Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thrills & Chills

Last year, I learned about Thrills & Chills at DLMS. It's where you list things that you're happy about and things that you're sad about. Here are my lists for the cruise.

Seeing penguins (and seals, and whales, but especially the penguins)
Riding in a helicopter
Seeing icebergs and glaciers
Making new friends on the ship
Visiting Rothera Station
Learning about Antarctica
Walking on sea ice

Feeling cold so much of the time
Working such long hours (12 hours a day, 7 days a week)
Being away from home for two months
Changing plans so much because of weather and ice conditions

Thanks to all of you for reading the blog. I'm home now - traveling through Chile after the earthquake wasn't as bad as I thought it would be! Special thanks to everyone on the NBP, everyone at DLMS, and the folks at LEEFS for making this happen.

So what happens now? I'm done posting until my next adventure, but you can still reach me at

Saturday, February 27, 2010

We're all okay

Just letting everyone know that the Palmer is still at sea. Being on a ship in deep water is actually one of the safest places you can be during a tsunami. I'll try to post one or two more times, but please be aware that our port, Punta Arenas, has no internet now, so you may not hear from me for a while. I am very lucky that I was here at sea and not in Santiago when this occurred. My thoughts are with those in Chile and the affected islands.

Suzee & Craig

I think it's about time that I told you about the robot on board. We have a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) named Suzee. Suzee goes into the water, attached to the ship by a cable, and explores the sea floor.

Suzee has a camera and a movable arm for taking samples. She's operated by Dries Boone,  Katrien Heirman, and Lieven Naudts from Ghent University in Belgium. Dries says that controlling the ROV is a lot like playing a video game!

Here's a photo from a recent dive. Did you know that so many different things lived deep in the ocean? I didn't know that corals could survive in such cold water.

The feathery things are called crinoids, commonly referred to as sea lilies. The curly ones are brittle stars, and the bulbous pink and blue creatures are tunicates. You can also see a few sponges and soft coral.

It turns out that at least half of the deep water species in the ocean have never been described. That means they don't have names, and nobody knows anything about them. I think that's a little scary. But the cool part is that if you're a biologist, you have an excellent chance of finding a new species here. My friend Craig Smith, from the University of Hawaii (who identified all of the species in the photo for me), has personally collected hundreds of species that were totally new to science. He even has
three species named after him!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Kind of a Big Deal

I don't know if you're aware, but this cruise is kind of a big deal. It took years of planning, the cooperation of different universities all over the world, and a whole lot of work. The people at National Geographic thought it was cool enough to send three reporters - a photographer, a science writer, and a videographer.

So it shouldn't surprise you that I'm not the only one blogging. This blog is primarily meant to be educational and is part of the LEEFS program at Columbia University. But if you want to learn more about some of the projects going on here and get some different perspectives, here is the list of blogs being kept:
This is kept by Kim Roe, a graduate student working on the cruise.
Buzz Campbell writes this one, and he's been working out here in Antarctica for a long time.
Martin Truffer - he's from Alaska and knows all about snow and ice.
This is kept by Terry Haran and Ted Scambos (the guy with the AMIGOS) at the National Snow and Ice Data Center
This is the National Geographic blog. I bet they'll have some great photos there!
This blog is kept by the team running the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). They're from Gent University in Belgium. And you can follow the ROV on twitter @ROV_Suzee (yes, they named the ROV Suzee).

This is kept by Craig Smith and Laura Grange, who work on marine ecosystems at the University of Hawaii.
More marine ecosystems, this time by Maria Vernet and Mattias Cape of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

And don't forget, I'm also on twitter @Ms_T_at_Sea. I meant to post this list a while ago, but I forgot to. Sorry about that! But please check out these blogs and let me know what you think. FYI, the photo is one of the NBP that I took from the zodiac a few days ago.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Here Comes Zodiac

Yesterday was one of those days when the Antarctic is just perfect. We had blue skies for our helo ops and calm water for some work by zodiac. Zodiacs are small boats with a flat bottom, air-filled sides, and a small motor.

We have two zodiacs, and each went out for three trips. There was a trip to retrieve a time-lapse camera for the National Geographic team, there were trips to gather kelp for the biologists, there were trips to gather water for chemical analysis, and there was my trip to listen to some glaciers. We used the hydrophones again, this time to listen to glaciers instead of sea ice.

The moment we put the hydrophones in the water, Ross, our marine technician and zodiac pilot saw that the iceberg that we were listening to was going to flip over. It did, and I have a great video that I'll post once I'm back on shore. I listened to that iceberg and one other before it was time to return to the ship.

On the way back to the ship, we saw a leopard seal on some ice. Leopard seals are known to eat people, but they generally don't bother you if you're in a zodiac. So we approached, carefully and quietly, and got to circle around him before we went back to the ship. You can identify a leopard seal by it's silhouette: there's a medium head, a skinny neck, and a big body. They're the only seals with necks, and they also have leopard-like spots on their undersides - but you usually don't want to get close enough to see those!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CTD #3

Now that you know how to run a CTD and how it works, what about the data it collects? This figure is more or less what I see on my screen while the CTD is in the water.

There's a lot going on. The y-axis shows pressure (in a unit called the decibar), which is almost the same as depth in meters. So you can think of the vertical scale as depth.

There are four x-axes: fluorometer (remember, that records the microscopic plants), salinity, temperature, and oxygen. Having all four on one graph means that I can keep track of lots of different variables at once.

What do you notice about this graph? I notice that below 40m, temperature and oxygen vary inversely - when one gets bigger, the other gets smaller. I also notice that at around 140m, it gets warmer very suddenly. I can also see that the maximum fluorescence is at 15m, so I bet the biologists will want a sample of the water there.

This graph only shows the top 200m, but the CTD actually went down to 600 m at this location. It's in a place called Hughes Bay on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. And there's something special about this cast, something that makes it different from all the other casts. Can you guess what it is?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Out here, we spend a lot of time preparing for emergencies. Many of you know that I took a helicopter underwater escape training class, and we have safety meetings before we work with any equipment on the deck. We spend a lot of time getting ready for things that will probably never happen.

Last week, three people left the ship by helicopter for nearby James Ross Island. On the flight home, the weather worsened and they had to land on the island. Greg Balco, the geologist I've told you about before, Doug Fox, our science writer, and Barry James, the helicopter pilot, had to spend the night on the ice. It took a few days for the weather to improve, so they ended up staying on the ice for four days and three nights.

They're all back on the ship now and they're fine. Every time one of us takes a flight by helicopter, we have a survival bag. Those bags add a lot of weight, which means we can't take as much equipment as we would sometimes like. But those bags are the reason that everyone made it through. They had tents, stoves, food, and sleeping bags, as well as a survival manual. All three of the people on the ice have a lot of camping experience and their personal bags contained spare clothing and flashlights, even though they completely expected to be back on the ship the same night.

Greg, Doug, and Barry each ate one freeze-dried meal per day. They had fuel and a stove for melting water. In the Antarctic, water can be a big problem. You can't melt snow in your mouth for water because it takes too much energy, and your body needs that energy to keep itself warm. They all stayed calm and kept in contact with the ship via a satellite phone, and they cut blocks of ice to build a shelter to keep some of the wind and snow off the tents.