Sunday, August 10, 2008


NBP08-08 Weekly Science Report – 3 August 2008

"The third and final week of our winter cruise for the FOODBANCS2 Project (in which we are studying the effects of sea-ice loss due to climate change on pelagic-benthic coupling) has been extremely productive and successful. After completing sampling at our fourth primary station (AA, west of Deception Island at 63o 3’S, 61o 36’W) we had a 14 hour transit to Station B, west of Anvers Island (at 64o 48’S, 65o 21’W). There we experienced the first rough weather of the cruise (24 hours of winds at 30-45 knots, and seas of 12-16 feet), but still completed our full station sampling program within 52 hours (6 megacores, 1 box core, 2 otter trawls, 2 tucker trawls, on Blake trawl, two yoyo camera tow, 1 kasten core, one plankton two and one CTD). We also deployed our final time-lapse camera mooring, placing the digital camera on the seafloor at 600 m depths, where is will photograph 3 square meters of seafloor every 12 hours for the next seven months. Because of unexpectedly calm weather (winds below 10 knots for most of the first two weeks on station) and extraordinary hard work from all science, Raytheon and ECO personnel, we were able to complete work at the primary stations along our latitudinal transect (ranging from 63 to 68 S) 36 h early. This allowed us to make a brief visit to Potter Cove on King George Island, and to extend our latitudinal transect to the north, by adding Station N (for “North”) west of Elephant Island at 61 12.0’S, 56 14.6’W. Locating a suitable 600-m deep site for Station N was more difficult than anticipated because the first site we selected, based on mulibeam and Kudsen sonar surveys, was revealed by a camera tow to be paved with cobbles and peppered with boulder-sized drop stones. After additional unsuccessful surveying near King George Island, we located sediment covered continental shelf at 600-m depths 30 miles west of Elephant Island at 61 12.0’S, 56 14.6’W. Neptune allowed is to sample this site for about 16 hours during which we conducted a camera tow, and collected three megacores, 1 box core, 1 Kasten core, a CTD and a Blake trawl. The wind then accelerated to 30-40 knots from the south, bringing high seas and low temperatures (with a wind chill of -35 C), shutting down sampling operations until we had to begin our transit north to Punta Arenas at 0200 h on August 1st. Our transit across the Drake Passage was very smooth, although we hit a bit of rough weather and high head winds (up to 55 knots) along the Atlantic coast of Argentina. We expect to arrive in port in Punta Arenas on time at 0800 h on August 4th.

In summary, our cruise was extraordinarily successful; we have completed our full sampling program from 68 to 63 S along the Antarctic Peninsula, and extended the latitudinal range of our data to Station N at 61 S, providing us with a transect ranging >400 miles from south to north. We conducted a total of 114 field operations (cores, trawls, CTDs, net and camera tows, etc.), averaging 9 operations per day while on station. We also completed 28 core incubations to examine benthic chemical fluxes and labeled phytodetritus uptake by infaunal benthos at all of our primary stations. This remarkable success most be ascribed to excellent weather conditions during most of the cruise, and the remarkable energy, enthusiasm and skill of Raytheon, ECO and scientific personnel.

We thus approach Punta Arenas fatigued but in excellent spirits, having experienced the many faces of the Antarctic Peninsula, from moonlit nights in the sea ice in Marguerite Bay, to gales on the edge of Drake near Elephant Island. We look forward to processing our samples when we get ashore to explore how annual sea-ice duration and climate change along our latitudinal transect influence pelagic-benthic coupling in this remarkable marine ecosystem."

Craig R. Smith, Chief Scientist

Friday, August 8, 2008

It is Christmas time down here!!

posted by Roy Arezzo and F. De Leo

Like so many other special moments at sea with the FOODBANCS2 team, today’s events are difficult to articulate in words. I leave you with a short passage and a few select images.

Neptune and his family of gardians. Sentence: "guilty!"

A time honored sailing tradition involves celebrating the crossing of a significant coordinate at sea. Last summer I was awarded a lovely Golden Dragon certificate for crossing the 180° date line in the Bering Sea. I was hoping for the something similar for earning my Red Nose – getting your kicks over latitude 66°, the Antarctic Circle. I received a certificate and much more than I bargained for.

Arthur receiving his final sentence: "Gulity of coarse".
I was suspicion when I saw that the large trash pail labeled “save for bulk carbon analysis” was being filled with excess mud from the Box core. Later, some of us received emails summoning those new to the Antarctic Circle to Neptune’s court. I later learned that at no time did I have King Neptune’s permission to enter the circle, thus with the bulk of the science work done, today was our trial. We appeared in the galley before King Neptune’s family, complete with a grown man in a diaper and a jury of minions. We were charged with a host of atrocities, including handling Neptune’s fine creatures without permission. I, of course, pleaded not-guilty which angered the motley crew of sea jurors. We were then asked to entertain the King to reduce our sentences, and I showered him with gifts of candied ginger and “lost” CTD data sheets to new avail. He wanted more. We performed a short skit about life on the boat which culminated with the shaving of young Christian’s head. “Shockingly”, we were all found guilty and sentenced to wait in the cold room until sentencing.

Dan: "finally blessed by Neptune"

We were then blindfolded and lead to the back deck for a mud and firehouse shower ceremony, where King Neptune finally gave in and welcomed us to his sea domain. A great time was had by all and we followed it up with a “Christmas in July” party up in the conference room and homemade ice cream. Despite the hard work this cruise, everyone has remained supportive and in good spirits. The ceremony punctuated the excitement of the last couple of weeks and symbolizes the importance of visiting this fragile faraway place that needs to remain unspoiled.

Roy: "rinsed with Neptune's holy water"
The "Christmas in July" party sealed this memorable cruise. Thanks everyone! Secret Santa was a nice event bringing funny and unexpected presents. Our Christmas three was decorated with nice hand made ornaments. The price winner one: The Aloha hat (sea picture below). We leave you with some images of people's expressions during our deserved leasure time.
In the O3 conference room: Santa brought us presents and joy.

Christian sit in Santa's lap. His last chance to bargain a good present.

Another Santa? Or one of our PI's using a fake identity?

Pavica: the fairy of the lost penguins wearing the ALOHA hat!

Liz Galley and Pavica: Santa also brought us entertainment and poetry!

The 'Iron Man': this piece of art made the golden run of the night.
Steave, one of the engine room guys welded pieces of scrap metals
to build this nice and funny little man. Rebeca was the lucky one who brought it home.

Greg amused with his new soap bubble maker.

Rhian and Stian: chicken babies anf funny earings.

Oh, we almost forgot! There was still time for the super final of the fooseball tournament. Paulo and Craig were finally proclaimed champions! And the trophy: a special edition of a survivour suit torn in half. Nice!!

Last match

Front view of the champions.

And back. It reads: "High seas pack ice fooseball champions"
They deserved it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Station N

posted by Roy Arezzo

There were votes for Q and R, but despite the shift in coordinates to an area east of Elephant Island, Station N (for north) remained the label for the new station. I was out on deck before my watch to catch the remote underwater video system (sometimes referred to as the SCUD for its sleek design) being retrieved from the sea after surveying a kilometer of the seafloor at Station N. The video revealed a flat muddy bottom, and the search for an appropriate area to sample was over.

Julie: our experience in the back deck - here deploying the SCUD

We spent the entire day working on the regiment of sampling methods. It looked like it would all end well but by the evening the weather had turned and the winds built up fast, dropping the wind chill below -35o C. The rough seas had compromised the Megacore’s contact with the bottom and we added weight to the sliding core rack. After the third deployment we obtained our best samples, over 20 centimeters of sediment with a layer of clear “top water” preserved on top. The top water is as important as the sediments since it contains the interface with the sediment’s surface and includes the microbial communities and labile organic material. We were hoping for another Megacore deployment, but it was deemed unsafe and time was short so we ended with a Blake trawl. I stayed on deck after the end of my shift to enjoy the last night of science action and watch the Blake trawl come in. Although it was not a very large sample size, our northern Blake trawl catch appeared to be very diverse with many different types of arthropods, worms, and anemones. While we were processing the trawl samples we started our transit back to Chile.

Visible top water for a flux chamber experiment from a Box core sample.

Five centimeter core sample from the Megacore for biodiversity studies with worm tubes protruding from the surface layer.

This being our last day of sampling, I lay in my rack reflecting on the last few weeks. Fatigue limited my thought processes, resulting in a disjointed assortment of random observations: I am easily startled by the hand warmer that goes on without warning when using the head near the labs. The moment before your hard hat blows off your head, your hands are always busy. The night shift folks, who have their first meal at midnight (Midnight Rations, AKA Mid-Rats), have a choice of breakfast or lunch food. The kiwis stopped appearing about 9 days ago and now we have run out of fresh carrots. Before you can realize he is missing, someone always asks “where’s Fabio?”. More importantly, I have seen that the benthic fauna is diverse and complex. There is much life in the cold wet mud of the deep.

It is all gone by so fast and now we are left with paper work, packing, off loading, and maybe some time for more analysis and celebrations - more on that later.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


posted by Roy Arezzo - 61o 50’S, 56o 35’W

Today was all transit and we are still looking for an appropriate sample site. Before I went to sleep the winds were over 40 knots and the wind chill had plummeted to -30o C. The entire back deck is coated in ice from the waves crashing over the rail and freezing. The equipment will need to be freed from the ice before we begin sampling. Unfortunately it is not clear when that will be.

Angelo starts the job.

Paulo and Arthur finish it.

Station N, for north, emerged as the wining label for the new station. When we arrived in the vicinity of Station N, the ship zigzagged north to survey the bottom. We found what was we thought was a suitable transect area from multi-beam sonar information, and sent down a video camera to confirm our observations. From the video images we learned the area was too rocky for our study. It is possible that the currents between the islands are sweeping the sediment east, exposing more rock. We are continuing northeast, towards Elephant Island, to an area Dr. Rhian Waller had been in May, 2008, collecting deep water corals. The good news is we have spent many hours collecting good information about the seafloor bottom, the bad news that we are still looking for a soft flat bottom on the continental shelf to do some more sampling.

Bathymetric sonar is a navigational aid that ships typically use to measure depth. Dr. Dave explained how to assess the make up of the seafloor by viewing the bathymetric sonar image on the monitor. If a thin distinct bottom profile line is visible on the screen it is probable that the sonar is reflecting off a hard surface like stone. With a softer bottom of sediment, the sonar penetrates deeper into the seabed. This shows up on the sonar screen as textured, thick band. We are able to get a more detailed picture of the seafloor by looking at multi-beam sonar data. The NBP has the capacity to use multi-beam but we are not running it on this cruise. The Ratheon Polar Services home office in Denver was able to send some older images to us for the regions we expressed interest in. This technology uses a series of sonar beams to get a wide swatch of the area below the ship; the resulting data is processed through special software that generates contoured seafloor maps.

All the work is falling on the Principal Investigators and the mates in the bridge as they chart possible locations for us to explore. The rest of us are on hold, waiting to be on station.

We are still basking in the excitement of the trip to King George Island yesterday, and the importance of the excursion is still sinking in. Looking at the sea from the land seems to emphasize the connection between them. The Antarctic food web is more complex than I had ever imagined: benthic, pelagic and shoreline communities all rely on each other for sustenance. Looking beyond the scenic views and thinking about why we are out here in the first place reignites my interest to study and conserve this fragile ecosystem, which can be impacted by places so far away.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Antarctic Soil at Last!

We ended up going to neither Deception nor Elephant Islands as previously discussed. Our deserved and appreciated stop on Antarctic soil was in Potter Cove on King George Island. After the sampling madness at our last station B, the hoped for visit to the Antarctic continent became reality.
The gossip from a few days before somehow became reality. Lucky us! We did not make it to Deception Island since we passed by there around 6:00 am, in complete darkness and 35-knot winds which would have precluded zodiac boat operations. . “Ok, let’s steam a bit to the north and stop in King George Island” says Craig. “We will arrive there around noon so we will have some daylight hours to stretch our legs and do some sightseeing and a bit of exploring too." Uh oh! Time for gearing up! Mustang suits? That’s my call! They are the nice and warm orange suits that make you distinguishable from the whitish-snowy background from miles away. That was the main outfit chosen by our group. Some brought their backpacks with some snacks (cookies, orange juice, cereal bars, etc) and, of course, their digital cameras.

Potter Cove, on King George Island, is home to the Argentinean research base Jubanay as well as a few abandoned whaling stations, which were active in early-mid of 1900’s. Whalers hunted around the Antarctic Peninsula and use these islands for shelter and base camps. It is not rare to find huge whale skeletons lying almost intact on some of the Island beaches, scary ghosts of a period when whale hunting was a legal activity. We hope it stays that way, at least down here in Antarctic waters.

We filled two of our inflatable Zodiacs to accommodate our team of 31 avid explorers. Quite a few of them were first-time Antarctic travelers and some anxiety could be seen in some of their facial expressions. As we approached the landing spot in the west side of the bay we saw a bunch of Gentoo penguins concentrated in one corner. “Nice, we will be able to bring home those fantastic pictures very close to our buddies”. Besides, it was a quite unusual but pleasant sensation to sit in the snow for a while and to watch a few of them approaching you as if they are trying to scan you for that weird new smell or simply due to the brightness of that orange appearance. It was also incredibly to witness the penguins awkwardly waddle into the water and instantly transform into the most agile swimmers, zipping around and leaping from the water as fast as dolphins!

After spending some time with the penguins we decided to hike up the hill in a small gorge near our landing spot. It was quite steep as you can see in one of the pictures but almost everyone made all the way to the top. At the top was a great view of the whole Bay and then time for our group team photograph.

After sightseeing for a while and people sharing their amusement about the great views and already planning their hiking trails for our next trip in February, the background silence was suddenly interrupted: “Uh oh!!!” A loud and continuous scream was heard from not too far away. That was the signal for our sliding show to begin. One after another, we started to run downhill and jump butt first into the snow hoping to gain enough velocity, then losing grip with the ground and sliding downhill like human avalanches. Awesome! We were finally having our playground time after three weeks of intense work. We looked like children in kindergarten. We even had time for a few group slides. Check out the pictures.

After the snow sliding session we stopped for a few more pictures of our Gentoo friends and stepped once again into our inflatable boats now for a nice ride around the bay. Stian and Jack, our super trained pilots, taught the newer MT’s Joe and Eric how to drive in ice while giving us more sightseeing and also a wildlife entertainment show. While we were trying to break through brash ice near the Argentinean base, a leopard seal came up to our boats, checking to see if we would make a nice meal. Some of us, of course, were a bit scared since this animal has been known to attack zodiacs and kill drown a diver. Not this time though. The leopard seal kept checking on us for a while as if it was playing hide-and-seek, emerging and submerging under an ice flow. It would come nearby, swim below our boat and ended up near the stern were is nibbled at the propeller. This moment made the video makers’ dreams come true, and we have a couple of nice video clips to show for it.

That was a great day and we are thankful to everyone onboard who made it happen: the PI’s, all the Marine Technicians, the ship's crew, etc. It will certainly be a day to be remembered by everyone.

We had a nice break the night before to celebrate Christian’s 21th birthday. Welcome to adulthood, Christian!! We toasted with chocolate milk spiked with vanilla extract to add a little punch. Christian now is a big boy and deserves to celebrate this rite of passage! Cheering, their mugs full of wisdom’s liquid, our gang yelled: “Take another shot Christian, that’s on the Chief Scientist’s tab!!” Ahahaha!!! That was course a bit funny since we are not allowed to drink any alcoholic beverages aboard the ship. I guess the vanilla-flavored chocolate milk tasted like cognac for everyone …”Happy Birthday Christian”

Some people in the boat also would like to share some important dates with their family and friends:

Craig sends love and wishes a great birthday (July 30th) to his beautiful wife Melissa
Linda sends her husband a kiss for they 4-year anniversary (August the 1st)

Fabio wishes his mom a happy birthday (July 27th) and also send his best wishes for his cousin Andre who is getting married with the beautiful Ethiene (July the 26th): “Save a piece of the cake for me!!”

We are now steaming north back towards home, or more accurately, to Punta Arenas in Chile where we will pack samples in freezer boxes to ship them home and store all our equipment to get ready for the next cruise. We are looking forward to setting foot on land again, and will all be making a beeline for the coffee shops and stores as soon as we arrive. See you soon!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Hectic Night!

Finally assembling the camera tripod

Hi People. We are back! And the news is good. Even under still shaky conditions we were able to finish our sampling at Station B. After foul-weather standby throughout the day shift, the winds dropped to around 15 knots and the megacore-deploying machine started to work once again.
One, two, three, four, five, six…hurtling over the fantail one after another, like a production line. Dave wisely asked one of our information techs to average the wind speeds for the last few hours to check if there was a drop or increasing trend. Ok, “good news” says Jen. We should act quickly! We have a few hours to act before those low-pressure systems come close to us again and increase the wind speeds. Lets go!! And while Dave orchestrated the megacoring crowd, Craig conducted his symphony of night workers in tuning up Da Tripod, our last programmed mission. The yoyo camera needed to be reconfigured for deployment on the tripod and the mooring array needed substantial setup before its final assembly and ultimate destiny: to lie at the bottom of the Antarctic ocean for 7 months.

Strobe in position and tested: “check!” Camera with all the programmed settings, photo interval times, F-stop, focal distance, shutter speed, pixel resolution: “all checked!” Sea battery charged and well secured: “check!” Acoustic releases tested overboard and pinging like a Levi Strauss violin: “check!” Nice, “… and the time has come” says Craig. “Let’s do it while the seas are still calm and the winds are not so strong…”. At that point a couple of megacores were still left to deploy; however, we could not waste such a good opportunity. It was a great and successful deployment once again! Thanks everyone!!

Artistic picture shot by the Da Tripod camera while still on back deck. It seems to be working just fine!

On that night a group effort developed on back deck; both the day and night shift worked together, relentlessly loading the empty tubes into the megacore and running with our sediment samples back to the wet lab for slicing, preserving, labeling and storing. There were 6 Megacore samples in an 8-hour time interval; not counting the time we spent deploying the camera tripod. The day-shift people were exhausted at some point around 6:00 am. Most of them had been awake for more then 20 hours and a few gave in to exhaustion and went to bed around that time. But all the effort was worth it! The FOODBANCS2 primary goals are accomplished. Everything we do now is a bonus, but the sensation of accomplished work is stamped in our
colleague’s faces and smiles. Rewarding!

Brian commands the megacore adventure. The last one!

So now what!? Now we have a 30-hour steam to our mysterious and new extra station up North. “Station Q”? No one actually knows where and what exactly will happen at station Q in terms of science. With exception of course, of our secretive PI’s, keeping the last mission inside a top-secret sealed envelope. Everyone is guessing and betting about what will be our next act! There is still hope for a quick stop at Deception Island for sightseeing and a quick hike uphill. Maybe before we arrive at “Station Q”, who knows?! We are now peering every minute through our portholes, seeking landmarks: cliffs, bays and even penguins; dark spots in the middle of the whitish and grayish seascape that has surrounded us for the last week. Keep looking people! Ohh look, I think I saw land!!

Signs of land

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuck at Station B

You often hear people saying: “save the best for last” but it seems that it is not the case for us, unluckily. The calm sea and wind conditions have abandoned us, right before we were about to finish our work. We arrived at station B more then 24 hours ago and still are not able to deploy a single megacore in the water. At a slow pace we have performed a couple of camera (yo-yo) tows, deployed the CTD, and performed several bottom trawls, the last being the only gear that can still function in these sea conditions. Wind speeds are approaching 45 knots and waves are quite often inundating the back deck. It is amazing to look out of the hydro lab’s porthole and see the waves hitting the ship wall and over flooding the starboard deck. Some people are starting to feel seasick and having to invoke pills, patches and sea bands for the first time on the cruise. We still have about 7 megacores to deploy and after that we are pretty much done; we then just have to pack everything and steam north back to Punta Arenas…but not until the wind drops! Oh, and I almost forgot: we still have the superstar Da Tripod 2 the mission to be deployed. Cool!

This morning we even tried to get closer to Palmer station on Anver’s Island to get protection from the main winds and also to make a dream come true for those aboard who never stepped on Antarctic soil. No deal! The winds were too strong and the small inflatable boats (Zodiacs) can carry people only under safe sea conditions (wind speeds lower than 20 knots), which was definitely not the case. Winds were close to 40 knots. So now we are basically floating around station B waiting for sea conditions to get better so we can wrap up our sampling for this winter cruise and go home.

In the meantime we still have some science activity going on inside the ship. People are still finishing dissecting those cute invertebrates, our beloved sea cucumbers, sea urchins, worms, etc, inside the scary and freezing cold room. Brrrrr!! Liz and Pavica are some of our best invertebrate surgeons aboard and quite often have spent almost the entire 12-hour shift inside of that not-so-pleasant environment. After the bottom trawl is brought up to the deck and our avid team carefully sorts the catch, the dissectors slog away in the freezing temperatures of a 4 m2-area cold room with no windows, dissecting animal after animal to collect our samples. Guts, gonads, tentacles, gut contents (mud poop!! yick!!) spread all over the dissection board. Disgusting for some, but a pure taste of happiness and contentment for others!! In any case, the purpose behind this is a noble one: to find out how ocean warming and a reduction in sea ice cover will affect the Antarctic ecosystem. Thank you my dear friendly invertebrates. Rest in peace and Neptune bless your souls! And I really mean it!

Well it appears we are needed urgently on deck now! They are calling up on the radio. Maybe this is the call for a new start. Maybe it is another mega core going over? Nice, lets finish this station!

We will be back soon with news from the back deck. Aloha!!