that have come up while we’ve been working here.