Friday, February 27, 2009

BAD LUCK AT STATION G

Hi there folks!

We are reporting now from 68o 08.4’ South and 71o 2.01’ West at the southern end of our sampling transect. It is now 4:30 am and the weather has calmed down for the last 12 hours after almost a day and a half of high seas and 30-35 knot winds. It was hard to sleep last night (I mean yesterday since I sleep during the day and work during the night) because of the 18-feet waves bouncing against the ship and turning our beds into frenetic cradles. Anyway, we were finally able to deploy the megacore after a whole day of only fishing with the Blake trawl.
It has been busy and only between gear deployments can I write a few words about what has been happening in the past few days, and also about some unfortunate events we have had at station G. But, before I start telling you about all the happenings of station G, I must say we are starting to get physically tired. After almost two complete sampling stations and a full adaptation to our 12-hour shift schedules, a few cramped muscles and soar backs are found among our relentless oceanography group. A busy shift doing invertebrate dissections or an almost 12-hour period enclosed inside the freezing aquarium room slicing cores for ATP (to measure sediment microbial biomass and activity) can give the toughest athlete a hard time on the joints and back. But we all get used to it after a while and all we need is some time for stretching.




Well, here goes the first setback: we lost our precious box core yesterday! When I woke up two nights ago and went for the midrats (meal served at 11:30 at night) in the galley, the murmur around every table was about the box core and its unfortunate fate. Everyone was shocked and frustrated with the episode since this piece of equipment is important to many of the project’s objectives. The heavy (0.5 ton) box-core did not come back to the surface at all. Jack, the marine tech in the back deck, was a bit surprised not see a box full of mud attached to the wire when it was pulled out of the water through the aft A-frame. People in the E-lab monitoring the computers and the tensiometer noticed pulses of high tension on the wire right after the box-core left the bottom when it was about 1.5 meters off the seafloor. We all suspect that a big rock was the culprit. The box core caught under a big rock when it was pulling out of the sediment causing a lot of tension in the cable and inevitably resulting in the wire breaking. After a few hours of dealing with the loss, the PI’s were already figuring out ways to replace the box core
samples with adapted samples from the megacore. A few incubation experiments will now be conducted using the smaller megacore tubes with a few adaptations that may actually allow them to work. In terms of describing the benthic invertebrate biodiversity of this section of the
Antarctic peninsula, we have probably already collected enough large box core samples from the past two (summer and winter) cruises.






Another drawback was of course the weather that I already mentioned, putting us a little behind of the schedule. But also the bottom camera gave us a hard time insisting on alfunctioning while operating in the yo-yo mode. We spent almost 6 hours with the camera on-deck, ready to deploy, with the electronic technicians working hard to figure out what wasn’t working properly. First it was the bottom contact switch that is supposed to trigger every time the camera is a certain distance away from the sea floor.. Next it was the strobe light that was not firing and then it was the battery inside the camera housing receiving an alternating voltage. Well, we have decided to take a break for now, we still have the epibenthic sled to deploy that may itself represent another challenge and we cannot afford to lose more time since we need to move on to the other stations.





A bright star in the middle of the storm was, at least, the successful recovery of our sediment trap. The trap was deployed during our last summer cruise (Feb 2008) with the aim of collecting sinking particles from the water column that will tell us a lot about seasonal changes in the food-supply for the organisms we are studying in the deep-sea bed of the Antarctic shelf. The trap has a set of 21 jars attached to a large collector funnel that rotates at pre-set time intervals to capture the differences (quantity and quality) in the ‘rain’ of organic particles over time from the surface ocean. The trap was moored about 150 m above the sea bottom and came back to the surface yesterday with help of a line of glass floats and an acoustic release system that dropped the weight holding the trap mooring at the seafloor.








We will be back with news of our next sampling station and I promise I will also tell you what the outcome was for the epibenthic sled sample. It is the first time we are deploying it during this FOODBANCS-2 project. We expect to collect animals that were not previously collected with all the other gear.

See you later…Aloha!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

AT WORK: STATIONS B, F and G




We arrived at station B around 3 p.m of last Thursday where our sampling activities started. The scheduled activities were to recover the time-lapse camera free-vehicle system and to deploy a couple of box cores and one megacore sample cast. All successfully accomplished!
The retrieval of the mooring line with the camera tripod attached to it was successful and relatively fast. It took less than 2.5 hours to locate (using the transponder and strobe light attached to the top of the mooring mast) and to put the heavy (0.5 ton) free-vehicle assembly back on the ship’s back deck. The anxiety to see the results of this seven-month experiment was evident in most of our team member’s expressions. Soon after the camera was retrieved, Craig and most of the crew were back in the E-lab to download the pictures from the camera and quickly back up all the data files into hard drives avoiding the loss of such precious scientific research material. A quick scan of all the pictures revealed that the mission was successfully accomplished. High-resolution photographs were taken at 12 hour intervals revealing megafaunal behavior on the sea-floor over the food-poor Antarctic winter. However, a failure in the system was noticed after the 4-month period from the start of the deployment. For some reason that is still baffling all the electronic technicians aboard, the camera stopped shooting after November 30 leading to a two-month gap in the dataset. Not too bad considering we have captured of the most important four months of the the intended 7-month seasonal period.






Since the camera is now not operating in a satisfactory way to conduct the yo-yo surveying transects, we had to change our programmatic plans of going to station AA and rather steam further south to retrieve our second camera tripod, deployed last winter at station G. Once we recover an operating camera, we can continue performing the photographic transects in which we collect bottom photographs at an average 20-second intervals and along kilometer long transects across the seafloor.

But before going all the way south to Station G we had first to stop at Station F since sediment incubation experiments were still not completed and Rebecca, our colleague from North Carolina State University, had to finish experiments from Station B before arriving at G, to make room in
the cold van (an actual shiping container adapted to be a cold room with temperatures set to ideal conditions for deep-sea animals). (Look at our site map at the top right side of the blog page menu bar, which indicates the position of all 5 oceanographic stations we are surveying in the
Western Antarctic Peninsula).


Last night we retrieved the first Blake trawl, which kept our colleagues busy for quite a while in the aquarium room sorting the catch and separating the animals for tissue dissections.. The Blake trawl scrapes along the seafloor and came up full of mud and our dear friend Protoelpidia (kindly named ‘Sea Pig’ due to its surprising resemblance to the terrestrial mammal), tubiculous polychaetes, and isopods.
We had a busy night also with the megacoring activity going on in parallel on the back deck, which also kept a few members of our group occupied for many hours slicing sediment cores to collect macro-invertebrates and sedimentary microbial biomass.
We will be back with news from our next activities onboard the R/V L.M. Gould and the outcomes of our sampling stations E, F, B and AA.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

PALMER STATION

video

We arrived at the US Antarctic station Palmer at 6:30 this morning. The skies are cloudy but the weather is far from being an Antarctic nightmare. The ship will be docked the whole day unloading cargo to re-supply the station. In the meantime we are all enjoying a little window of connection with the real world again through the internet. Here we have full internet access unlike, in the ship where only limited email is available. So it is time to check the news, write to our relatives and friends, and have the freedom to send good quality pictures, which by the way we have tons. It is also an opportunity to walk around the station, meet the ground-based US Antarctic research staff and greet those we met in the last summer expedition, February 2008. And of course we have to go for the traditional walk on Palmer glacier that is right behind the station. There are great views from the top of the glacier and by the end of the hike we should be able to reach Bonaparte Point where the elephant seals take their sunbath.

At night we have a full-schedule at the station, starting eight-o-clock after dinner our PI’s will be giving another science lecture for Palmer station folks that are interested in the research we are conducting around the Peninsula. After that we will all meet at the bar where the traditional “Ship-and-base crowd meet” party takes place. Cool!!






While transiting south yesterday we had gorgeous scenery with the sun shining most of the time. The passage through the Gerllak strait rewarded us not only with beautiful views but also with the company of tens of humpback whales. They were all over the place and we had an awesome time enjoying some of the Antarctic wildlife. We stayed for a couple of hours on the bridge with binoculars ready for any new appearance. In the summer time humpback whales return to the Antarctic Ocean to their feeding grounds after spending most of the austral winter in the tropics breeding.







A day ago we did not have much to celebrate since we had to accomplish a rescue operation. We received the bad news that the paleontologists at Livingston Island were hit by severe 60-knot wind gusts that blew away most of their tents making unsafe to continue with their expedition. They even had to gain refuge from the wind and the cold in a small cave during the worst weather conditions. Yes, Antarctic scientific research is not always the most straightforward and safe activity to pursue. We are often subject to weather conditions that make it unsafe to proceed with any outdoors’ activity.


We arrived at Livingston the night before but we had to wait for the winds to die down a bit and for the daylight to help us make a safer and more efficient rescue operation. We could see in the facial expressions of the Livingston scientists that they were all extremely disappointed in the failure of their mission. It took us only 3 hours to take down the campsite and load the zodiacs with all the gear and supplies.


Today is another day and we have to start thinking about what is coming ahead of us. After we leave Palmer tomorrow morning we head to station B where we will recover one of the two camera systems we deployed last winter cruise. This is when the real FOODBANCS work will start. Hasta Luego, Aloha!



Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ANTARCTICA, WE ARE HERE AGAIN



Our first sight of land was Smith Island, an amazingly high island with steep mountain ridges plunging to the coast. Blue skies and calm sea conditions welcomed our arrival in Antarctica, allowing us to stroll on deck, stretch our legs, and snap a few pictures.


Our first stop and step on land was the next morning on Livingstone Island where we set up the first research field camp. It took us the whole day to transport the three weeks of supplies on inflatable zodiac boats, and carry up the beach to the filed camp site. The field camp of seven tents and a hut will be home for three weeks for seven geologists hunting for mammal fossils. The island was full of wildlife. There were lots of noisy elephant seals hanging around close to where the tents were setup. I wonder how the paleontologists will sleep at night with all those weird, loud digestive noises. The smell wasn’t so great either! Only a few penguins were hanging around along the shore and in a small pond. The pond was formed from melted ice and the surrounding soil was covered with a bright green moss.





Finally, it was back to the ship for some deserved rest, warm soup for dinner and a good night's of sleep. We needed to recover from this long day of carrying heavy equipment and supplies. The supplies included water, food, gas tanks, Scott tents, plywood for lab and dinning spaces, etc.



Today, our second stop on Antarctic soil was on James Ross Island on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea. We navigated last night through the Antarctic sound, a relatively narrow passage that connects the West to the East side of the Antarctic Peninsula. “The passage was full of drifting icebergs and the navigation through it was a little tricky,” said Rick the second mate when I visited him this morning on the bridge. Around 4:40 am I jumped from my bunk after suddenly hearing a loud, grinding noise of ice on metal. I thought, “either something hit us or we hit something”. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it was just an iceberg that scraped along the side of the ship. I stood by my cabin’s porthole for a few minutes in search of our culprit. However, I could only see small icebergs drifting by the ship as we moved along and no sign of anything massive enough to make the surprising sound and
vibrations. I thought: “…well, since the alarms didn’t go off that must mean we are fine and we aren’t going to sink….”



Another full day of onshore operations followed for us all. Setting up the Ross Island research camp base was a little harder than the day before. For some reason it seemed to me that they had twice the amount of supplies as the people staying at Livingston (and we even had the help of an ATV for hauling really heavy gear). The spot chosen to setup the camp was a wide, flat area covered by powdered rocks and pebbles with great views of enormous glaciers and a beautiful bay. It was another great day spent on Antarctic soil surrounded by an ever more amazing landscape. The temperatures were typical of a summer day, oscillating from 23 F (-5 C) to 32 F (0 C) and cooling a little with the blowing winds.
We even had some time off at the end of the workday for playing soccer and frisbee. Now, only 32 hours of steaming separate us from the US Antarctic station, Palmer Station. From there, after resupplying Palmer, we head to our first oceanographic station, B, where our real work will finally begin. See you soon!





HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!

Hello there! Today we woke up with a few surprises from our crew from North Carolina State University. As usual, and same as for the past two cruises, they always bring aboard funny and inventive paraphernalia to prevent our routines onboard from falling into a boring and tedious schedule (I mean when action in the back deck is not taking place of course). When we woke up this morning the whole ship had been decorated for Valentines Day. All the lab spaces, the galley, and the lounge had received special care from Alyssa, Kim, Brian, Rebecca and Linda. We even got some thematic tattoos expressing our deepest feelings for our beloved soul mates that stayed onshore many miles away.


In the middle of this celebration we also had some time to start preparing the real science action that will take place about a week from now. The enthusiastic science group from Hawaii spent a few hours labeling sample jars, plastic bags, cryo-vials, etc., that we will be using to collect or precious water, sediment, and invertebrate tissue samples.


Today there is another scheduled scientific presentation in the conference lounge. The resenters are from University of Washington and will be talking a little about their planned research in James Ross Island. Last night the ship was rocking a little too hard during the science presentation and a few people from the audience had to retreat to their bunks to get some rest and avoid feeling seasick. Tonight, at about 9:00 pm, is the programmatic arrival at Livingstone Island where tomorrow morning we will be setting the first field camp. We are all excited about
our first day on Antarctic soil. Stay tuned!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

PLANNING THE FIRST ACTION



The principal investigators, Raytheon field camp staff, the captain and a
few observers got together this morning to plan our first science
operations in Antarctica. Surrounded by charts in the conference desk in
the lounge, the first sketches of our landing plan on Antarctic soil
started to be drawn. Getting a ride with us on the ship are two other
groups of scientists: geologists and paleontologists that will be setting
temporary study camp sites in James Ross Island in the Weddell Sea and
Livingston Island on the South Shetland Islands. (See red dots in the map
below for site position). The paleontologists in particular are interested
in looking at fossil records of mammals that have lived in Antarctica
millions of years ago. Currently, there are no terrestrial mammals living
in Antarctica as you likely know (remember polar bears only occur in the
Arctic). They want to find some missing gaps of speciation events that
took place a long ago and that explain some of the biogeographical
distribution patterns of mammals currently living in South America and
Australia, continents that were once connected as one single giant land
mass, together with Antarctica.


We are all excited to help with the field camp operations. We will be on
shore for two whole days bringing supplies from the ship using Zodiac
boats. Some people will be in the water passing cargo from the Zodiac to
people onshore and others will bring the supplies to the areas selected
for building the camp sites. Our ocean based field sampling along the West
Antarctic Peninsula does not start until the end of next week, after all
of the land based field teams have been successfully left at their
temporary homes on the ice.
So far the weather is still cooperating and the Drake passage has been
smooth so far. We hope it stays like that until we have crossed it
completely. Stay tuned for the next few days to find out when we spot the
Antarctic continent from our ship’s portholes. Hasta luego!




Wednesday, February 11, 2009

LEAVING PORT

It is time to leave! We had a meeting at 12:30 pm to set the last details and check if everything we need is onboard. People have been checking the weather forecast all the time because it seems that we are going to have a bad crossing of the Drake Passage. A cruise ship a couple days ago had to cancel its trip to Antarctica because the winds were blowing too hard and they would have gotten into trouble if they had tried to cross the Drake. We saw several disappointed tourists coming down to the harbor exit: so back to Europe is my guess.
It is last minute shopping time for our group. Chocolate, coffee, candies and everything else that you might possible be missing for the next 5 weeks need to be purchased on Punta Arena’s grocery stores.
It is freezing outside the vessel and many people have given up their last few hours onshore to be in the warm and cozy lounge room on the ship.
Alright, so this is the last time I will update the blog. From now on our friend Tara Hicks at the University of Hawaii will be publishing our postings since we do not have access to internet onboard. I will be sending her pictures and text from an email service onboard that only allows us a few messages per day. If you are interested in sending us a message or any questions please write to expeditions@soest.hawaii.edu. Hope you enjoy this jorney with us!! ALOHA

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

HI THERE!





As promised, we are back for new adventures with the FOODBANCS project in the Southern Ocean. For those accessing this blog for the first time, this space is dedicated to our outreach program documenting experiences and results and of this National Science Foundation funded project studying climate warming effects on marine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean. We just came back from a week-long hike in the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. This trip was a short warm up before our next expedition to one of the most inhospitable ecosystems on Earth: Antarctica! We were 9 people from 6 different countries, the United States, England, Wales, Brazil, Croatia and France, all seeking our last land-based experiences before leaving for our 5-week expedition on the open sea. Below you will find a brief summary of amazing trek through Torres Del Paine, which started on February 02 and just ended a day ago. You can follow our track inside the Chilean National Park in the map below. We did the famous W-trail hike starting on the East side of the park crossing all the way to the West. The trail is surrounded by gorgeous scenery from humongous rock formations, glaciers, azure-blue pristine lakes to extensive grasslands. It was a total of 70 Km of hiking and backpacking alternating strenuous 20-km long hikes with heavy backpacks to short 7-km day hikes with only basic supplies such was water and warm clothing. Now, with only a few unhealed blisters left, we share with you all the most amazing pictures taken during this great trip.



1st day (02/02/09): Torres to Chileno’s camping

We took a bus from Punta Arenas early in the morning heading to Porto Natales and then to the entrance of the National Park. It took us 6 hours to get there. We traveled along an amazingly dry landscape filled with parched grasses and populated only with guanacos (small llamas) and sheep. At the entrance of the park we paid the 10,000 pesos entrance fee and started the hike up to the Chileno camping site. After arriving, we set up our tents for the night, planning to head to the campsite Torres in the next morning. The camp site was crowded since it is the starting point of most of the hiking trails. It was hard to find enough spots to set our five tents together. After a hot shower for some and a warm cup of tea for other, it was bedtime.






2nd day (02/03/09): Day hike to Las Torres

The Las Torres camping site was only 1.5 hours from the Chileno’s camp site; however, we were in one of the steepest parts of the whole W-trail so it was not the easiest hike. Still, it was an easier hike compared to what was still ahead of us. The Torres camping site was very comfortable with a small stream passing right up the middle of it and plenty of space for our tents. After we set up our tents, again it was time for a quick lunch before doing our first day hike (without heavy backpacks) all the way to ‘Las Torres’, the beautiful rock towers that give the park its name.
After an almost vertical climb through what seemed more like a granite quarry, we reached the top. Great reward! In front of the towers was a beautiful grayish lake the carved from glistening granite walls. It took a while before the sun came out behind the clouds so we had better lighting for pictures.


Pavica, our Croatian team member used the opportunity to send a ingenious postcard to her mom, who is turning 60 today (February 10). Happy birthday Mrs. Srsen !!



3rd day (02/04/09): From Las Torres to Los Cuernos



Judging from the map, this hike did not seem to be the hardest one. No
steep terrains, no curvy tracks in the woods, and no sliding rocks.
However, it was actually the longest one: 22 Km would separate Las Torres
from Los Cuernos. It took us around 6.5 hours to hike around Lake
Nordenskjol, reaching its North and central portion by the camping site
Los Cuernos. The hike amused us all with more magnificent landscape;
nevertheless, during this hike we realized that to finish the whole
W-trail we would have to put in more energy than we were previously
expecting. The first blisters started to pop up on our brave colleague’s
feet and the first signs of fatigue started to show by the end of the day.
We stopped for lunch for about an hour by a beautiful river with crystal
clear. At this time our friends that had split into smaller groups with
different hiking paces got together, once again, for a nice rest. Some of
us even found time to take a short nap.

Once we were finally back on the trail heading to Los Cuernos more amazing
scenery confronted us. We stopped at one big cliff and the view of the
lake from up there made us feel like tinny little ants in a huge backyard.
Some of us expressed gratitude by stopping for a short moment of
meditation: but upside-down!

A couple of hours more and we finally received our reward for the day: Los
Cuernos. The two thick rocky towers got even more beautiful when the
sunset made the skies turn into a mixture of red-orangish aquarelle.
The Los Curenos camping site was voted by most of our team as the nicest
one, right by the lake and with plenty of space to put our tents cozily
near one another.

Our brave hikers...




Craig

Melissa
Rhian
Fabio


Laura


Christian


Angelo


Victor


Pavica



Group picture