It’s been a crazy busy last two days; I’ve slept about 2-3 hrs each night. We’re getting into our stride for operations and everyone is working their tails off. The folks from the benthic group are dredging up mud from the sea floor through a variety of devices like the Mega-core, Box corer and Kasten corer. The phytoplankton folks are conducting measurements on phytoplankton concentrations, seawater chemistry, sunlight availability, particle concentrations and phytoplankton growth experiments with radionuclide labeled carbon isotopes. Our group has been conducting CTDs, recovering moorings, measuring turbulence in the water column and for the first time today, we attempted visits to the timelapse cameras to download the last 4 months of photos, (1 every hour to look at the glacier as it discharges icebergs.)
On one of the trips to service a timelapse camera deep within Andvord Bay, the ice conditions and weather made it too dangerous to make a beach landing so the trip was aborted. After we made it back to the ship, an amazing front was slowly making its way into the fjord but the winds were still calm so the photographer on board (Maria Stenzel) decided it would be a dramatic overflight around the ship with her drone. The footage is absolutely breathtaking; icebergs, brash ice, a mixture of blue skies, and approaching black clouds all with the backdrop of 1,000′ cliffs, icefalls and tidewater glaciers (http:www.instagram.com/FjordPhyto/). The rugged nature of this place is unbelievable, it kind of blows you away no matter what direction you look… Since the front has moved in, it’s been snowing like crazy, I would guess that at least 6 inches have fallen in the last 6 hours.
Late in the day today, we thought that we would recover one of our inner fjord moorings. The ice was too thick at the mooring location for a safe recovery so we resorted to Plan B: a trip to service a different time-lapse camera. We were given a last minute green light from the bridge to do this operation and scrambled to put our gear together and splash zodiacs over the side. We left the Nathaniel B. Palmer at 6:02 pm with good late afternoon light. We used the zodiac to push a lot of brash ice out of the way on the trip to the beach and like a SEAL team we hit the ground running. We had to scamper up a rocky talus slope that was covered in fresh snow. At the top of the scree, there was a cliff with a path below it that led about 100 yards to the camera tripod setup. It was an invigorating traverse that led to a beautiful perch with clear views to one of the tidewater glaciers that we estimate is discharging ice into the fjord at a rate of 5 m/day. Once at the camera Doug pulled out its SD card and a tablet to back up nearly 4,000 photos. We wiped all the snow off of the camera, inserted a new SD card and scrambled back down to our zodiac waiting for us at the beach landing. Our big red ship was staged just a mile off and now as darkness was descending and the snow was falling, we followed the ship’s yellow spotlights back. Unbelievably, we were back on the boat in 40 minutes, right at dark. Hooray for another amazing day of science on the Western Antarctic Peninsula!
Tonight the benthic folks will drag nets on the seafloor and repeat their coring. We are set to get up early and tow the ACROBAT from the outer to inner fjord, it will be our first ACROBAT tow so far on this trip.
Written by Hank Statsewich.