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.


Photo credit: Amanda Ziegler.


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


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.


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.


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