Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Returning to shore.

We're in the middle of the Straits of Magellan about 8 or 9 hours from arriving at the dock in Punta Arenas.  Our return trip across the Drake Passage was actually quite smooth, a little bit of rock and roll action but nothing too severe (i.e. lots more people were at mealtime).  We packed up almost all our equipment before we left Palmer Station and the South Shetland Islands so the past few days were a time for most of us to catch up on sleep, trade photos and addresses, and begin some preliminary analysis of our data.

We won't have any quantitative results for quite some time as we need to take our net samples back to the lab and start processing them, however we can provide the following recap/summary of our trip.  In a little less than two weeks, our team of four did the following: 37 CTD casts, 35 mid-water net trawls, multiple deployments of our acoustic towfish, 6 days and ~ 200 km of small  boat acoustic surveys, measured the density of 146 salps, 585 krill, and 41 chaetognaths, multiple measurements of soundspeed from krill and salps, and measured and photographed hundreds of zooplankton.  It's quite an accomplishment and all the credit should go to the women of team Salp: Karen, Katie, and Melissa.  In addition to rough weather, they had to deal with a sleep-deprived chief scientist who would randomly wander into the lab and then make changes to everything they were doing.  I sincerely thank them for all their hard work.

Some of us are returning home to the states in time for the holidays while others of us are going to take advantage of being in South America to explore the natural wonders of Patagonia.  We've made a lot of good friends with the other scientists on board the ship, the Raytheon support staff, and the ship's crew and Captain.  We'll have a post-cruise dinner tonight in Punta Arenas and starting tomorrow people will start to go their separate ways.  It's a very odd life living and working on a ship.  We've been exposed to the same twenty people or so for the last month and in a few days we'll go our separate ways. Maybe we'll run into one another on a future cruise or when passing through somebody's town or maybe not.  All I know is that it was a great cruise in all regards from the science to the food (Thanks Ramses!) to the people and the people-derived entertainment.

Here are a few pics from the trip and that'll be it for Salp 2010.  The blog will continue to document our future research cruises and lab activities so check back in with us in a few months.

An array of salps from one of our net tows. They come in a variety of sizes.

The other major zooplankton we found here. Krill (these guys are adult E. superba) with stomachs full of green phytoplankton.
umpback whales waved their tales at us when we arrived in the Gerlache Strait.
When the waters were calm, you can see penguins swimming underneath the surface.
A leopard seal hauled out on the ice doesn't seem to bother a group of chinstrap penguins.

This is our laboratory.
 An iceberg sometimes made us change the path of the ship, but we usually didn't mind.
Thanks a bunch for all your efforts Karen, Katie, and Melissa. Let's do it all again next year!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wolfie joins the small boat survey team.

Wolfie mans the bow of the small boat.

Wolfie is the Stony Brook University mascot and he finally was able to escape the confines of the Laurence M. Gould and join us on the small boat the other day for some survey work in Flandres Bay.  We use a zodiac equipped with an echosounder like we have on the Gould to survey areas here near land where the large boat is unable to go.  While we have nautical charts for the waters we work in, the Captain of the ship is cautious about getting too close to any shallow areas since some areas aren't as well-mapped as the waters around the United States may be.

Wolfie and Chief Scientist Joe Warren discuss where to head next on the survey.
We can also survey into extremely shallow water (a few meters) in our small boat which no large boat can do.  This method is very useful here in the bays of the Gerlache Strait (Wilhelmina, Andvord, and Flandres) where there are lots of rapid bathymetry changes -- the bottom can go from 300 m to 10 m in a very short distance. And its at or past some of these dramatic bottom features that we've found large aggregations of krill here on previous trips.  We didn't see any giant swarms of krill on this trip, but did see some patches in Flandres Bay, but in different spots than we'd surveyed previously.  These were most likely swarms of small juvenile krill which we can identify by looking at the scatter on our echosounder at different acoustic frequencies and with our net tow data.

In Flandres Bay, you can see snow-capped mountains, glaciers, 100m high ice cliffs, icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, and brash ice. Sometimes all of them in the same picture.

In addition to being a neat place to work scientifically, these bays are beautiful with glaciers and ice cliffs reaching down to the waters edge, large and small icebergs scattered throughout the bay, regions of brash ice where we have to go very slowly so we don't damage our equipment, and lots of different wildlife.  We saw a good variety of species of pinnipeds, penguins, and flying seabirds during our small boat work, but not any whales which will be abundant in these waters by the late (Austral) summer.

And Wolfie (like the rest of us) may have gotten a little too much fresh air and sunshine as most of the rest of the small boat team has noses that are the same shade of red as his hat.

- Joe

Answers to questions from 8th graders.

Note from Joe:  We got a great set of questions from Ms. Ungchusri's 8th grade class from Texas.  The field team has been working hard to come up with answers to them so here they are.

 Sometimes if you take enough pictures, you can catch a porpoising penguin in the air!

1 - What's the range of temperature outside? What is the coldest temperature you have recorded?

Karen: I have not been measuring outside temperature myself, but it seems as though the air temperature is ranging from around 40 degrees Fahrenheit on a really sunny day to around 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold evening.

Joe: The ship has a system that measures the air temperature (and wind chill) so you can see how cold it is outside before going out on deck (and deciding if you need one or two pairs of socks).  Air temps are right around freezing normally, but with wind chill can be another 20 or 30 degrees colder.

2 - Are there polar bears? Are they friendly? 

Karen: There are no polar bears in Antarctica; they only live in the arctic (where the North Pole is). There, they are known to hunt people and are not friendly.

3 - Is day to day living hard over here? 

Karen: Day to day living is not hard. Our research vessel is very comfortable. We work very hard, though. Long hours of work with little sleep are the hardest things about day to day life.

4 - How do they grow vegetables/vegetation? 

Karen: On the ship, we bring all of our fresh vegetables with us. The ship also delivers fresh produce to Palmer Station. At McMurdo Research Station, they have a green house and can grow some of their own vegetables.

5 - How long are the days/nights during the different seasons? 

Karen: Right now, in the summer, daylight lasts almost all day. In fact, it never gets dark. Between around 11:00pm and 2:00am it looks like dusk outside. By 3:00am the sun is already above the horizon! The opposite is true in the winter (our summer, June-September)

6 - What is the favorite part of your work?

[Note from Joe: I had everybody in the field team answer this question, but they came up with the same answer!]
Katie: My favorite part of my work is when we pull up the zooplankton nets!  While typically the usual suspects are present, such as krill and salps, you never know what you're going to get!!  Last night Karen and I caught a large purple ctenophore.  It was still alive and looked as if it was glowing! 
Heres a picture of the star of one of our recent catch!  Photo by Karen.

Melissa: My favorite part of work out here is trying to guess what we’re going to get in the cod end and then finally looking at what we got. Sometimes we get something really interesting and/or weird like polychaete worms or fish larvae. It’s also pretty cool when we get a long salp chain although it can be frustrating to try not to break it apart when we move the sample around.

Karen: My favorite part of this work that we are doing is getting to open up the cod end (the strainer at the end of the net where our zooplankton samples are collected as we tow our sampling net) after a tow and see what neat creatures we have caught.

7 - Can you play soccer outside? If yes, do the penguins play too?

Katie: I love soccer and would love to play with the penguins!!!  I've seen them playing in Coca Cola commercials.  I've yet to find a soccer ball laying around the ship, but if I do, maybe I'll try it.

Joe: On my last cruise, we had a soccer game in a big room on the ship where they sometimes store a helicopter. However, the ship we're on right now doesn't have a room like that. And it's dangerous to play soccer on the deck because if the ball goes over the side, you can't get it back!

8 - How long does it take to travel to Antarctica from North America?

Katie: A long time!  It took me about 27 hour total to fly to Punta Arenas, Chile and then a 4 to 5 day boat ride to Antarctica!

9 - Does it rain in Antarctica or does it just snow?

Katie: Where we are, near the Antarctica Peninsula, it is possible for it to rain if it is warm enough (above thirty two degrees F).  Most days it is not that warm, so it snows.  Today is an exception though - its almost forty degrees and sunny!

10 - What modes of transportation do you use on Antarctica?

Katie: All transportation to and from Antarctica is by ship or plane.  Once you get to the continent, there are trucks, snowmobiles, and more!  

11 - Does Antarctica look the same 20 years ago as it does today? Is it affected by global warming? Is global warming real or fake? Will everything melt one day?

Joe: I've been coming down to Antarctica for only the past 10 years but I work with people who have worked here for more than 30 years studying animals and their habitat.  There are definitely changes occurring on the continent here even though we are relatively isolated from the rest of the people on earth. The peninsula (the part of the continent that reaches up towards South Amera) is getting warmer at a rate much faster than the rest of the planet and scientists have started to observe changes in where they find certain penguin species which may be the result in climate change affecting their habitat or where they may find their preferred food (like krill).  Climate change is real -- but depending on where you are on the planet, the effects may be mild or strong.  I don't think everything will melt one day, however we may see changes in what areas of our planet are habitable for people (just like we're seeing changes in the penguins down here).

12 - What kind of food do you eat when you are there?

Katie: The food on the ship is delicious!  I eat pretty much what I would if I were at home, but more cookies! The cookies are very tasty.  Our trip is relatively short, so we still have some supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables, but this is not the case for all trips.  

13. What language do you speak in Antarctica?

Melissa: Mostly we speak English, but occasionally we like to rattle off a little penguin or whale.

Joe: However, if you visit another country's research station, they speak their native language so you could hear spanish, chinese, korean, russian, polish, or several other dialects.

14. How much bigger is Antarctica than Texas?

Melissa: It’s way bigger (and way cooler) than Texas.

Joe: Melissa used to live in Texas. Joe and this blog takes no official stance on which location is cooler. The size of Antarctica depends on what season you are here as there is a lot of ice that freezes around the continent. It's around 5.4 million square miles in area. I don't know the size of Texas, but I'm guessing you could fit ~ 20 Texas(es) in Antarctica -- maybe your class can calculate how many and see how close my guess is ?  We also have several people from Alaska on our ship and they would like to point out that Alaska is 600,000 square miles or roughly twice as large as Texas.

15. What kind of penguins are found there?

Melissa: While I’ve been down here I’ve seen mostly chinstraps but I’ve also seen a few Adelie’s and gentoo’s. While we were out on a small boat trip we even saw an emperor penguin, although they aren’t common in the islands where we’ve been. Mostly, the emperor penguins live down on the continent but they will move north to molt their feathers.

16. Do you shower even if it is freezing?

Melissa: Well, luckily the ship has a water heater so we don’t have to take freezing showers. The real issue with showering happens when the ship is rocking back and forth. It’s easy to get seasick in an enclosed space and it can be difficult to hold on to the hand rail and wash/dry at the same time.

17. Is there a big community of people over there? What do you use to get around?

Melissa: There are a lot of people out here, actually. A bunch of countries have their own stations in Antarctica that are like their own small communities and there are constantly people there working and maintaining them. The stations have vehicles for moving around in some areas on land but you can also take a zodiac, which is a small boat, to travel to other islands and explore on foot.

18. What kind of noises do penguins make?

Melissa: It’s kind of like a nasal squawk. Almost like a crow with a deep voice.

Joe: Sometimes when they are on land, the penguins will "trumpet" which sounds like (you guessed it) a trumpet. 

Answers to ?s from College Students - Part III

Note from Joe: The final set of answers to questions from Ms. Weiss's students.  Katie take it away...

Karen and Melissa wash down the net after a tow.

We caught a lot of juvenile krill in this net haul. These animals are about 1" in length and can grow to be 3-4X that size.

Who's got two thumbs and loves bioacoustics ?   Katie!

How do adverse changes to this current such as increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide uptake impact this and other bodies of water that are connected to the flow of Antarctic waters? What changes in other bodies of water might be impacting Antarctic life?

This deep current is unlikely to be adversely affected noticeably by short term increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide. Much of this exchange occurs in the surface waters. One way this current could be affected by these changes is if biomass increases or decreases in the surface waters. This could change the levels of nutrients, through detritus, that rain down into the deeper current. Then, when the deep current is finally upwelled, whether in the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian ocean, effects of these changes may be realized.

While Antarctica is one of the most remote places on the planet, it is still affected by other bodies of water and land. It is important to keep in mind that the natural world of our entire planet is driven by cycles in a delicate balance. The systems are seemingly resistant to small, gradual changes, but there is evidence, such as geological studies, that the currents have shifted in conjunction with shifting climates.

What was the most amazing discovery that you have come across while conducting your research?
One of the coolest things I’ve learned during my research is how powerful acoustics can be as a tool. I have worked in a bioacoustics lab, studying cetacean vocalizations and acoustic ecology. We left hydrophones on the bottom of Massachusetts Bay to record for a few months, picked them up, and then we able to tell when and where the whales were hanging out! I don’t know how to talk to whales, but I can tell different species apart! This summer I interned with NOAA and worked on a project using active acoustics to survey walleye Pollock. The technology is similar to a fancy fish finder. This trip is particularly exciting for me because we are collecting data to develop acoustic models. It’s pretty cool!

Due to the increase in upwelling and down welling off of Antarctica from the Global Conveyor Belt, do you see any evidence that an increase in phytoplankton is directly proportional to the amount of zooplankton per cubic meter?

An increase in phytoplankton might lead an increase to the amount of zooplankton per cubic meter, but not always. In the Southern Ocean, the Spring phytoplankton bloom happens very quickly each year, and much of the life (zooplankton and upper trophic levels) is governed by this increase. However, an increase in phytoplankton may not always lead to an increase in zooplankton. Some zooplankton only reproduce during certain times of the year and may not be able to opportunistically take advantage of an increase in phytoplankton. Salps are likely an exception to this. With a high filtration rate and growth rate due to alternative generations, Salps have the capacity of consuming very large amounts of phytoplankton leading to a dramatic zooplankton volume increase.

- Katie

Answers to ?s from College Students Part II

Note from Joe: Sorry for the delay in getting these answers posted. The field team has been working literally non-stop since Dec 1st and today we are making our final shipboard measurements as we begin our transit northward.  We'll try to have several posts in the next few days with answers to questions from college and junior high students.

Now here are Melissa's answers to some questions from college student's in Ms. Weiss's Introduction to Oceanography course.

3. Why study zooplankton?

Zooplankton are a really important part of the marine ecosystem and the type and quantity of zooplankton that you find in an area can be very indicative of the condition of the local ecosystem. For instance, salps and krill are two dominant types of zooplankton in the Antarctic. Both are common but typically are not found in high abundances in the same location. Krill tend to be more associated with the presence of sea ice, likely because that is what their primary food source is associated with, whereas salps tend to be associated more with open water. Because salps are not predated upon by many other organisms, they are often considered to be the end of the food chain and are not associated with very diverse systems. Krill, on the other hand, are consumed by a vast number of organisms which are in turn consumed by other organisms and are considered to be a key component to marine food webs. They are the primary food source for baleen whales like humpbacks which swim from the tropics in winter to the Antarctic in Austral summer to feed in the highly productive waters. Fish, penguins, and other marine birds also feed on krill and they in turn are fed upon by toothed whales and seals. In recent years salps have been found to be increasing in abundance and krill to be decreasing. With increasing global temperatures, sea ice is on the decline, correlating with a decrease in krill abundance. Because krill are so vital a part of marine food webs, this indicates that there may be a danger of collapse for Southern Ocean food webs which would have serious implications worldwide.

4. What was the most amazing discovery that you have come across while conducting your research?

I can’t say that there is any one thing that I have come across that I find particularly amazing but the experience as a whole has been pretty amazing in itself – learning just how useful acoustics can be in determining what is in the water column, seeing the diverse array of zooplankton species that we catch in the net tows, and seeing how the physical properties of the water in any one area correspond to the types and number of organisms that we find there. I’ve learned about most of it in my classes but it’s entirely different and there is a far greater sense of self fulfillment when you see it all in person and do the science with your own hands rather than just reading about it in a textbook or a paper published in a science journal.

Melissa gives MT Mark a hand with the radio comms.  Depending on how far we are from the ship, having the radio antenna raised higher can improve our reception.

9. Have you seen any penguins or other animals on the cruise?

Yes, we’ve seen plenty of animals on the cruise. We see penguins practically every day. So far we’ve seen all of the common species for the area like chinstraps, gentoos, and Adelies and we’ve spotted one or two emperor penguins which are rare in the islands and generally only come here to molt. We’ve also spotted a few seals – leopard seals and crabeaters – and we occasionally spy humpack whales, minke whales, and orcas. Or course since we’re studying zooplankton we also see plenty of amphipods, krill, salps, pteropods, and other animals when we pull in the net tows.

A leopard seal hauled out on an iceberg with some anxious penguins nearby.  On land, leopard seals aren't very mobile, however in the water they are incredibly fast.

- Melissa

Things are winding down...

Today we sampled at our last few stations of this cruise. The early morning hours were graced with warm strong sun and a cloudless sky. The last several days have been, for the most part, absolutely beautiful. 

Sunset over a large ice berg; can you find the penguins?

While standing on the 01 deck at around 3 AM this morning, admiring the mountain ridges that plummet from around 4000 feet directly into the sea, a massive very healthy-looking humpback whale fluked and dove next to the ship. While continuing to collect data, measure the gravity of krill, salps and chaetognaths, and enter data, it is impossible to ignore the grandeur of the sea and landscape here. It is also stunning how quickly the seas can change. In a blink the wind came up this afternoon and the sky clouded over. The winds went from a light 5 knots to a sustained 25 to 30 knots. We are on our way to make the last stops at Palmer Station and a field camp fondly called Copacabana, before crossing back over the Drake Passage to Punta Arenas. While it seems that we are all excited to be getting home, it is a little sad that the cruise’s end is drawing near.

- Karen

December 14 – Ship Tour!

We’re on our way to our final station before returning to Palmer now so I thought it would be a good time to give a long overdue tour of the Gould!

We’ll start from the top and work our way down. At the very pinnacle of the ship is the bridge where dwell our charming navigators and the captain. Descending the stairs one will first find themselves on the second floor, made up entirely of bedrooms. On the first floor can be found more bedrooms and offices, including those of our chief scientist, Joe Warren, and our Marine Projects Coordinator, Herb Baker. Both offices have dry erase boards outside where announcements and general information are posted.

The white board outside Joe's office.

The lounge is also on the first floor. There you will find the most comfortable pieces of furniture on the ship, a big screen TV, a large collection of movies, and  Rock Band setup.

Welcome to the lounge.

The next floor down, I’m not sure of the technical name of so I’ll just call it the ground floor. Here you’ll find the galley, always stocked with plenty of food…

The galley.

…as well as the laundry room, office supply room (the China Closet), and down the hall you’ll find the baltic room, home of the CTD, the E lab, the dry lab, and the wet lab where we do most of our work.

The E lab, home of the Electronic Techs Mike and Tony.

The wet lab, home of the Joettes.

From the baltic room or the wet lab you can exit onto the back deck where you’ll find the zodiacs and the MT shop, home to our three marine techs Mark, Chance, and Meriedi. The next door down from the shop is the aquarium room where we keep our live animals caught in the net tows. The back can be a scary place to be in bad weather and rough seas. Large waves crash over the side and could easily drag a person overboard, so always wear a float coat when you’re out there!

The back deck in not so great weather.

- Melissa

13 Dec - It's Always Greener at the Chlorophyll Max.

This morning was a really interesting morning!  We performed a station and net tow, as usual, but had some unique results.  The CTD revealed more chlorophyll in the water column than usual as well as a particularly shallow chlorophyll max layer ~ 5m!  This was even more apparent when I filtered the water from this depth.  Check it out:

 This is a picture of a 2 micron filter after 300ml of water were filtered through.  The brown stuff is phytoplankton!  Usually we filter 500ml and the filters are only lightly tinted brown.

We also had a unique catch in the net tow!  We caught lots of little transparent copepods - they were so full from nomming [Editor: Katie informs me that nomming is how the kids say "eating" these days.] phytoplankton their guts were green under the scope!  We also caught a myctophid (a type of laternfish) and other fun zooplankton.  Pretty cool!

This is an ostracod!  We haven't caught too many of these critters yet!

This is a gammarid amphipod!  His stomach is green from eating so much phytoplankton!  What a life!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

12 Dec - Ship-board Experiments

Part of our work on this cruise is to find material properties of salps and krill. These material properties include, among other things, the densities of such organisms. Density is important to know if you want to differentiate organisms from one another in acoustic scatter data. We are using different techniques to find the density of krill and the density of salps. Both rely on the principle that when an animal is placed into a liquid that is less dense than it, the animal will sink. When the animal is in liquid denser than it, the animal will float at the surface. Finally, if the animal is placed in liquid that is the same density as it, the animals will (you guessed it) become neutrally buoyant and float!

To find the density of salps, we start with a known amount of seawater, in which salps are negatively buoyant, or sink. We then add hyper-saline solution (i.e. saltier and therefore denser than seawater) very slowly using a burette, a long glass tube with increments of volume marked. This process of adding one substance slowly in measured increments is called titration. As soon as the salp starts to lift off the bottom of the container and become neutrally buoyant, you know that the density of the solution in the container is the same as the density of the salp. Using volume and salinity of the ending solution in the container with the salp, you can calculate density! 

Here you can see Katie doing a density experiment on a salp. Notice the burettes (the long tubes), the bottles holding the seawater and hyper-saline solution used to add to the container holding the salp, and the YSI instrument used for measuring salinity.
Krill are generally denser than salps, so mixtures of glycerin are used instead of seawater and hyper-saline solution. A glycerin solution of known density is prepared and placed into a beaker or graduated cylinder. A krill is placed into solutions, one by one in order from least dense solution to more dense. We note in which solution the krill becomes neutrally or positively buoyant, and can therefore approximate the density of the animal based upon which solution made it float rather than sink (i.e. was the same or of greater density). 

Here are the different solutions of glycerin in order from least to most dense, as well as the glycerin used to make the solutions.

Size of the organism and temperature of all the different solutions used are important to both methods. Therefore, we measure both and record all of the data.

Using the refined densities of salps and krill, or G-values as they are called in acoustics, scientists like Joe can refine their interpretation of acoustic data to be more specific as to which organisms they are seeing in their acoustic data.

- Karen

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dec 11 - An Icy Adventure!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to do some zodiac work with Joe!  It was really awesome!  We left the boat around 10:00am, and spent the whole day jetting around looking for krill in the water column.  We used a tool called an Echosounder, which is similar to a very delicate fish finder.

ere's a shot of Joe and me towards the end of the day.  Five hours in a small boat = cold feet, no matter how dry you are!

Unfortunately, all the krill we did find were deep under the water, but I did manage to see many other amazing things!!  Penguins were everywhere and would swim right by us as if unaware of our presence.  We spotted two whales.  But my favorite sights were the ice bergs.  The ice here is absolutely surreal.  MT Mark and I played "the ice game" which is similar to the "cloud game" in that you shout out what you think the ice looks like.  Its amazing what a little imagination can do!

he ice can be found in a wide range of colors:  clear, pure white, even blue.  Sometimes we find "dirty ice" which has dark streaks of sediment lodged in it. 
MT Mark and Joe taught me how to drive the Zodiac!

 - Katie

You've asked ?s, We've got answers.

Students at Indian River State College (Florida) in Ms. Weiss's "Introduction to Oceanography" course were kind enough to send us some questions.  The field team is trying to answer as many of these as they can in their downtime, but now that the weather has gotten much better, we've still got a lot of stations to do. Here are a couple of answers and we're working on the rest.

These questions were answered by Karen.

1) While being in Antarctica can you see the effects of global warming occurring? Do you think it will get better or worse in the years to come?

This is my first trip to Antarctica, so I have nothing with which to compare what I see here now. However, I asked our Marine Projects Coordinator, Herb, who told me that he has been visiting and living on Antarctica for “longer than you [I] have been alive.” This means that Herb has seen the Antarctic continent regularly for at least the past 27 years. There is a glacial behind Palmer Station that you can hike up. Herb has noticed that in recent years you have to walk a lot longer on rock to start your hike up the glacier. In many parts of Antarctica, glaciers and ice are receding. It is safe to say that temperatures here are getting warmer, causing all this ice to melt more than in the recent past. [Joe: Studies have shown that the Antarctic peninsula region (where we are) is warming at a much more rapid rate than the global average.  But, making things even more complicated, some studies have shown that the interior of Antarctica is actually getting cooler.  This can often lead to confusion if somebody says "Antarctica is warming" as most studies that have found trends or significant changes are looking at a sub-area and not the entire continent.]

Regarding whether this will “get better or worse” in years to come, it is important to realize that environmental change like warming temperatures in the Antarctic is not a question of better or worse. Environmental change can be beneficial to some organisms, while detrimental to others. Some creatures and ecosystems show more resilience than others, being affected more or less depending on the level and rate of change. It does seem that this warming trend is continuing, but the mechanisms behind such change are complex and related to processes all over the globe. Therefore, it is difficult to say with certainty whether it will continue at all, continue at the same rate, or continue at a steeper rate.

4) What was the most amazing discovery that you have come across while conducting your research?

While I have not discovered anything new to mankind, I have discovered things that were new to me. While working on zooplankton and right whales off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I have come to appreciate the magnitude to which right whale food (copepods) controls the behavior and distribution of these animals. It appears that using information just about zooplankton and certain other environmental variables, one can actually predict the presence or absence of right whales, as well as their behavior, with statistically significant positive results. To me, the strength of this relationship between right whales and their feeding habitat is quite amazing. [Joe: My last research trip here in May and June of this year was examining the very same process Karen was describing except instead of copepods and right whales, we were looking at krill and humpback whales.]

8) What is there to gain from studying life forms such as zooplankton in this region? Could depletion of animals in the Antarctic impact communities in other bodies of water?

There are many things we can learn about the Antarctic marine ecosystem, and other ecosystems around the world, by studying zooplankton here. Secondary production [the growth of animals that eat primary producers or plants] not only provides an integral part of the marine food web foundation, but is also important to nutrient cycling and carbon flux. Salps, for example, produce fecal matter that contains carbon, and sinks to the seafloor after being excreted. This is a type of carbon sink, which removes CO2 from the air (in the form of photosynthesis in phytoplankton) and moves it to the seafloor. Studying changes in zooplankton production here, and the mechanisms behind that change, can give us insights into how widespread certain phenomena are in the world’s oceans. Comparative studies are becoming increasingly important as we discover more ways in which Earth’s ocean waters and atmosphere are connected.

Depletion of animals in the Antarctic can impact communities in other bodies of water on in a number of ways. As mentioned above, the importance of zooplankton production to remove carbon from the upper ocean directly relates to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere; the whole world is affected by the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Also, many large whales travel from other parts of the world to the Antarctic to feed in the summertime. Humpback whales that winter in the South Pacific, for example, feed on krill here. A decrease in krill here would lead to a decrease in food availability for certain humpback populations, and therefore their overall success (calving, longevity, health, etc).

- Karen ([and Joe])

09 Dec - A Rockin' Time

We've been spending the past few days attempting to do small boat work but unfortunately, are held to the wishes of mother nature.  Yesterday we were able to get a group out on the water, but we had two days cancelled before that.  The weather out here has a huge effect on what science we are able to perform and unfortunately, seems to have a mind of its own!

Additionally, we are doing most of our work around the South Shetland Islands.  This means that we alternate from being in the protection from the elements and exposed.  It is usually pretty easy to tell when we come out from cover as the swell significantly picks up and it becomes slightly more difficult to walk.

Our jagged cruise track is the result of the varied weather conditions.

The red graph on the screen is a good representation of our varied wind speed.  During this point we were transiting in and out of protection.  You can see where we were protected from the harsh wind by where the wind speed drops significantly.
Antarctic sunset.  10:45pm.  Photo By Karen.

Though the weather isn't always ideal, we've had some beautiful days.  The days are very long too!  The sun does set but it never gets very dark outside.

 - Katie

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10, 2010 – Good thing I wore my lucky underwear

It was another calm day in our area of the Antarctic Peninsula. The sky was blue, the sun was shining.

A difficult day for lab work.

From my bedroom window this morning, I could see from the glassy water that there was little wind.

A perfect day for boating.

Joe, Katie, and the Penguinos were all out on zodiac ops. I was the only member of the Joettes who had not yet been on a zodiac. Both of my opportunities had been lost due to foul weather conditions which were now perfect once my turn had passed.

The weather was taunting me.

I was not entirely pleased, but as I awoke from that night’s slumber I remembered that I was wearing my lucky underwear. I thought to myself, “c’mon lucky underwear, gimme somethin’ good.

The day began like any other. Missed breakfast, ate lunch, anesthetized some krill in alka seltzer. Gotta get those G values. The aquarium room doors were wide open. The sun shined in, tantalizingly. It called to me. I made a break for it. I journeyed to the 02 deck where I planted myself in full sun, soaking up the vitamin D and ultraviolet radiation. Just then, a humpback whale broke the surface a hundred or so feet off the port side. Watching him bubble feeding and flashing his tail at me, slowly make his way away for almost 20 minutes, I knew it was none other than the power of the lucky underwear.

The day continued as usual. Hot chocolate, more krill in alka seltzer. Katie returned from the zodiac trip with Joe with tales of krill, penguins, whales, and ice shaped like a shoe. I wished I had been there. I walked back to the lab, feeling dejected and ready to measure more krill when suddenly, THE POWER OF THE LUCKY UNDERWEAR! Mike rounded a corner, saw me, asked if I wanted to go on a short zodiac ride to pick up the Penguinos from their study site. Huzzah! I jumped on it. Quickly, I ran back to my room to grab something warm to put on.

I forgot my hat, but I had remembered my neck warmer. I put it over my ears. “Good enough,” I thought. I was good to go.

Ethan’s back, Mike, and the Penguinos, Steve and Melissa.

It was awesome. I’m still looking forward to going on a multiple hour zodiac trip but nonetheless, this first trip was da bomb.

Because I saw penguins.

Some chinstraps chillin’ out.
- Melissa

09 Dec - And now for something completely different...

After a 3rd straight day (and night) of 30+ kt winds which prevented us from deploying our scientific gear at most of our recent stations, I was faced with a difficult decision. We were scheduled to be in the Bransfield Strait for at least 2 more days conducting stations and then heading south to the Gerlache for ~ 3 day of sampling. However, given that we had been unable to deploy the CTD or net at 5 of the last 6 stations and that the weather forecast was calling for more of the same, I decided that we should head to the Gerlache earlier than normal and hope that conditions there were better. We knew we'd at least be in the lee of the peninsula and protected from the strong east winds we'd been experiencing in the Bransfield.

Part of running a scientific research cruise is being able to adapt to changing conditions. By moving to a new spot, we'll be able to continue to conduct science, but we may not be getting the exact samples that we originally thought we would get.  In some cases, the location of samples is critical for a project, in others it's more flexible and this is one of those cases.

It's been a pleasant change to go from 30+ kts of wind to winds that are less than 10 kts. The seas are fairly calm and we've even got to see clear skies and the sun.  We're not catching as many salps and krill here as we were in the Bransfield, however we are catching enough animals to continue our experiments. We're also going to be exploring some bays along the Gerlache that had enormous aggregations of krill in them in May and June (when I was last down here). It'll be interesting to see if these aggregations have grown, shrunk, or disappeared all together.

MT Mereidi prepares the IKMT net for launching on a beautiful sunny, clear, (almost warm) day in the Gerlache Strait. Thanks to ET Mike for the loan of the fisheye lens!

Sometimes the scenery here is really spectacular with mountains, snow caps, glaciers, and icebergs littered throughout the view.

- Joe

08 Dec – On the water in a small boat!

After two days of waiting for the wind to die down, we were finally able to do some near-shore acoustic surveying from a zodiac. While here in Antarctica, one of our primary goals is to use acoustics to look at zooplankton in the water column. Acoustics are used in tandem with net tows so that we can survey a wider area more quickly, allowing us to cover more sea over all. The net tows offer a source of ground-truth for what we see in the acoustic data. Acoustic data are returned to us from the instruments in the form of scatter, the strength and quality of which can indicate different things about the creatures in the water column. We are able to do acoustic surveys from our ship, the L.M. Gould, using a towfish, a winged craft that is dragged alongside and behind the boat. The towfish is fitted with the acoustics instrumentation. If we want to survey in close to land, however, we must use a boat that can go in shallower water, such as a zodiac. 

Our zodiac, and Tony, are lowered over the side of the L.M. Gould.

Once in the zodiac, it was interesting to look back at the L.M. Gould, our floating home, from a distance. What a refreshing point of view! While getting our acoustic equipment warmed up, we were pushed away from the ship by the waves, which were only small enough to conduct our work in a narrow cone protected by the land nearby.

The L.M. Gould from the water.
The L.M. Gould from a distance, with ice!

We worked our way back and forth between the shore and the ship, completing track lines and collecting data. Our equipment worked with few glitches and we confirmed what previous net tows had suggested: there was not much in the way of zooplankton in the water column.

Joe’s water-proof echosounder box.

While we did not see so much as a few krill scattering sound on the echosounder, we did see gentoo and chinstrap penguins, elephant and fur seals, and some powerful katabatic winds blowing over a glacier, scouring the snow right around the side of a mountain.

Katabatic winds scour snow from around a mountain in great gusts.

Joe waves excitedly as his first day on the water proves a success.

- Karen

07 December - Humpday!

Today is the midpoint of our cruise (otherwise known as Humpday). Unfortunately, not a lot has been happening over the past 48 hours as the weather has been very uncooperative for doing much of our science.  We've had sustained winds of 25-30 kts for the past 36 - 48 hours, so that has meant we've been unable to do our CTD casts or net tows because of the sea state. We don't carry spares for those pieces of equipment so we are pretty cautious about deploying that gear in questionable conditions. We've also run out of live animals in our aquaria for our experiments so the field team has been spending today trying to catch up on entering data into the computer from our paper records.

The other science party on this trip has been able to commence some of their research. They are studying penguin colonies on the South Sandwich Islands so they have been able to launch a zodiac and zip over to land to count nests and see how populations at some of these locations are (or are not) changing over time. We'll try to get a guest blog post from them in the next few days but right now they're spending most of their time on the ship trying to warm up (as outside temperatures have stayed at around -20 oC all day today).

We've gotten a couple of questions from school kids that we'll be posting our answers to over the next few days, however if anyone has any questions for us, please post them in the "comments" section of this blog post. In a few days, my land-based team member (Hi Melissa!) will collect them all and send them  to us on the ship so we can answer them in a future blog post.

And as requested by Dr. Gareth Lawson from WHOI, here's a photo of some of our experiments (before we ran out of animals):

Katie (left) and Melissa (right) are measuring the density of some salps relative to the surrounding seawater. They do this by titrating solutions of higher and lower density into a container with a salp in it and determine at what point the salp is neutrally buoyant.  The difference between the density of the animal and that of the seawater affects how much sound a zooplankton will scatter.

We measure the soundspeed of animals (in this case small salps) by placing them in a chamber with a transducer (speaker) on one end and a receiver (microphone) on the other. Using a computer, an oscilloscope, and some other equipment, we can figure out how fast sound travels through the animals. This has an important effect on how much sound the animals scatter.

Post your questions in the comments section !

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

06 December - Salp Poetry Special

It appears that Salp-Fever is sweeping the hallways and decks of the L.M. Gould.  We've been catching salps regularly in our net tows and several people in the field team are now members of the prestigious Southern Ocean Salp Sucker Society!  Even the Marine Techs have become enchanted with our gelatinous zooplankton friends.  So, I present two poems about salps written by two of our great MTs (Ode to the Salp by Mereidi Liebner and the slightly darker "death to salps, an anthem" by Chance Miller). For the record, Chance's poem does not accurately describe our experiments. Poets often use artistic license to illustrate a point and that is the case here. Warning: Some poems may contain adult language and/or themes.

A Grand Salp Adventure by Mereidi Liebner

There once was a Salp named Sylvester.
He lived in the sea with his girlfriend ester.
He thought she was boring, and went out exploring
And soon found that he did not need her.

He swam eating and growing,
He made babies behind, unknowing.
That fate would soon twist,
Carbon making desist,
And all that he knew would stop flowing.

A noise, and a swish surrounded,
He never was, nor not quite ever grounded,
Enough to foresee this new theme in the sea
Studies that more have astounded!

So feeble and yet quite forlorn,
The net got him, the vice of Joe Warren.
To be studied by Kate,
there be no more free mate,
He should have just kept being boring.

death to salps, an anthem by Chance Miller

those salps know what they done was wrong
we know those bastards don't got long
we'll catch them with this song
I think we'll catch them with this song
salty protean slippery salps
We'll kill them with our net
and watch scientists drown them in medicine
numbing wounds they won't forget.
these wounds they won't forget.
those salps... salacious, portentous,
boiling in alka seltzer while we grin,
We'll watch them sink to the bottom,
and float them back again.
In the end when we are done
and they've been sent through hell,
tortured in the name of science, 
for sins we can't re-tell
they'll find solace in their turmoil
in a negative eighty cell.