Tuesday, March 17, 2009


We are almost home or, better put, in Punta Arenas, Chile, after almost 4 days of crossing the Drake passage. I must say it was not the most pleasant of the crossings. A couple of nights ago most of us could not sleep at all with the ship shaking and bouncing against the waves. It was the worst night of the whole cruise and certainly this was the roughest crossing among all the three cruises we had down here in the past year.

If you look at the map below you can see that we are only a few ten miles from the tip of South America and a few hundred miles from Punta Arenas. People aboard are starting to get excited to get ashore again, go for a drink at O’li Joes or simply walk around and go for a dinner somewhere. We are scheduled to arrive in PA at 5:00 pm today but will only be allowed onshore after clearing customs with the Chilean Officers.

The map above also shows the whole Ship track during our FOODBANCS-3 cruise. It was quite a long way down to 68 degrees south at our furthest station G and back, passing through all those tiny islands, sounds and channels at the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, close to James Ross Island in the Weddell Sea and to the King George Islands in the North. It was definitely another memorable trip! We come back home again with hundreds of amazing pictures and new experiences from this still extreme and remote place that is the Antarctic continent.

This afternoon after a meeting in the lounge for instructions about traveling affairs and hotel accommodations in PA we had a break for a team picture with all our science groups from University of Hawaii and North Carolina State University and from our extremely helpful friends from Raytheon Polar services. That must be the last opportunity when we are all together since this is the end of our journey. Yes, FOODBANC-3 project is over. Or at least the fieldwork part is over. Now we have tons of samples to bring back to our labs to start a massive routine of analyzing and interpreting data. We hope to be back once in a while and share with you some our preliminary results. Some of those answers about how marine communities are responding to climate warming will be found in here. Stay tuned! ALOHA! And see you all back in Hawaii.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Good morning everyone!
All right! All the science work is over and only packing and shiping plans are ahead of us now. After another scary experience at Station B, where we almost lost the Blake trawl when it fouled on a rock outcrop on the seafloor, we headed to Palmer station for night of rest in sheltered waters. We also, of course, had to get ready for our traditional cruise celebration party with the folks at the base. Another night of fun and joy. We deserved it after three weeks of intense work aboard the Lawrence Gould.

The next morning, we headed off to James Ross Island to retrieve the field camp of our paleontologist colleagues. The mission was somewhat delayed by the extreme low tide that made it difficult for the Zodiac inflatable boats to approach close to shore. However, 4.5 hour later we had packed up the camp, still within the programmed schedule. But we could not leave before our now traditional soccer match took place. Guillermo, our Chilean able seamen, showed us why South Americans love this sport, showing us some tricks and scoring most of the goals. An odd event occurred during the match when our beloved PI’s competed for the ball. Result: Craig
wearing his modest running shoes got himself a 2.5-inch bloody gash after Dave, our PI from NCSU, caught him in the shin with a steel boot. Not on purpose of course. Yuuhhf! That must hurt! Yes, soccer is a tough sport indeed! Craig played on and is doing fine.

As we steamed north and passed through a narrow passage south of Vega Channel, we had an amazingly beautiful night with icebergs and “bergy bits” crowding the ship. It was a real challenge for the ship pilot to drive through the bergs without hitting them. It was actually impossible and many bergs were bumped and shoved aside, with many chunks of ice tumbling onto the back deck. There was a full moon ¾ above the horizon that sometimes could be confused with the giant and potent front lights of the ship, illuminating the best leads through the ice. Half way down the channel, we forced to turn back because the channel was clogged more and more and we had slowed down to only 1.5 knots! But there all roads lead to Rome, a poet once said. So I guess the same for us here. We were a bit delayed but made it by going around the other side of Jame Ross Island.

The next morning (as presaged by the gorgeous starry sky the night before) was the most beautiful of the whole cruise. When we arrived at Cockburn, a tiny island near the larger James Ross, we almost could not believe how clear the skies were, and the waters as calm as an empty swimming pool.

The light was perfect for photography. And here they are, just for your delight! The paleontologist group and a few lucky guests were allowed onshore for the last opportunity to find those rare mammal fossils. We also show here some of their best shots of the day.

Today is Friday the thirteenth and, coincidence or not, we have to deal once again with a MedEvac (Medical Evacuation) operation. As you might remember, if you have been following us from the beginning of our adventures, we almost had to quit our science work half way through
because of a medical emergency at Palmer Station. However, that person was safely evacuated by airplane from Palmer to Frei Station (Chilean Antarctic base), and then back to Punta Arenas in Chile. Therefore, we did not have to head north on a rescue mission. But this time, a person aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer (the other US Antarctic Research Vessel and Ice Breaker) needing urgent medical assistance. The Palmer has just started its science expedition steaming south, so now it is our duty to bring this person safely back to Chile. He is doing fine but will definitely be better off when specific and proper medical treatment will be available back in Chile.

That is just an example of how things can go bad when working in such an isolated place as Antarctica, far from advanced medical facilities. Communication and collaboration is essential among all the research groups of all nationalities. This makes Antarctica a unique place to work.

I guess this is all for now. We will catch up with you guys later with news from our crossing of the Drake Passage. Rough seas of 16-18 feet are predicting, although we no wind, heavy fog and a long swell rolling in from the west. We had hope our washing machine days were over with a
smooth crossing ahead, but that looks unlikely! ALOHA for now!

Monday, March 9, 2009


Hi there my friends! We are sorry we did not make any contact earlier at the end of last week, but the awful weather has been putting us down for quite a while. We finished all the work at station AA and we are close to being done with station B as well, with only a few Otter trawls left.
However, a 2 to 3-day break in our science work operations took place due to extremely rough weather conditions. The winds have been blowing at an unpleasant 45-55 Knots for quite a while and the huge waves outside insist on keeping us from sleeping or being motivated to do anything. It seems like we are inside a washing machine that’s spinning at maximum speed. A few of our science crowd members have taken shelter in their bunk beds for quite a while just waiting for the calming of the waters outside so they can come out again.

This morning we had a small weather window during which the winds dropped to 15-20 knots, allowing us to recover a drifter particle trap that Andrew McDonnell deployed a few days earlier when we arrived at Station B. Andrew hitched a ride with us on this cruise in the FOODBANCS2 project series to conduct a few experiments in conjunction with Dr. DeMaster and to deploy a set of oceanographic instruments to study some water column processes in the Antarctic ocean. He is a PhD student at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts supervised by Ken Buesseler, an expert in carbon flux in the oceans. Among his experiments, he deploys an in-situ water pump to filter massive amounts of seawater at pre-determined depths and also a video-plankton recorder (VPR), which identifies particles and zooplankton in the water column from the euphotic zone (upper well light surface waters) to the twilight zone at deeper ocean depths.

We have simply been “hanging out” for last two days to remain near Andrew’s trap because the rough weather made all the operations on the back deck unsafe. Meanwhile on the bridge the captain, first and second mates have been steering the ship what they call ‘weather patterns’ which consists transiting back and forth, upwind and then downwind, along a five mile line to remain near the drifter.

We are almost done with our science work and are hoping for better weather to come. The forecast is not so great for tomorrow, so we might have to cope with the bouncing for a little while more. These are the days that I miss Hawaii the most. All the sun, surfing and the experience of a solid and firm ground. But better stop dreaming for now; Craig is calling me on the radio: “…station B, here we are again”. So let’s try to do some work.
See you later! Aloha!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Station AA

Hi folks! We are back with a brief message about the last couple of days.
The weather has been helping a lot, with calm seas and ‘warm’ temperatures of 1 degree Celsius above zero.

You will find bellow a few more samples of the sea creatures we collected from the bottom of the ocean at the Antarctic Peninsula shelf. These were collected with the Otter trawl. Here, at the northern stations (AA and later on at B) of our transect, we use the Otter trawl instead of the
Blake trawl since we have smaller amounts or barely any rocks on the sea floor. The Otter trawl works better in the muddy bottoms we find here, and efficiently collects a great diversity of life forms from the sea bottom.

Take a look at those; while some people might think they are scary others will simply just fall in love with!

We finished our work at station AA and have 14 hours of transit to station B where the science work for the last FOODBANCS-2 cruise will be finished. After that we have to stop at Palmer station and later on recover the field camp base at James Ross Island. We come back soon with news from station B.

Monday, March 2, 2009


As promised we are back with revelations about our last challenges at station G and also with news from our fantastic success at station E.

So let’s first start from the exact point we left you guys last time. It was 7:00 am when the first epi-benthic sled sample came on board at station G. The whole deployment took about 2.5 hours to be completed since we have to wire out three times as much cable as the actual water depth. We are surveying roughly at 600 m deep in the Antarctic shelf so we need at least 1800 m of cable to drag the epi-benthic sled over the sea bottom.

Anyhow, there were some bets put off in the white board in the O-1 deck about the success or fail of our first sled tow. A few people were not very trustful in the proper functioning of the sled, betting the small and delicate collector net inside the sled frame would come back to surface torn apart. I put my bets on a complete successful deployment, which turned out to be the actual outcome. The result was then tons of species to sort, with potentially new records to science; but not only that, I got also 18 free beers, since together with Victor and Joseph we were the ones who bet in a 100 % success recovery. Plus I know how Dave (one of our PI’s from North Carolina State University) is very good at ‘maneuvering’ all the gear over the sea floor, using all the information available about the ship speed, the tension on the cable, and of course a good communication with the our pilots on the bridge.

The epi-benthic sled represents a historical mark in the deep-se benthic studies, since his first developers completely changed our view about life in the deep-ocean. After sled samples were collected for the first time in the late 60’s, the deep-sea was mostly viewed as a hostile environment that could not bear a great deal of biological diversity. Darkness, extreme cold temperatures and hydrostatic pressure were thought to be great barriers for life to develop. However, after the sled samples were sorted and hundreds and hundreds of new invertebrate species were found, this general idea about a diversity-poor deep ocean floor started to vanish.

And here we show you a little sample about why the deep-sea is today considered one of the most biodiverse biomes in the planet. The sled sample we collected at station G came packed with life, with hundreds of specimens of isopods, amphipods, (little crustaceans) polychaetes(segmented worms) and mollusks. See in the pictures below:

" Professor Thomas Dahlgren of University of Gotemburg and myself: sorting the animals at the microscope room"

“Annelid worm from the family Nepthydae”

“Annelid worm from the family Hesyonidae”

“Annelid worm from the family Paraonid”

“Annelid worms from the families Sigalionidae and Polynoidae”

We had another 12-hour transit from station G to E, further north, stopping shortly at station F for a yo-yo camera and also an epi-benthic sled tow. It took us less then 2 complete days to finish all the work at E; much faster then the previous two stations, which took us 4 days in
each to complete all the sampling. Extremely good news is that our camera system is now operating with a new bottom switch contact system and taking very good pictures of the sea floor.

“Sample of a sea floor photograph take at station G”

That’s it for now. We will come back later with our next adventures further north at stations B and AA. ALOHA folks!

Friday, February 27, 2009


Hi there folks!

We are reporting now from 68o 08.4’ South and 71o 2.01’ West at the southern end of our sampling transect. It is now 4:30 am and the weather has calmed down for the last 12 hours after almost a day and a half of high seas and 30-35 knot winds. It was hard to sleep last night (I mean yesterday since I sleep during the day and work during the night) because of the 18-feet waves bouncing against the ship and turning our beds into frenetic cradles. Anyway, we were finally able to deploy the megacore after a whole day of only fishing with the Blake trawl.
It has been busy and only between gear deployments can I write a few words about what has been happening in the past few days, and also about some unfortunate events we have had at station G. But, before I start telling you about all the happenings of station G, I must say we are starting to get physically tired. After almost two complete sampling stations and a full adaptation to our 12-hour shift schedules, a few cramped muscles and soar backs are found among our relentless oceanography group. A busy shift doing invertebrate dissections or an almost 12-hour period enclosed inside the freezing aquarium room slicing cores for ATP (to measure sediment microbial biomass and activity) can give the toughest athlete a hard time on the joints and back. But we all get used to it after a while and all we need is some time for stretching.

Well, here goes the first setback: we lost our precious box core yesterday! When I woke up two nights ago and went for the midrats (meal served at 11:30 at night) in the galley, the murmur around every table was about the box core and its unfortunate fate. Everyone was shocked and frustrated with the episode since this piece of equipment is important to many of the project’s objectives. The heavy (0.5 ton) box-core did not come back to the surface at all. Jack, the marine tech in the back deck, was a bit surprised not see a box full of mud attached to the wire when it was pulled out of the water through the aft A-frame. People in the E-lab monitoring the computers and the tensiometer noticed pulses of high tension on the wire right after the box-core left the bottom when it was about 1.5 meters off the seafloor. We all suspect that a big rock was the culprit. The box core caught under a big rock when it was pulling out of the sediment causing a lot of tension in the cable and inevitably resulting in the wire breaking. After a few hours of dealing with the loss, the PI’s were already figuring out ways to replace the box core
samples with adapted samples from the megacore. A few incubation experiments will now be conducted using the smaller megacore tubes with a few adaptations that may actually allow them to work. In terms of describing the benthic invertebrate biodiversity of this section of the
Antarctic peninsula, we have probably already collected enough large box core samples from the past two (summer and winter) cruises.

Another drawback was of course the weather that I already mentioned, putting us a little behind of the schedule. But also the bottom camera gave us a hard time insisting on alfunctioning while operating in the yo-yo mode. We spent almost 6 hours with the camera on-deck, ready to deploy, with the electronic technicians working hard to figure out what wasn’t working properly. First it was the bottom contact switch that is supposed to trigger every time the camera is a certain distance away from the sea floor.. Next it was the strobe light that was not firing and then it was the battery inside the camera housing receiving an alternating voltage. Well, we have decided to take a break for now, we still have the epibenthic sled to deploy that may itself represent another challenge and we cannot afford to lose more time since we need to move on to the other stations.

A bright star in the middle of the storm was, at least, the successful recovery of our sediment trap. The trap was deployed during our last summer cruise (Feb 2008) with the aim of collecting sinking particles from the water column that will tell us a lot about seasonal changes in the food-supply for the organisms we are studying in the deep-sea bed of the Antarctic shelf. The trap has a set of 21 jars attached to a large collector funnel that rotates at pre-set time intervals to capture the differences (quantity and quality) in the ‘rain’ of organic particles over time from the surface ocean. The trap was moored about 150 m above the sea bottom and came back to the surface yesterday with help of a line of glass floats and an acoustic release system that dropped the weight holding the trap mooring at the seafloor.

We will be back with news of our next sampling station and I promise I will also tell you what the outcome was for the epibenthic sled sample. It is the first time we are deploying it during this FOODBANCS-2 project. We expect to collect animals that were not previously collected with all the other gear.

See you later…Aloha!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


We arrived at station B around 3 p.m of last Thursday where our sampling activities started. The scheduled activities were to recover the time-lapse camera free-vehicle system and to deploy a couple of box cores and one megacore sample cast. All successfully accomplished!
The retrieval of the mooring line with the camera tripod attached to it was successful and relatively fast. It took less than 2.5 hours to locate (using the transponder and strobe light attached to the top of the mooring mast) and to put the heavy (0.5 ton) free-vehicle assembly back on the ship’s back deck. The anxiety to see the results of this seven-month experiment was evident in most of our team member’s expressions. Soon after the camera was retrieved, Craig and most of the crew were back in the E-lab to download the pictures from the camera and quickly back up all the data files into hard drives avoiding the loss of such precious scientific research material. A quick scan of all the pictures revealed that the mission was successfully accomplished. High-resolution photographs were taken at 12 hour intervals revealing megafaunal behavior on the sea-floor over the food-poor Antarctic winter. However, a failure in the system was noticed after the 4-month period from the start of the deployment. For some reason that is still baffling all the electronic technicians aboard, the camera stopped shooting after November 30 leading to a two-month gap in the dataset. Not too bad considering we have captured of the most important four months of the the intended 7-month seasonal period.

Since the camera is now not operating in a satisfactory way to conduct the yo-yo surveying transects, we had to change our programmatic plans of going to station AA and rather steam further south to retrieve our second camera tripod, deployed last winter at station G. Once we recover an operating camera, we can continue performing the photographic transects in which we collect bottom photographs at an average 20-second intervals and along kilometer long transects across the seafloor.

But before going all the way south to Station G we had first to stop at Station F since sediment incubation experiments were still not completed and Rebecca, our colleague from North Carolina State University, had to finish experiments from Station B before arriving at G, to make room in
the cold van (an actual shiping container adapted to be a cold room with temperatures set to ideal conditions for deep-sea animals). (Look at our site map at the top right side of the blog page menu bar, which indicates the position of all 5 oceanographic stations we are surveying in the
Western Antarctic Peninsula).

Last night we retrieved the first Blake trawl, which kept our colleagues busy for quite a while in the aquarium room sorting the catch and separating the animals for tissue dissections.. The Blake trawl scrapes along the seafloor and came up full of mud and our dear friend Protoelpidia (kindly named ‘Sea Pig’ due to its surprising resemblance to the terrestrial mammal), tubiculous polychaetes, and isopods.
We had a busy night also with the megacoring activity going on in parallel on the back deck, which also kept a few members of our group occupied for many hours slicing sediment cores to collect macro-invertebrates and sedimentary microbial biomass.
We will be back with news from our next activities onboard the R/V L.M. Gould and the outcomes of our sampling stations E, F, B and AA.