Monday, November 29, 2010

Passing through the Islands

So we've finished our crossing of the Drake passage with minimal damage to equipment, personnel, and our tummies.  The first part of the crossing was fairly rough (had some random sets of 20-25' waves), but things (seas, winds, stomachs) seemed to settle down nicely during the later part of the trip. Some of that is probably also due to folks getting their "sea legs" which made for more people at mealtime in the galley. Some people were even brave enough to attempt to shower before we made it into the shelter of the South Shetland Islands. For those not familiar with ship-board showering in wavy seas: get in your shower, stand on a skateboard, and then have somebody spray you with a garden hose that's wiggling back and forth. It can be very challenging at times.

We have pretty long days here as we're in the late spring/early summer and our current latitude is 63 degrees 29 minutes S so a lot of folks were up on the bridge over the last hour (from 8pm - 9pm local time -- fyi: local time is Chilean time which is 2 hours ahead of the US East Coast) as we passed by Low Island. Saw some wildlife as dusk began including a pair of humpback whales and a dozen or so penguins that swam by the ship.

Tomorrow we dock at Palmer Station to offload people and cargo and continue to prepare the ship for our science experiments (more on that in a few days). The MTs (Marine Techs - Chance, Mark, and Meriedi) and ETs (Electronic Techs - Tony, Mike) and (MST- Ethan, MPC- Herb) on the ship have all been super helpful in assisting us with setting up our equipment and helping us build things to ensure our science projects work well. No pics today in the blog-- none of the animals we saw were close enough to get a good photo of, but I'm sure we'll have some soon.

26 November - Into the Drake

Two days out to sea now, and many here on the Gould seem groggy and a little bit queasy. We entered the Drake Passage in the late afternoon of the 26th (yesterday) and that’s when the boat really started rocking. Never having been at sea before, I wasn’t sure if I would be affected by seasickness, but once we entered the Drake it didn’t take long to find out. I was quite uncomfortable to say the least. The results clear, I climbed clumsily into my bunk where I spent the remainder of the evening drifting in and out of consciousness and being tossed about as the waves lobbed the ship from side to side.
The ride being as bumpy as it is now, Katie, Karen, and I have been granted a temporary reprieve from projects like tying down equipment and constructing (or watching the MT’s construct) things for the lab like a plankton splitter (that incidentally doubles as a megaphone), leaving me with some much needed time to work on class assignments to make up for the few weeks of the semester that I’m missing to be here. But that’s not to say that the trip thus far has been all work. I’ve done my fair share of sleeping, and we spotted a pod of dolphins on Thanksgiving swimming off the bow in the Strait of which I was lucky enough to get a decent photo of. Before this trip ends, I fully intend on further testing out my camera’s abilities on more marine wildlife. Like penguins!

Commerson's Dolphin in the Strait of Magellan.

According to Joe, we should reach Palmer Station by Monday around noon where I plan to buy as much Antarctica paraphernalia as I can handle. Until then, my bed is warm and cozy, I have an ample supply of Dramamine, and the kitchen is stocked with delicious cookies to occupy my time.


- Melissa

26 November

I fell into a deep dark, anti-nausea-meds-induced sleep, feeling the gentle roll of the ship ever so slightly as we chugged along. When I woke up, the gentle roll had changed to a still subtle rock; the seas had increased minimally, but I still wondered what the Drake Passage would have in store for us. It takes a bit over 24 hours to travel through the Straits of Magellan and out around Cape Horn, where the Southern Ocean infamously converges, squeezing together massive quantities of water until it has nowhere to go but up, forming large swells.

The big tasks for the day include: build a plankton splitter from PVC and a bucket, build a camera platform with which to take pictures of the critters we catch, build racks in which we can put and carry 1.5 to 3 liter bottles of water and finally, to type up some data sheets and protocols. While the tasks at hand occupy my mind, there are the ever-growing seas under foot, bringing wave upon wave of expectancy and curiosity: how rough is this going to get?

Albatross follow the LMG as we steam along.

- Karen

Leaving Punta Arenas

“Our departure is delayed until 1400,” announced Herb, the Marine Programs Coordinator (MPC) aboard the L.M. Gould. Herb is the type of person you want on a ship; he makes you feel comfortable. He is the one who makes sure everything works, like your head (toilet on a boat; unfortunately, he cannot fix my now dazed by bonine and too much sleep head on my shoulders), and makes sure you have everything you need, like bedding, a survival suit that fits, and as it turns out, caffeine. Herb has an espresso machine in his office! The delay of push off time is due to the high winds in Punta Arenas making it impossible to operate the deck cranes used to load heavy crates and boxes onto the ship. We have to wait to load all on board before we leave, otherwise we might be cannibalized by expectant and eagerly awaiting scientists and crew at Palmer Station. We are on, among other things, a re-supply mission.

The time passes quite quickly while we follow vague instructions to “tie everything down.” While a seemingly simple task, it took me long enough to tie down one silly piece of equipment that I began to wonder why I was invited. Hopefully I am better at collecting salps and other zooplankton than tying down many thousands of dollars worth of equipment (though I did get the hand of it eventually…opposing forces are very useful in such an endeavor)!

The radio crackled, “Gangway up,” and we were off. Slowly edging away from the pier, my pulse quickened just a little. “That’s it,” I thought, “can’t jump ship now.” Relief to be on our way. Anticipation of the days to come.

Joe, our chief scientist, knows how to pass the time when he is not writing computer code or coming up with things for us to do

- Karen

25 November – Happy Thanksgiving!

Today at 1400, we officially embarked on our voyage.  Before we were able
to leave, all of the lab’s gear needed to be tied down.  We’re
expecting to hit pretty rough seas within the next 24 hours and do not want
any of our equipment to be at risk.  Yesterday we organized all of the
smaller, loose gear into labelled drawers and today we tied down the larger
instruments, such as microscopes, using parachute and bungee cord.

We must also prepare ourselves for the ominous seas.  We have all taken
sea-sickness medicine (except for Joe) and are encouraging each other to stay hydrated.

Wolfie, Stony Brook University’s mascot encourages us to drink lots of water!
While it may look funny, it is
important, as these suits could save our lives in an emergency

We also had a safety briefing today, where we learned about safety
protocol. We were guided to the lifeboat launch stations to see where to go
in the case of an emergency warranting the need to abandon ship.   There
are many lifeboats on the ship, two that hold 44 people, and five smaller
ones.  I found this impressive as there are only about 35 of us on board;
this is just one example demonstrating how everyone on board has safety as
their number one priority.  After the meeting, we took the time to try on
our survival suits (also known as immersion or gumby suits).

While we are all enjoying ourselves and excited for the adventure ahead, I
felt homesick eating Thanksgiving dinner thousands of miles from home, but
not due to lack of food.  We ate massive amounts of turkey, stuffing,
mashed potatoes, and numerous desserts including pumpkin pie, apple pie,
apple cranberry clobber, and peach clobber, which left us smiling and
thankful for our family, friends, and new shipmates.

- Katie

24 November – There's a little bit of a breeze.

The last day in port before leaving on the cruise is usually a frenzy of activity between loading up the ship with last minute supplies and equipment, topping off fuel tanks, and loading perishable items like fresh vegetables. It's also the time that scientists start panicking that they forgot one specific doo-dad that is critical to the cruise's success. So far I think we've got everything onboard, but I did send some of my team out into town to get a few items I'd forgotten to pack.

Yesterday afternoon though the dock was pretty quiet. There were no cranes or trucks on the pier and the few people walking around were having a tough time staying vertical. That's because it was very very windy yesterday. We had gusts up to 60 kts and sustained winds were inbetween 30-40 kts.

Walking up the pier against the wind was pretty challenging yesterday.

The meteorological station on the ship is shown on a TV on the ship. The wind speeds are the pink line in the middle right.

The ships can't use their cranes in those conditions (due to safety reasons) so we were delayed in loading our supplies. There is also a strike occurring in parts of the Chilean customs or civil service which we were worried might also impact our ability to load the ship and leave on time. When we went out to lunch in town yesterday, we actually ran into a parade of protesting/striking Chileans.

Protesters marching through the central plaza of Punta Arenas on wednesday afternoon.

But thanks to the folks on the Gould (and the weather cooperating and laying down last night) we were able to start loading cargo early this morning and we are set to depart in just over an hour at 1400 (2pm) on Thanksgiving Day. We won't be able to watch any of the football games today, but fortunately we appear to have not fallen too far behind with our cruise schedule.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

22/23 November - Arrival

As we fly down to Punta Arenas from Santiago, there's some spectacular scenery.

In order to get to Antarctica, our group will be taking a ship that leaves from Punta Arenas, Chile. PA (what everybody calls Punta Arenas) is located in Patagonia / Tierra del Fuego (i.e. the southernmost part of South America). We'll be sailing (well- steaming – well, actually running of diesel engines) on the LM Gould which is one of two ships that the National Science Foundation operates in Antarctica. I've sailed on the NB Palmer (the other NSF boat) several times, but this is my first trip on the Gould. We're scheduled to leave on thursday, but that depends if all the cargo and supplies have arrived by then.

As we drove into PA, we saw this rainbow. Hopefully a good omen for our cruise.

It'll take us about a day to get through the Straits of Magellan, then we'll head south past Cabo de Nornos (Cape Horn) and make our way to Antarctica with our first stop being Palmer Station (a research station located on an island adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula) to offload people and cargo. But between us and Palmer Station is the Drake Passage. Crossing the Drake can be very rough (and on rare occasion, not so rough) so while we're in port, we spend a lot of time securing all our equipment and supplies for our experiments so they don't roll around or worse during the crossing. Bungie cords, parachute cord, line, eye-hooks, velcro, and non-slip mats (like you might have in your silverware drawer at home) are all essential pieces of equipment that will (hopefully) keep us able to do our science while at sea. Because even once we're past the Drake, the waves and seas can still be quite bumpy at times and we'll be working round the clock on our science in all sorts of weather.
The dock in PA is a busy place. That's a cruise ship on the right, and the Gould is the orange/yellow boat on the left. In front of the Gould is the Palmer which is headed out a day after us.

More updates to come: what's life on a ship like?, what science experiments are we actually working on?, how cold is it ?, etc. But now it's time for me to go meet the rest of my field team who are arriving shortly. Fortunately for them, my lost bag arrived this afternoon so my toothbrush has been found (and used)! [oh yeah, and the critical pieces of scientific equipment that were also in the bag are here – but the toothbrush was foremost on my mind.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

21 November - Last Minute Details

So what does one need to pack before leaving for a month-long research cruise in Antarctica ?  How about everything. There aren't any stores you can swing by and pick up something that you forgot so you have to plan ahead. Of course, there's always some last minute improvisation when you're on the boat and realize -- oops, I forgot [RANDOM CRITICAL ITEM].

A lot of our equipment and supplies were actually packed back in September. We ship them off to California where they are loaded into shipping container which travels (by boat) down to Punta Arenas, Chile.  Of course some items haven't arrived at that point or were needed for other research projects, so there's always a fair bit of gear that comes down on the planes with us.

I've been handing off bags to various members of the research team to take with them on the plane. And that includes myself. This was the scene in my lab on saturday morning the day before I flew down to Punta Arenas.

Just a few last minute items. Wolfie (the Stony Brook mascot) is coming with us on the trip.
Of course, all the items you forgot to pack til now are usually the bulkiest, heaviest, most-oddly-shaped of all the gear.

ok, time to catch my flight. Next post will be from Punta Arenas, Chile.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

17 Nov 2010 - Hey! That doesn't look like Antarctica.

So what does a scientist do to prepare for a month on a ship in the Southern Ocean ?  That's right, they go to the beach in the tropics. Well, not exactly.  Before I know this cruise was happening, I'd submitted an abstract for the Acoustical Society of America meeting which was held in Cancun, Mexico.  So I flew down there for a short (48 hour) trip to give a presentation on some research our group did in Cape Cod Bay looking at right whales and zooplankton distributions. I was able to meet with some colleagues and collaborators, but this picture (which was taken at breakfast on monday) was the only time I got to spend on the beach as the rest of the time I was inside the hotel listening to other talks.

Our group is running around frantically trying to make sure we've packed everything we need. I'm also giving the department seminar on friday and have some lectures to prepare for tomorrow so it's pretty busy here. Stay tuned for more updates later on and we'll try to have daily blog posts once the cruise starts on Nov 25th.

Friday, November 12, 2010

T - Two weeks til departure

With our ship scheduled to leave port in Punta Arenas, Chile in a little less than two weeks, the ALES group is frantically running around to make sure we haven't forgotten any important supplies, have packed enough mittens and hats, and trying to finish up last minute tasks here in the states before making the trip south.

This blog will be updated daily (hopefully) while we're on the ship as well as afterwards.  If you have any questions that you'd like us to try and answer, please feel free to email us at  We can't guarantee an answer and expect a delay of a couple of days before we can respond at the earliest.  There's no internet on the research vessel so communication occurs the old-fashioned way (i.e. satellite uplink).