Life at Sea

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.


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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.


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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.


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Photos from Andvord Bay

Here are some more photo updates from our crew in Antarctica!

Rich is helping prepare the mega core.  This device can recover small sections of bottom sediment and the water just above it.  It is important to sample both the bottom and the water to see what is happening at the boundary.


Jeremy and Mackenzie are getting ready to deploy the camera system. They are both ship technicians that help us deploy and recover equipment.  Most importantly they make sure everything we do is safe.


Another amazing sunset looking north from Andvord Bay.


Julie is getting ready to bring the CTD on board the ship through the Baltic room door.  The Baltic room is heated to keep the water samples from freezing in the cold outside air.


Julie is peeking out of the Baltic room waiting for the CTD to reach the surface.


These are sample images from the FlowCam instrument.  This instrument takes pictures of tiny plankton that are in a concentrated water sample.  The water is pumped through the instrument in the lab on the ship.  The camera can see things ranging in size from 10 microns to 250 microns.  10 microns is about 0.00039 inches.


The winds chased us out of Andvord Bay and brought in some impressive clouds.


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Rachel Greene:

The Kiss Method for sizing krill!

The Kiss Method for sizing krill!

I would like to briefly explain the research I’m conducting onboard the N.B. Palmer.  The main piece of equipment I am using is the MOCNESS, which stands for multiple opening and closing net system, which does exactly what it sounds like.   There are a series of nine large nets held around a ring, and a marine scientist controls the deployment from inside while collaborating with the marine techs on the back deck.  The marine scientist is able to see the instrument go down on the computer screens and can ‘fire’ a net at any time, which will close a sample of organisms at a specific desired depth.  So when the MOCNESS returns, each of the 9 available nets has a sample from the desired depths.  This instrument is used to collect organisms only (a similar machine called the rosette is used to collect water in the same fashion).  The nets are then emptied into numbered buckets and quickly brought to the lab where I will take a random sample of around 200 individual krill per net.  I then use the very simple but effective KIS, which is the krill imaging sizing system I made (although Meng takes credit for the acronym).  I then preserve the krill in formalin and lay them on a board, take a picture, and upload it to my computer.  I mastered this process down to four minutes!  I then take the image and upload it to a ruler board, where I can size the 200 individuals in about 5 minutes instead of perhaps the hours it would take to do it individually.  I do this for 200 krill per net.  Eventually I will compare this data to the ADCP, which is the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler.  This instrument sends out sound, which hits a solid thing and bounces back.  Ergo it uses backscattering to see what’s in the water by the sound it sends back.  I this works, krill size, distribution, and biomass can be more properly determined just from the ADCP feedback.  So far, it seems that the larger krill are in the middle of the aggregation and the smaller guys are left out and remain on the outside of the swarm.  However, it will take more data and more MOCNESS tows to tell for sure!

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Happy Graduation Iain and Michelle!

Congratulations to our graduates, Iain and Michelle!  Both URI biology students missed graduation today to be here in Antarctica.

We decided throw our own graduation!  Iain and Michelle were lured to their surprise Antarctic graduation with a “safety meeting on the bow.”  There, on the snowy bow of the Palmer, we donned them with white graduation gowns and snowflake-tassled grad caps.  The air was filled with ceremonious music (the well-known “graduation march”) when Iain and Michelle accepted their official-looking School of the Antarctic diplomas.  It was snowing, of course.


graduation 2

graduation 3

After our snowy bow graduation, the festivities continued with a liquid nitrogen ice cream party in the galley, decorated with banners and the URI blue-and-white.  Our at-sea tech Julian stirred up a concoction of cream, sugar, coffee syrup, and chocolate milk into large metal bowls.  Iain and Michelle stirred vigorously as liquid nitrogen was poured into the mixture, making two delicious vats of ice cream to be enjoyed by the whole ship.

ice cream

Graduation day excitement didn’t end here–amidst net tows and sediment sampling, camera deployments and experiment setup, it seemed as if each scientific task of the day was interrupted with a can’t-be-missed wildlife siting.  As we deployed our sediment sampler, three humpback whales circled the ship.  For about two hours, our friends made a continuous loop around the ship, popping up their heads so close we could almost smell their breath and feel their spray on our faces.

IMG_3299    IMG_3200

We passed by a plump seal, feet away from the ship, taking a nap on a ice berg that looked like a large seal sofa–our presence didn’t wake him from his sleep.   Who knew ice bergs could be so comfy!

So, all-in-all, a wonderful day to celebrate the great achievements of Iain and Michelle.  Happy Graduation!  To future adventures!


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Arrival at Wilhelmina Bay

After we boarded the Palmer we had a two day transit through the Drake Passage.  The water was rocky but we were lucky, a storm had just passed and there was one behind us.  Conditions were relatively calm for the Drake Passage.  The first couple of days of transit the ship was busy with everyone setting up their lab spaces and planning for our first station.

We had a couple safety tests on-board where we prepared for abandoning ship in the life boats.  For the practice drill we heard the alarms go off and everyone quickly bundled up in their warmest gear and headed to the conference room, the meeting place in case of an emergency.  We quickly headed to the small life boats which were more of an enclosed capsule; no windows, metal, and you had to strap yourself in to stay safe when the life-boat would flip over.  There was also a supply of food and water.

The transit was somewhat rocky through the Drake Passage.  But we woke up this morning to serene waters, surrounded by icebergs, in Wilhelmina Bay, our first sampling location!  We had arrived to Antarctica!  The water is a very deep blue and the sun only dips above the horizon giving several hours of sunlight.  The lighting gives incredible colors reflecting against the deep blue water and ice.  It is so beautiful and very surreal.  We spent most of the daylight hours outside observing the wildlife and taking pictures.

We saw 24 whale sightings, all humpbacks and humpback calves.


We also saw several groups of Adelie penguins swimming.  The penguins moved in a group of 20-30 and they were very quick, diving above and below the surface of the water in their little penguin pack.


We also saw several Antarctic seals.  Not bad for our first day in the South Pole!

A lounging seal

Meng’s acoustic krill radar found that the site was plentiful with krill.  And as the sun started to set we quickly started to prepare for our first sampling location in Wilhelmina Bay.

-Bonnie Blalock

Map of Wilhelmina Bay

Pack ice line in Wilhelmina

Pack ice line in Wilhelmina

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We’ve started moving into our labs, and getting accustomed to life on the N.B. Palmer.

One of the luxuries of living at sea is the interaction with our feathered sea-faring friends.  This albatross spends most of its life on the high seas, coming to shore to breed.

Black browed albatross of the high seas!

Black browed albatross of the high seas!

Lab set-up requires lots of tying down of important equipment, to protect it against the high seas.  We also need music in our labs!  Here’s a picture of Susanne with her new stereo rig!

Rockin' the boat

Rockin’ the boat

Here’s a picture of our flow-through seawater setup.  Throughout the cruise, we can access seawater for filtering.

Flow-through seawater setup

Flow-through seawater setup

We’ve already begun to inspect the flowing seawater under the microscope, looking for phytoplankton that may come our way during transit to Antarctica.  2 more days to go, until we begin sampling on the Antarctic Peninsula.


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Adios Punta Arenas

Monday, May 13 2013

Finally, we cast off. Escorted by a pilot vessel, we left shore at 4pm in the afternoon. Our departure was delayed by 6 hours because high winds had shut down harbor operations. During the day, everyone continued the now customary cycle of setting up gear, and running to town for last minute purchases (some of us now know how to say ‘PVC cement’ in Spanish and where to buy it!). We were given a drop dead time of 2pm to be on board, and luckily, everyone was punctual. The crew introduced us to the procedures on board. Of course ‘safety’ is the number one concern and we were introduced to the life-boat, including how to launch it, if all crew are incapacitated. Naturally, we all hope not to experience this for real. A few more introductions of household procedures (what to do with your trash, what happens if your showers plug up) and we were released to witness the departure. The gangway was pulled up, and then we were off. It had snowed off and on during the day, and the hills around town were dusted in white. The sun was beginning to set behind a large cloud bank, as we passed a few ships at anchor. We expect to have a calm passage until sometime tomorrow, when we will hit the Drake passage.

Francoise wiggles into her safety wetsuit, which will insulate her from cold Antarctic temperatures in case of an emergency.  These suits are called "gumby suits" by oceanograhers everywheter!

Francoise wiggles into her safety suit, which will insulate her from Antarctic temperatures in case of an emergency.  These suits are called “gumby suits” by oceanographers everywhere!

Friendly locals frolicked in the surf to send us off.

Friendly locals frolicked in the surf to send us off.

-Susanne Menden-Deuer

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Happy Mother’s Day

Well its a gorgeous (but a little windy) Mother’s day here in Punta Arenas aboard the Palmer. The ship is very busy as scientists and crew are all running around attempting to set up labs and prepare the ship for sailing on Monday.



Along with getting ready everyone was able to set up there cabins after our cabin assignments were given out.


Last night some of the science party was able to enjoy a nice dinner at a restaurant called Remezon.


And of course  from everyone here  on the Palmer  to all the moms out there,


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