Saturday, January 30, 2010
CTD can go in the water:
While the CTD is in the water, a scientist sits at the computer and watches all the sensors. It's an important job, because that person is responsible for telling the winch operator how fast to go and when to stop, and for making sure that everything is working correctly, and for stopping the CTD to close the bottles at right the depths. While the CTD is in the water, everyone else is crowding around the CTD computer, asking to see this graph or that graph and arguing about where to sample water.
And do you know who is responsible for running the CTD? Me.
Well, it's me if it goes into the water between 8am and 8pm, otherwise it's done by Bruce Huber (my boss) or one of the electrical technicians on board. It's important enough that I'm going to do a few posts about the CTD. Next time I'll talk about the data that I get from the CTD, but for now we'll start with the basics. Here is my list of the top ten things you should remember if you ever find yourself running the CTD:
10. Ask questions! If you don't understand what to do, or how to do it, just ask someone who knows. Don't agree to do something if you don't understand why.
9. Remember to have fun. The job you're doing is pretty cool! Look at data from other CTD stations, make a hypothesis to explain what you're seeing, and try to understand what you're looking at.
8. Pay attention. It's not that your job is hard, it's that it requires a lot of concentration. No daydreaming! Conversations are okay, but you need to keep your eyes on the screen.
7. Go to the bathroom before you start. Once the CTD begins, you can't leave for even a minute.
6. Stay calm. Other people will get stressed as they try to figure out what they want you to do. That's okay. You can't control how other people react, but you can control yourself.
5. Take it slow. There is no prize for getting the job done a few minutes faster, and you're more likely to make a mistake if you hurry.
4. Be nice to your winch operator! He's the one who is really driving. If he does his job well, it makes you look good, so make it easy for him to do his job well.
3. Take very good notes. You think you'll remember little questions or comments that you had, but you won't.
2. Make sure you have good friends around. Sometimes Kim will bring me M&Ms, or Kathleen (my roomie and photographer extraordinaire) will go and find my mug of tea for me.
1. DON'T HIT THE BOTTOM. If you hit the seafloor, everyone will be really, really mad at you. You might break or lose the equipment, and it will take lots of time to fix. This is the worst thing that can happen to the CTD. So DON'T HIT THE BOTTOM.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Well, not quite. But it sure seemed that way as our tour guide spoke with a British accent and then invited us all for tea and biscuits. We were at Rothera Research Station, a part of the British Antarctic Survey and now a part of LARISSA.
Four out of our five glaciologists were out in the field when the weather got bad, so our helicopter couldn't pick them up. Instead, the plane from Rothera was able to get them, and they'll be working out of Rothera for the next two weeks. But they needed all of their supplies (including the AMIGOS!), so the ship went to meet them.
I was so excited to get off the ship at Rothera! Working at sea is fun, but it's great to stretch your legs on dry land. We got a tour of the area and saw penguins and seals. In addition to the tea and biscuits (cookies) and a game of football (soccer), we had a big party and all got to relax a bit.
Now we're heading back to the eastern side of the peninsula. We'll have a lot of work to do, but we're all hopeful that the ice will be better and we'll be able to get all the way south.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Geology is like a big puzzle. The area where we worked, Duthier's Point, was once covered by a glacier. Now it isn't. But when did that happen? How can we find out?
Greg was looking for rocks that would give us clues. Since I was his assistant, I was there to help him look for rocks but mainly for safety. Greg's work involves a lot of climbing up and down rocks, and it would be too risky to send one person off alone, especially in Antarctica.
In search of clues, we took a helicopter to Duthiers Point. I loved riding in the helicopter and seeing the glaciers and icebergs from above. The ship looked so small! Once we were on land, we started looking.
We were looking for rocks that didn't belong, called glacial erratics. When glaciers expand, they pick up rocks along the way and drop them in new places. It's pretty easy to spot them. In this case, they were quartz, which is much shinier and lighter than the rocks that we were standing on. The problem is that Greg needs glacial erratics that haven't been covered by snow. If the glacier retreated but then snow covered the rock, Greg's techniques for determining how long the rock had been exposed wouldn't help. The rock can't tell the difference between being covered by a glacier and covered by snow! So we needed to find a glacial erratic that was perched high up, not in a hole or or protected by other rocks.
We didn't find any good rocks at our first site, so we started climbing. We climbed. And climbed. We made it down 300 feet of rock until we were almost at the sea. As we climbed, I though about two things.
The first was the penguins. They were everywhere, perched only a few feet away from me. They had their babies on their feet and they were ridiculously cute. We're not supposed to approach them, but they didn't seem to care about us at all.
The second was memories of the last time I had done any climbing at all, which was about 8 years ago and was not nearly as challenging. Greg is an experienced climber; I am not. I was terrified, hanging on to the edges of slippery, crumbling rocks for dear life. But I kept going, because I hate to admit that I can't do things and because every time I turned around, I saw views that were more beautiful than ever.
When we made it to the bottom, we were in the middle of a penguin colony that now surrounds a GPS station. Greg had to check on the station, which transmits data to scientists back home. The penguins have now moved in all around it and continued to ignore us.
After spending some time with the penguins, we headed back up the cliff. The plan was to pick up any good rocks that we had spotted on the way down - but we hadn't found any! Climbing up is always much easier than climbing down. I think that's because you're not looking in the direction that you might soon be falling.
At the top of the cliff, I rested for a bit while Greg called the ship and asked them to send the helicopter to pick us up. While we were waiting, we wandered around a little more and there it was: the perfect glacial erratic, perched in an unprotected location. Greg tried to break it so that we could bring home a smaller, lighter piece, but it was too hard and he decided to keep the whole thing.
The helicopter came and took us back to the ship. I had another ride with a great view. When I got back, I quickly showered, ate dinner, and collapsed into my bunk.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
saw penguins up close! I had so much fun and learned so much that now all I
want to do is go to sleep.
I'm going to post all about the experience tomorrow when I'm well rested
and the feeling has returned to my toes. Until then, check out this
chinstrap penguin who posed for me!
Monday, January 18, 2010
We'd like to hear more about how you are spending your days and what kind of fun you are having! (Julio B really wants to know about the fun part). Oh, the fun we have! Here are some highlights:
- The lounge on this ship is awesome. There's a big screen TV, lots of movies (remember, we don't get TV channels), and really comfy chairs.
- I'm reading a book by my favorite author, Graham Greene. Every time I take a big trip, I buy myself one of his books. This way, I always have something to read to when I'm away from home that's new but that I'm sure I'll enjoy. This one is called The Human Factor and it's about a spy.
- It's been really fun getting to know so many people from different places. I especially like hearing stories from the sailors who've spent a long time in Antarctica.
- The cycling contest. There is a friendly competition going on to see who can bike the farthest (on a stationary bike, of course) in 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and an hour. I did my first 15 minutes yesterday! I made is 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles).
- We make everything in to a party! Ted Scambos needed some help with his AMIGOS. He needed to assemble a 120 m (that's almost 400 feet!) of wire with thermometers on it. So he invited everyone, made popcorn, put out bowls of M&Ms and almonds, and Terry Haran (another AMIGOS team member) played guitar! We had a singalong and got the work done.
- The crossword puzzle is a big deal out here. We get one from the New York Times every Sunday and print it out really big to hang in the hallway. I tried to do some, but the glaciologists are way out of my league! They finish it really fast.
- The ship is from New Orleans, so we're all about football. The captain sends out emails with score updates during the games, and will even call down from the bridge when it gets exciting!
- We watch for penguins, whales, and seals! It's great to see them up close. Watching the icebergs is also fascinating for me because they're so different from anything else I've ever seen.
- While we were working on the ice, we might have taken a few extra moments to build a snowman. And make snow angels. And have a snowball fight.
I wanted to tell you about a typical day at sea, but I don't think I've had one yet. Give me another week or two to settle into a routine. And now for the special guest! I have some questions from my three year old nephew, Noam (posted for him by my sister).
Who drives the boat? How? Can you post a picture of the driver? The boat is driven by Captain Joe, or by the mates on watch. They drive the boat by using controls on the bridge, which is the highest part of the boat.
I know you study the ocean, but how do you get to study the water if you're on a big boat and the water is down below? We have so many different ways! I put machines over the side of the ship into the water to collect data and samples of water that can be analyzed on board. We also use sonar to collect data about the seafloor. Sometimes we even collect mud from the seafloor and bring it on the ship.
Where do you sleep?
In a bunk bed. I have a very small room, which is okay with me because I'm used to living in a very small apartment. And my roommate, Kathleen, is great. She knows all about this ship and about Antarctica because she's been working here for 14 years.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I'm no biologist, but seeing so many beautiful animals has made me curious. So I've been doing a little reading and I'd like to share with you what I've learned about some of our favorite visitors, the Adelie penguins.This photo of the Adelies was taken a few days ago by Caroline Lavoie.
Adelies are only 30 inches tall and weigh about 11 pounds. But millions of years ago, there were penguins that stood 5 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds! They're not alive today, and I'm having trouble imagining them.
While many of us associate penguins with Antarctica, they're actually spread all over the Southern Hemisphere, with a few living right on the equator. There are seventeen species of penguins, but only Adelies and emperor penguins live exclusively in Antarctica.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
One source is sediment cores. "Sediment," in this case, means mud. A greenish-brownish oozy sort of mud that is currently stuck under my fingernails and in my hair. Some of that mud is 11,000 years old!
We spent most of the day getting a 4-meter long segment of mud from the seafloor and analyzing it. First, the core has to be described and photographed. Then we put some of the mud away so that we will have a record of the core. Remember those PVC pipes that I was slicing up with the bandsaw? Now we're using them!
We also took samples of the mud every 5 cm at put it into vials. The photo shows the places where we took the mud. After that, we put big syringes into the remaining mud so it could be studied too.
Everything is labeled very carefully so that when the samples are analyzed, we'll know exactly where they came from. Within a few days, we'll have a whole story of how the landscape in this part of Antarctica has changed over time. This core is deeper than any other in the area, so we'll be able to add to the story told by other cores and extend it back an additional
Friday, January 15, 2010
Diana asks: When you were walking on the ice was their any way it could have broken? What would you have done?
It's really unlikely. Sea ice is thick and stable, and there wasn't any wind blowing it around or strong current moving it. Also, we follow a lot of safety rules. I was on the ice with other people, I didn't go near the side of the ship where the ice had broken, and I wore a "float coat" the whole time. If I had fallen in, the float coat would have kept me on the surface until someone pulled me out.
Melissa asks: What animals have you seen so far? What do you eat at sea?
I have seen penguins, seals, whales, and birds. All of our food was loaded on the ship in Punta Arenas and we have good cooks on board. I just had oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. The cooks make these really enormous ice cream cakes for birthdays! I'm eating a lot of fruit because by our second month out here, it will all be gone. I've also eaten a rather large number of dark chocolate M&Ms.
Kiara asks: Have you started your research yet? If not, have you gotten bored?
There was a day or two where I was a little bored, but now I'm busy! I have started doing my research - both my science fair project and other work. I'll post some of my data soon. Today was kind of slow because we have bad weather, but it's nice to have a little break once in a while.
Isabella asks: Do you get along with everyone on board?
I do. You meet really interesting people at sea. I especially like going up on the bridge and talking to the captain.
Lewis asks: What are other scientists working on? That's a really big question! There are three main groups on board: geoscience, ecosystems, and ice/oceans (I'm in that last group). I'll try to explain what each group does in general and then give some specific examples.
Most of the geoscience people look at mud from the sea floor for clues about the history of Antarctica. Amy Leventer looks at ice cores to find out more about the history of the ice. Greg Balco looks at rocks to understand the history of glaciers. Ku Chul Yu looks at mud samples to understand the effects of tides and storms on ice shelves. Caroline Lavoie has a different type of job - she makes very detailed, accurate maps of the sea floor. Kim Roe filters seawater to collect the mud that is suspended in it, kind of like collecting the pulp from your orange juice, in order to determine the age and composition of the mud.
The ecosystems scientists study biology and the way that living things change. Maria Vernet studies microscopic plants in the water. David Honig looks at places where whales have died and fallen to the sea floor. It turns out that there are living things that can only survive on the bones of whales! Katrien Heirman, Dries Boone, and Lieven Naudts use an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to study all sorts of things on the sea floor. The ROV has a camera and lots of other equipment and is named Suzy.
The ice and ocean people are studying the physics of the area. Erin Pettit (the one who runs Girls on Ice) looks at how glaciers change over time. She keeps track of when they get bigger from snow falling on them or smaller from melting or having pieces break off. And of course you know that Ted Scambos and his team study icebergs and ice shelves with AMIGOS. Bruce Huber and I study the ocean currents and properties of the water like temperature and salinity.
Whew! That's a long list and its not even everyone!
Korayma asks: Have you seen penguins yet? What kinds?
Yes, and they really are that cute! I've seen adelie penguins (they're the ones in the photo) and possibly one emperor penguin.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Erin runs a program called Girls on Ice (http://girlsonice.org). Every year since 1999, she takes 9 teenage girls to Mt. Baker in Washington State for 11 days. The program is FREE and applications are available now at
http://girlsonice.org/apply. Those of you at DLMS are a little too young for the program, but I want you to start thinking about it now so that you'll be all set to apply in a few years. And tell your friends!
This isn't just about getting to visit somewhere new and beautiful with an awesome scientist. You'll learn how to study glaciers, how to climb glaciers, how to stay safe on glaciers, and you'll even work with an artist to learn how to draw glaciers. And don't worry: you don't need any experience, you don't need perfect grades, and you don't even need to be sure that you want to be a scientist. You just need to be interested in learning more about the earth and in challenging yourself.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I've been thinking about his story because we're working in the same area that he sailed, and we also have an unusually icy year. But unlike Shackleton, we have helicopters, satellite pictures of the ice, and reliable communication with land. We're also in a much bigger and safer ship!
I took that photo from the bridge of the ship (the bridge is like the cockpit of an airplane). You can see that the ship is entering the ice. We can break through the ice, but we can't go all that quickly. We sent a helicopter to check on the ice ahead of us and determined that it gets thicker further south and we can't get through. So we've done what Shackleton couldn't: we turned around and we'll be exploring the western side of the Antarctic peninsula instead of the eastern side.
In a few weeks, we'll try again to reach our original goal on the eastern side of the peninsula. Until then, we're going to do the best research that we can on the western side. We have a ship full of great scientists and equipment, so you can bet that we're not going to waste our time complaining about what we can't change. We've been working together to plan some cool projects on the ice-free western side. I'll start gathering data tonight and should be able to post some of my results soon.
Monday, January 11, 2010
When I took that photo, I was standing on 3 inches of snow over about 3 feet of ice over some 2000 feet of water. You can see the ship and the returning helicopter!
In the Q & A post, I showed a photo of an iceberg. That ice came from water vapor in the atmosphere which formed snow or rain and landed on an ice shelf or glacier. The ice then broke off into the ocean.
The ice under the snow in this picture is completely different. It came from the ocean! When seawater freezes, it forms sea ice that floats on the surface of the water. The ice crystals push the salt out in to little pockets between the crystals. Over time, the salt drains out leaving fresh ice behind. The ice we were on is called fast ice, because it is attached ("made fast" in sailing terms) to the ice shelf.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The area that we'll be visiting used to be a huge ice shelf, called Larsen B. It collapsed 2002, losing 3320 square kilometers (1,282 square miles) of ice. One of the goals of this research cruise is to figure out how that happened and what it means for the rest of the area. Only a small piece of Larsen B, the Scar Inlet Shelf, remains.
Before this cruise, Ted and his team tested the hypothesis that when there is a lot of water sitting on an ice shelf, it works its way down into cracks in the ice and causes the ice shelf to break apart. Normally, the pressure of the ice is enough to keep small cracks from growing. But this time, there was so much water that the cracks were pushed all the way open and the ice sheet broke apart.
How did he test this hypothesis? With AMIGOS! AMIGOS are machines that keep track of their location, the temperature of the air around them, and the thickness of the ice underneath them. They even take photos and send all of this information back to Ted. Ted put AMIGOS out on icebergs and saw that there was a lot of melted water on the icebergs right before they came apart. Their temperature was near the freezing point of water, which is very warm for an iceberg. These results were consistent with the hypothesis that water on the ice causes them to break apart.
But to get stronger proof, Ted is putting newer, better AMIGOS on the Scar Inlet shelf to see exactly what happens. If the hypothesis is correct, they should see more and more melted water on the surface of the ice before it breaks apart. Here is a picture of an AMIGOS on an iceberg, and one of Ted working on a thermometer for one of the new AMIGOS. Just so you know, he isn't only interested in how icebergs and ice shelves break apart. He's also monitoring what happens to glaciers after the ice shelves around them are gone, but we'll cover that in another post.
(Photo originally published in Journal of Glaciology, reproduced with
permission of the author)
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Richard: What is the break down on crew versus scientists on board?
The breakdown is actually between science, Raytheon, and Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO). ECO is responsible for running the ship and Raytheon is responsible for assisting science in labs and on the deck. We have 29 science, 14 Raytheon, and 23 ECO.
Nancy: What a wonderful, interesting set of pictures. They make me feel as if I am there with you on your ship. Did you have to do anything special to clean off the PVC pieces? Was it the first time you took samples of mud from the seafloor?
Thanks. We actually tried vacuuming each other to get the PVC off, but it didn't work. The stuff finally came off when we walked down the very windy dock to the ship. And yes, this will be the first time that I help sample mud from the seafloor.
Erik: Good Day Mrs. T, I envy you, your cruise to Antarctica. I am a semi-retired yacht captain working ashore, so would love to follow your research. You said you are studying ocean currents. What is your background?
Your job sounds pretty cool too! I'm a doctoral candidate in ocean and climate physics. Most of my background is in the tropics, so this cold weather stuff is all new to me. I use equipment called Lowered Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (LADCPs) to measure ocean velocity using sound. I'll post more about the mechanics of that later on. Where did you sail as a yacht captain?
RW: Found you through the Happiness Project. I cannot believe you are going to Antarctica. When my children were just little we watched a documentary about such a vessel. And we have read a Madeleine L'Engle book about such a trip. I am super excited to have discovered your blog.
First, major thanks to the happiness project and Gretchen Rubin for promoting my blog. And thank you for reminding me about the Madeleine L'Engle book! I have a signed, hard cover copy of that book somewhere in my mother's house and I highly recommend it.
RW: Hope the waters have settled for you. How long before you reach your destination?
Funny you should mention it. The waters have settled, but the pack ice is too thick to move through. We're turning around and trying a different route to the Larsen B ice shelf. Our best guess is a few days, but we just don't know.
In case you're wondering, I took that photo yesterday from the bridge. A post all about icebergs will be coming soon!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Boats, like airplanes, can move in three ways: roll, pitch, and yaw. Roll is when the while ship moves port and starboard (left
and right). Pitch is when the ship moves forward and aft (front and back), which I think feels much worse. Yaw is when the boat points in different directions. That one isn't usually a big deal, because the captain keeps the boat going straight. But if the boat were spinning in circles, that would probably be enough to make everyone dizzy.
This is what it looked like when we left port:
I'm sorry I couldn't get any pictures of the rough seas for you - it looked awesome from the windows - but I wasn't feeling well enough to go outside with my camera. Here is a map of our current position:
Once we passed the tip of South America, we were no longer sheltered by land. That meant we got the full force of the Drake Passage, which is the roughest water in the world!
Monday, January 4, 2010
(Photo copyright Kathleen Gavahan)
Yes, those are helicopters. We'll be doing helicopter operations over the ice and over the water once we're further south. You can see how well they're secured to the hangar! There are only a few inches between the blades and the walls.
The helicopter pilots let me wear a flight helmet and sit inside! I loved it, and I can't wait to fly in one. The flight helmet that I'm wearing will let me communicate with the pilot and other passengers by radio, since it will be too loud for conversation. And just so you know, those highly fashionable overalls I'm wearing are part of my clothing issue while I'm in Antarctica.
That's the Antarctic peninsula, just south of the tip of South America. The rainbow colors indicate the depth of the water in places that the ship has been. The pictures taped to the big map are recent images of the ice in that area. I don't know very much about ice (yet!), but I can tell you that it's very icy out there.
Once we leave port, we'll be doing a lot of complicated science. But we have to think about safety on the ship, and we'll be crossing some rough water. Here is a piece of equipment that I will need once we're working:
It's a battery charger and it's very heavy. When the ship moves, it could fall off the table and break or hit something. So before we leave port, everything gets tied down. That's where the simple machines come in! See the metal circle to the right of the charger? That's an eye hook. To get it into the table, I drilled a hole and screwed it in. But it was too hard to tighten with just my hands, so I used a lever.
I know that it's just a screwdriver, and I'm not even using it right! I apply effort to the handle, the part of the eye hook closest to the effort acts as the fulcrum, and the other side of the eye hook is the load.
Once I have an eye hook on either side of charger, I still need to use rope to tie it down. But I can't get the rope tight enough! Luckily, I can use a pulley to gain a mechanical advantage:
How is this a pulley system? I'm going to use the eye hook as my fixed pulley and that loop in the rope as my moveable pulley. And there is is, all tied down and safe:
And here you can see the pulley loop (formed by a knot called a trucker's hitch) and how the remaining rope is attached to the eye hook (using two half-hitches).
We sail at 1500 today! That's 3pm for you land-based types.
Friday, January 1, 2010
See the floor where people are standing?
They attach the crane to floor...
And lift it right up! The space you see underneath is called the hold:
Then the container is attached the crane and guided in:
Here it is sitting in the hold:
And here it is in place so that there's room for another container next to it!
That's all for now. We plan to set sail tomorrow, January 2nd, at 1pm. FYI, I won't be able to post as many pictures once we're at sea, which I think is why I posted so many this time.