Until next time, Palmer Station. Now, to Andvord Bay!

While at Palmer Station, we were able to socialize with the station crew who spend several months away from friends, family and the outside world, to maintain the station and conduct research. The science party was invited to dinner at the station where we mingled and chatted with people, listened to an evening science talk and soaked in the station hot tub. Many of us also made the climb up the hill behind the station to get fantastic views of a nearby glacier. It was nice to be outside and on land for a while.

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Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler

During our final day on station, much of the science party was busy rearranging the ship as we had offloaded lots of supplies for Palmer Station and were preparing for our future science operations. Three of us were lucky enough to sample the sea ice outside the station. We were interested in dissolved iron and the phytoplankton that directly utilize the sea ice, commonly referred to as ice algae. As we walked out onto the ice pulling our sampling gear on sleds, we were careful to watch for linear features signaling the presence of cracks and used ski poles to probe the surrounding snow until we felt ice beneath every step. Once at our sampling location, we used a manual corer to drill into the sea ice and collect our samples. The sea ice was thick for this time of year (about 70cm or more) and had a thick layer of slush on top beneath the snow cover. The cores had visible brown layers of diatoms, the dominant phytoplankton in the Antarctic. Samples were brought back to the ship by sled and even an Adelie penguin made an appearance, curious as to what we were up to on the ice. For all of us involved, it was a great experience and should yield some great data!

Later that evening we pulled away from Palmer Station while waving goodbye to the station crew. We will return after a month of science in Andvord Bay; a fjord located to the east of Anvers Island and our primary study site. A few miles away from the station, we deployed an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) mooring for a scientist working with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. LTER projects provide long term datasets on a wide range of oceanographic properties which are invaluable to scientists for establishing trends and changes especially in the face of climate change.

We then slowly made our way through thick sea ice to our first site known as Station B where we deployed a sediment-trap mooring. This mooring will collect four months of the food which slowly makes its way to the seafloor to feed a rich community of animals. We then made our way toward the Gerlache Strait, the narrow body of water separating Andvord Bay and Anvers Island. Once there, we deployed two physical oceanographic moorings. The physical oceanographic moorings will measure temperature, salinity, and currents over several hundred meters of the ocean at this location. The moorings took several hours of planning for safe and smooth deployments and were the first of many more in the next few days.

Written by Amanda Ziegler.

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Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler

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Prepping the sediment trap. Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler

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Deploying the sediment trap. Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler

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Palmer Station at Last!

The long crossing of the Drake Passage is over and the captain and crew have skillfully navigated our way through Nuemayer Channel beneath towering granite peaks laden with hundreds of meters of snow and around the various rambling icebergs until at last we reach Anvers Island, the home of Palmer Station. Crew and science members gathered on the deck to witness the last 300 meters of our 1400 kilometer journey. Penguins scatter and dive into the dark waters as the Laurence M Gould slowly backs itself into position. Salty veterans wave to familiar jacketed forms on the land and lines are tossed to the helpful station crew. We are not only new faces but fresh food, supplies to refill that empty item that everyone craves and the entertainment during our first night in the bar. This is, for many of us, the first chance to set foot on this remote, icy continent. Cameras captured the slow motion arrival but soon went back in bags as an impromptu snowball fight began. The ships’ contingent was at a disadvantage as all we had were slim trimmings from a few snow flurries encountered on our voyage. But the Palmer Station crew has the accumulated snow of months at their feet. No malice intended by either side but it just seems to be the proper thing to do at a time like this.

Prior to rushing ashore we are visited by the station manager Rebecca Shoop who kindly welcomed us to this unique community of 44 summer residents (only 20 stay through the winter). In addition to station regulations and helpful hints to navigating this small piece of Antarctica we are reminded of the overriding law that governs our actions while on station, the Antarctic Conservation Act. Antarctica is a still a brand new place on Earth, a landmass that holds no national claims, is governed on the principles of doing no harm, predicated on providing benefits to all mankind and that it is our first duty to see that it is studied and inhabited in a responsible manner. A refreshing thought of what the larger world might strive for, all bound together by the remoteness of the place, the hostility of the environment and the pristine continent still largely unmolested by the hand of humans.

Speaking of the hostile environment; our first night in town had winds gust up to 50 MPH and the wind chill reached a nice tidy -25°C. For the residents it was all part of the scenery even though many of us donned all the large layers of clothing that were supplied by the US Antarctic Program. Despite the cold outside we were warmly welcomed in to this tiny community and before we could sit by the cozy fire or lounge in the bar there was only one stop that mattered. The Palmer Station store, yes we embarked across a surly Southern Ocean and past glaciers to reach this frozen continent to go shopping. Postcards, t-shirts, shot glasses, patches, stickers this place had it all for the visitor. But it also supplied the needs of the residents shampoo, razors, medicines and sodas. And for all it was the mecca of beer, wine and alcohol.

The trip to Palmer was only the very beginning and for most of us it was the trip that had captured our imagination since the very first. Now we were here in Antarctica, glad to set foot on land and discover its mysterious reputation for ourselves. But arriving in Palmer was only a waypoint, a distracting waypoint, but really it was the gateway to our adventure. It was the starting point for 29 days of intense scientific sampling, which will translate to years of laboratory investigation. If we complete the ambitious list of operations that we have planned all hands on board will have earned every moment of their time in Antarctica.

Written by Clifton Nunnally.

Transiting the Drake Passage

We have been transiting across the Drake Passage for over a day now. The seas have been intensifying and the temperature has dropped significantly bringing lots of snow and icy winds. We caught sight of the first iceberg last night! Even from several miles away, it towered above the ocean and had already drifted 100s of kilometers away from the Antarctic continent; quite impressive! The ice continues to increase as we head farther and farther south.

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Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler.

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A giant petrel seen following the ship. Photo credit: Eric Vetter.

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Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler.

As our 4-day transit continues, the crew has requested assistance from the science party in sampling for several long-term projects, which opportunistically collect data several times each year as the Laurence M. Gould crosses the Drake Passage. The collections include water and air sampling for CO2 as part of a NOAA global carbon project led by Holms Sweeney at the Carbon Lab in Boulder, Colorado. As part of a >15-year project, the Laurence M. Gould has been collecting XBT and XCTD casts across the Drake Passage. This work is part of Dr. Janet Sprintall’s work as Scripp’s Institution of Oceanography. An XBT is a disposable conductive probe that measures temperature in <1000m water depth. The XCTD is similar in design but can measure both temperature and conductivity (an indirect measure of the salinity or salt content) at >1000m depth. Drifters are also released from the ship to measure currents, barometric pressure and winds. This project was started in 2007 as part of the Global Drifter Program. The drifters last for various lengths of time, and the longest drifter recorded data for more than 5 years and circled the entire Antarctic Circumpolar Current; a journey that takes at least 2 years! All of these samples contribute to long-term data sets which help scientists determine trends and inter-annual variability in circulation, water properties, and the global carbon system.

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In addition to science, it is important for the science party, crew, and Palmer Station crew to socialize. Ship life can feel pretty isolating at times, so interacting with the people you are stuck with for more than a month (or even several months!) is very important. One of the crew members arranged a bingo night for all to attend. Everyone who participated donated a prize to the winning pot. Prizes included lots of different candy, a ship t-shirt, a USAP patch, IOUs for drinks at the Palmer Station bar and other fun prizes. We all had a great time and look forward to the next game night.

We have exited the Drake Passage and expect to dock at Palmer Station this evening (11/23) where we will spend two days offloading scientists and supplies. We will then set out for our first sampling station to the southwest of Anvers Island along the peninsula. Then the real fun begins!

Written by Amanda Ziegler.

Mobilizing in Punta Arenas, Chile and our departure

The FjordEco team arrived safely in Punta Arenas, Chile after several very long flights. Upon settling into Punta Arenas, the first task on the agenda was acquiring our extreme cold weather (ECW) gear issued by the United States Antarctic Program. How much gear do you need in order to work in the Antarctic? Apparently, A LOT!

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An example of the minimum extreme cold weather (ECW) gear issued to us for working in various conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula.

We were issued a wide range of gear from steel-toed boots, hats, gloves to full insulated bib-overalls and the famous big red parka. Having multiple pairs of boots, gloves and all varieties of clothing for deck work or going ashore ensures that we will always have the right gear for the right job and stay warm in the cold Antarctic Peninsula weather.

As each science team arrived at the pier, they located gear which they had shipped to Punta Arenas several months in advance, and began work assembling moorings, testing gear and settling into the labs and our cabins aboard the Laurence M. Gould; our home for the next 6 weeks. Even 65 knot winds couldn’t stop us for long! After the short weather delay we were loaded to the gills with instruments, equipment, and supplies of every kind. The labs were bustling with scientists and crew gathering the final cargo and securing it for the potentially treacherous journey across the Drake Passage; known for the roughest seas in the world. The engines roared to life, the gangway lifted, lines were hoisted, a widening gap appeared between the pier and us. We’re off! The sun glistened on the water as cormorants fished and Punta Arenas disappeared in the distance. Even a group of Magellanic penguins made an (adorable) appearance! It will now take us 4 days to cross the Drake Passage and pull into port at Palmer Station, Antarctica.

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The view of Punta Arenas, Chile from aboard the Laurence M. Gould as we left port.

Our vessel, the Laurence M. Gould, is an ice-reinforced, research and supply vessel operated by the Edison Chouest Co. since 1997 for the US Antarctic Program funded by the National Science Foundation 1997. This vessel is responsible for transporting gear, food, supplies, scientists and station workers between Palmer Station (located on Anvers Island along the northern Antarctic Peninsula) and Punta Arenas, Chile. In addition, it provides a platform for scientists to conduct interdisciplinary oceanographic research around the Antarctic continent, such as the FjordEco project.

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The weather in the Straits of Magellan and along the Argentine coast has been sunny and warm, reminiscent of Hawai’i! Now, as we head across the Drake Passage, we have lashed all our gear down securely, donned our seasickness patches, and prepared for rough weather. However, the forecast is good so we may dodge the storms of the Drake and be able to continue admiring the fabled albatrosses as they skim effortlessly over the swells.

Written by Amanda Ziegler.