Archive for the ‘Drake Passage’ Category

As well as the CTD work I’m involved in and the WAGES work with buoys and balloons there is one other science team on board. They are from the National Oceanography Centre Liverpool, linked with Southampton. They are here to deploy and recover bottom pressure recorders. These are dropped over the side of the ship and sink to the bottom. They sit on the bottom for a year or more gathering data. When we come along to collect them an acoustic signal is sent out to ‘wake up’ the bottom pressure recorder, allowing the bottom pressure recorder to ‘talk’ to the ship. Then a signal is sent to make the bottom pressure recorder release from the bottom, by leaving a heavy frame behind, and float up to the surface. The bottom pressure recorder is then recovered back on board. As the instrument has been on the sea bed for at least a year some of the local wildlife is often brought back up with it! As you can expect, being brought up to the surface from around 1000 m depth is not a good idea.
Here are some of the specimins we found:

As I’m not biologically inclined I won’t many any attempts to identify them!

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Yesterday we let Pudsey go for a ride on the WAGES spar buoy, which sits behind the boat measuring wave motion. He seemed to enjoy it and came back dry!

Then he wanted to go up with the WAGES balloon. This is designed to take photos of the sea surface to allow them to evaluate how much white capping (white horses) there is.

As we get closer to Antarctica there has been an increase in the number of penguins we are spotting. Most of these are Chinstraps, which are constantly yelling for their friends making them easy to spot. It seems odd seeing these birds so far from land in the middle of nowhere, often on their own, but they look happy!

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Flying Penguins

So I have now completed my first proper watch and I just about feel like I know what I am doing. We did two CTD dips,  the first – a deep test dip to 2300 m – took almost 3 hours. I have done as much of the data processing as possible for the test dips and plotted up some of the data from the deep dip, I will post some of the plots I have produced later.

As we were putting the CTD into the water at about 9.30 am a Hercules Fighter Jet flew past, detouring to see what we were up to. It isn’t the only thing we have had flying round us. There is constantly a crowd of birds gliding above our wake, occasionally swooping alongside, almost daring each other to see who can fly closest without losing a wing tip. These birds are not like any I have seen before. Initially they were almost all giant petrols with wingspans well over a metre, they look like big ducks when they sit on the water as we complete the stations. Most of the giant petrols are black, though they fade as they get elderly. Due to lack of predators these birds can live for about 30 years.  They have Dodo-like beaks and look pretty prehistoric. Through the day the species have been changing, or I have started looking better – there isn’t much else outside the boat! My favourites are Cape Petrols, which look like flying penguins with speckled black and white wings. They are one of the smallest around, though they are probably bigger than British seagulls. Storm petrols look like swifts, gliding along dancing on the waves, confusingly the Black Bellied Storm Petrol has a distinctive white underside.

As my watch finished there were lots of Black Browed Albatrosses – the biggest birds I have ever seen, they can have wingspans of over 3 m. Wandering Albatross, Grey Headed Albatross and the occasional Royal Albatross have also been spotted, though I am still unsure of the differences between the Wandering and Royal varieties – something to do with the tail colour, and one sometimes has a pink blush on the sides of its head. We have bird identification books and binoculars in the lab, which has large windows giving brilliant views of the stern of the ship.

Photos on their way….

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Pudsey’s Adventure

Today we left the Falkland Islands; we are now sitting about 2 km offshore with a buoy monitoring wave motion out on a 100 m tether. We are staying put until midnight.

When we arrived here, our first station, we performed a test ‘dip’. The CTD was lowered through 45 m of the 54 m water column, sampling water properties on the way. At the bottom we ‘fired’ some Niskin bottles to collect samples of the water. We fired a few more on the way back up. Once the CTD was brought back onto the deck we take samples from the Niskin bottles to test the salinity so we can calibrate the readings taken on the way down. Then we start to process the data collected by the CTD, I’ll talk about this in more details once I fully understand what I am doing! This first station took the CTD down to 45 m below the sea surface, at later stations we will be lowering it to around 4000 m depth. The purpose of this first station was to ensure everything was working and we know what we are doing.

One of the scientists has brought a Pudsey bear along for the adventure. Today Pudsey’s adventure was to go diving! He was attached to the CTD and lowered down to 45 m, luckily we paused on the way back up to fire some Niskin Bottles allowing Pudsey decompression time. Pudsey surfaced happily, but has had to spend the rest of the day tied up outside to dry off!
The rest of the day has been used by the WAGES science team to do some short fetch work – see frictionvelocity for what they have been up to. As soon as we arrived they deployed a long thin buoy over the side on a 100 m tether. They have tried to launch a balloon above the buoy to take photos of the sea surface, the photos are used to monitor the white waves. There was also an altimeter (recording height of the balloon) attached to the balloon, but this went for a swim after the second balloon launch. They did get some photos back, including a few underwater shots.

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We have unloosed the hawsers, drawn in the anchor and set sail across the wine dark sea…

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As well as reading this blog there are some other ways to keep up-to-date with the RSS James Clark Ross during my cruise.

The National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton (NOCS) science team (my one):
The Waves, Aerosols and Gas Exchange (WAGE) team:

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This afternoon I have started packing, or making a pile of everything I think might be useful. This currently includes a swimming costume, lots of university work and a fleecy rainbow hat. I have 54 kg of baggage allowance, if I use it all I don’t think I’ll be able to get to the airport!

RRS James Clark Ross in pack ice, in Marguerite Bay, close to Rothera research station. The mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula are in the background.

When I tell people I am going to Antarctica they usually have a lots of questions to ask. I have already cover ‘why?’ (Going to see the penguins) and ‘what will you do there?’ (spider on board). Here are the answers to a few other frequently asked questions:

Q. Will you see many Polar Bear?

A. None, Polar Bears live in the Arctic. I will have to make do with penguins 🙂

Q. Have you packed enough warm clothes?

A. I hope so! The same time last year (mid November to mid December) the temperature were generally much higher in the Southern Ocean than they were in th UK. The mean monthly temperature for December at Rothera Research Base, the most southerly point I will go, is above freezing. The mean minimum temperature for Durham in the same month is only a few degrees higher.

Q. Will you see the midnight sun?

Probably! Rothera research base is within the Antarctic Circle and so experiences 24 hour sunlight for part of the summer. I’m not yet sure if it will be when I am there.

Q. Will you see the Southern Lights?

A. The Southern Lights (or aurora australis) are usually seen only during the Antarctic winter, March to September. In the summer the pole experiences constant daylight so the aurora cannot be seen.

Q. Are you looking forward to seeing water going the other way around the plug?

A. Actually the way that the water goes around a plughole is controlled by the shape of the sink. It doesn’t go the other way in the Southern Hemisphere. Large ocean currents flowing around the ocean basins (called gyres) do spin opposite directions due to the Coriolis Force, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and anticlockwise South of the equator. This force is too weak to impact small scale motion. If the sink was reeeeeeally big then the spin of the water would act like in the oceans – click here if you don’t believe me or want to know more.

Q. Can you bring me back a penguin?

A. No, and asking again later won’t change my mind

Q. Where will you sleep?

A. On the boat! It will take about a week to cross the Drake Passage.

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