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!!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Squeezing Energy out of our Mustang Suits

Sorry my friends! It has been a while since we last updated our web log. We’d like to thank Roy Arezzo, the high school teacher from New York embarked on this adventure with us, for sharing his posts and experiences with our friends back in Hawaii. His descriptions have helped us to reveal how amazing it is to live aboard a research vessel for a month-long period, far from our normal routines, our families and our friends. Anyway, it was a hectic sampling schedule that prevented us from sitting in front of the computer and sharing what has happened in the past few days. The science work has been overwhelming enough to keep our minds and bodies focused on collecting and processing samples of animals, water and mud!

We fell like an empty potato bag afterour 12-hr shift.

Ufhhhh!! Station AA finished! Only station B left to go. The last 28-hrs were probably the most work intensive of the whole cruise. We could probably make the Guinness Book of World Records for our fast sampling accomplishments, if such a record did indeed exist. It took us only 3 shifts (36 hours) to complete our sampling at station AA (7 megacores, 4 box cores, 1 Kasten core, 2 yo-yo camera tows, 2 CTD’s, 1 Blake trawl, 1 Otter trawl, 1 Plankton net town and several Tucker trawl tows, which were insisting on giving Linda and Dave a hard time). The work has been really well coordinated by the shift team leaders, i.e. our great Pi’s Dave DeMaster and Craig Smith. Dave is the workaholic in our shift (morning shift). If you think there is nothing left to do, Dave is there, either crawling on his knees polishing and preparing a new set of megacore tubes in their shafts to be deployed in a couple of hours or coaxing the box core spade into place for the next shift. He is definitely in love with those inanimate creatures made of stainless steel! Dare you lose one of those precious box core screws, then you will be in trouble! He walks back and forward from the back deck to the forward dry lab (where we can track all gear deployment information from 5 colorful and informative computer screens). “Roger…kasten core is on deck”… “Roger…box core is going over…”… “Back deck calling bridge…the bottom trawl was successful again…over”

Megacore: one of Dave's favorites.

Tucker trawl: it gives Dave a hard time, but even so he loves it!!

What about our chief scientist Craig: what a funny guy! Like Dave, he is deploying and recovering the gear, walking around the main deck keeping people from falling sleep during their shift, and assigning tasks to everyone. He is always making jokes, keeping our group motivated for the hard work. But no jokes around him are allowed when he is on the radio speaking with the bridge or back deck to send equipment over the side of the ship. He is really serious and concentrated at that point. And what about his meticulous way of working with his gear: Funny! Especially with his fancy and expensive digital camera toys! That is amusing to watch, but at the same time we learn a lot from that behavior since we start paying attention to the details that make high-quality science possible in a challenging environment like Antarctica. He always wants to make sure that everything is double-checked, triple –checked or even quadruple-checked before deploying the camera, but all these precautions sometimes are not enough to prevent bad things from happening. That is the way scientific fieldwork goes.

“Angelino, do you really think this strobewill fire? We need to be really sure you know!!”

"Make sure all the nuts and bolts aretightened hard enough. But not too hard, please do not damage my littlechild!!"

Let’s not hide the truth: we are all really tired!! Not surprisingly, our esteemed colleagues are beginning to show their fatigued state of being. Some are also showing the first signs of moodiness, a symptom that they are missing home and the safety and security of firm ground. This is all perfectly normal for people that have been at sea for a while. No disagreements will last more than a couple of hours though. And if they last more than that, we are sure that during our last night in Punta Arenas, the salsa dancing in one of the famous night clubs will break the ice and seal the peace among our ship-board family again.

Little Linda after a madness shift. She stillhas energy to upload the scientific pictures into the public drive of the ship.

We are transiting to our Station B, the last of our scheduled 5 stations. However, since we have been working really hard and have had calm seas, itseems that we are ahead of schedule. There has been some gossip about another sampling station (some extra work…ohhhh NOOO!!!). But it is ok; we are strong Vikings at sea prepared for extra work! Ahahahaha!! Some other version of the gossip however says we might stop somewhere close toeither the Deception Island or Elephant Island for a quick leg stretch and scenic views. Cool!! Since we have not been able to step on Antarctic soil during this winter cruise, everyone is excited about the possibility. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! But if more work comes, lets get it on!!! Aloha!!

Fabio and Linda wonder about being on Antarctic soil again! Hopefully!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lab Spaces: July 20, 2008

Roy Arezzo
New York Harbor School, Brooklyn, New York

Daily Log 11: Lab Spaces
Sunday, July 20, 2008

The big story on the NBP is the changing ice as we transit north. We are back into the pancake ice, similar to what we saw on our way south, and although we are certainly not heading out of winter by any stretch it did feel warmer today. It is amazing how -1° C could feel just fine with low wind and proper gear. We enlisted the fire hose to clear away Station F mud and ice to start our mud slinging with a fresh deck. Here at Station E the Megacore also agreed with warmer temperatures and we were able to load and unload it outside without taking apart the moving parts and blasting it with the hair dryer.

I am starting to get the layout of the ship, but I am surprised at how many spots I have missed over the past 10 days at sea. Today I realized that Aquarium lab fish tank configuration had changed and the spare tank was missing. It turns out that it was moved and rigged for an experiment that I knew nothing about, in a place I had not been.

There is now an aquarium set up in the dark of the cold room to monitor feeding behavior in our bottom-dwelling animals. Three separate species of “sea cucumber” from our Box core samples are being fed enriched algae labeled with carbon-13. Scientists from North Carolina State University will later test the animal’s gut and tissues and determine where the carbon-13 ends up. We are interested in how much feeding they do and how quickly the algae are converted into body tissue which will help us understand metabolic rates and growth.

Rhian Waller working in her coral samples: 'Nasty' chemicals required.

As for laboratory facilities on this research vessel, scientists occupy about 10 different spaces on any given day. Most of the laboratory spaces are on the main deck along with the galley and access to the back deck.

Almost all the deployment activities happen off the back deck area which is L shaped, and constructed with additional winches and an A frame both at the stern and the starboard side. The Marine Technicians who run the deck operations have a shop/office off of the back deck and as you move forward through the ship the first space for science is called the Aquarium lab.
Since the floor of this space has a grating and is designed to drain we do much of our dirty work in this space and it has a built in trunk-sized chamber that circulates water to store live organisms. We make good use of the Aquarium lab bench-tops to prepare our cores samples for
experimentation and the seawater hoses to wash away the mud from our equipment. To the port and forward of the aquarium lab are the Hydro Lab and the Wet lab. The Hydro lab is where we take water samples to process for nutrients and it houses some of the analysis instruments. The Wet lab is a mixed use space where samples are processes and some of the camera equipment we deploy gets stored and worked on. Forward of the wet lab is the Baltic room which is home to the CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth sensors) water sampler. This room is equipped with a separate winch and a starboard bay door so the CTD can be stored indoors and deployed regularly from a separate space allowing us to do back to back deployments more fluidly.

The Hydro Lab

As you move forward you come to two cold environmental rooms that look like walk-in freezers but have bench tops for lab work. Antarctic samples often have to remain cold (around 0° C) for experimentation. We use one of these spaces for dissection. The bio lab is typical laboratory space with bench tops and fume hoods and across from the bio lab is the aft dry lab which is
where we store a lot of our lab materials. The dry lab has a good assortment of bench tops and counters with cabinets and serves as a good multi-use space. The forward dry lab is essentially a computer room and serves as a command center for the scientists to watch the monitors and
communicate with the bridge. Across the hall is the Electronics Lab which also has computers for general use and office space for the IT folks and the electronics technicians. There is a microscope room on the first deck but we mostly use the microscope mounted in the dry lab to check out our plankton.

Greg, our Electronic technician working in fixing some of our gear.

Freezer: Where our dissector colleagues make complex surgery in the deep-sea creatures.

Dry lab: were we try to work 'clean' with no mud mess.

Since I find myself both in the lab and on deck often, I have started using the mud room near the wet lab to get in and out of gear. When equipment is on its way up to the surface, I often feel like a fireman as I rush into the mud room and jump into my safety wear. I am equipped with steel toe fireman boots and water proof overalls to throw over my regular thermals and work clothes. On top, I wear the standard mustang float coat with reflective markings, fleece coat, a hat, neck gator, water proof gloves and a hard hat. There is the full jumpsuit mustang suit option but I find a bit too warm and difficult to get in and out of so I opt for the two-piece. Proper attire is mandatory on deck.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Calling Houston! First Mission Accomplished!

We wrapped up our sampling operations at our first station around 1:00 am early this morning, and our now leaving station G behind. Everyone is already feeling the intensity of the 12-hour work shifts attacking their backs and joints, and there are still 4 stations ahead of us! We have a short 12-hour steam to the north to reach station F, our next target. (If you are lost with all those letters, please take a look at the map of our cruise track where you will find our stations positioned along the west Antarctic Peninsula – the map is on the webpage of the FOODBANCS project, linked in the top right of the blog page).

All our sampling operations at our first working station were successfully completed in 2.7 days. We have sent down to the sea-bottom mega cores, box cores, kasten cores, Blake and Tucker trawls, and our super bottom yo-yo camera. The most anticipated event of this station, however, was the deployment of the Da Tripod, our time-lapse camera mooring that will stay on the bottom of the Western Antarctic Peninsula shelf for a 8-month period taking a digital picture every 12 hours. Almost everyone was on deck to witness the launching operation. Even some people from the morning shift showed up on deck wearing their pajamas to watch the deployment. Big event!! Everything went perfectly. Now we just wait for the recovery on our next cruise in February-March of 2009.

We are all delighted by the calm seas and the gorgeous sunsets and sunrises we have been witnessing in the last few days. The 5-min breaks between our gear deployments gives us time to grab cameras and act like photographers from National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. The lighting is always perfect for good shots due to the low angles of the sun. Remember, we only have 4.5 hours of sunlight during the whole day! The result is impressing! See below a few of these samples.

The title of one of the last blog postings “PARKED IN THE ICE”, is a literal description of our current state at sea. The ship seems to be docked in the ice while we run around with our samples and experiments.That makes our lives much easier. It is a dream for every oceanographer! No shaking, no bouncing, no seasickness (meaning vomiting overboard after every meal - arrrrguhhhh!!). Well, the only real challenge is the freezing temperature that has been hovering around 12 degrees F (- 11 degrees C), with wind-chill as low as – 9 degrees F (- 23 degrees C), which insists on freezing our nose and fingertips. O well, nothing is perfect. Not to worry, we are tough sailors!

Another highlight of station G was the bottom trawling. The Blake trawl came up full of various creatures straight from the darkness of the deep sea bed, 600 m below the ocean surface. There were a few bottom fishes, octopuses, sea stars, solitary corals, anemones and sea urchins, but the main charismatic organisms were the sea cucumbers (holothurians). Protelpidia and Peniagone are the scientific names given to the main stars of this amazing life forms that burst from the inhospitable deep Antarctic ocean. More than 40 lb (~ 18 Kg) of those animals were collected in a single trawl. You can see in the pictures below that our avid research team was busy sorting the amazing catch for long hours during the night. And we also had time to play around with some of the sea cucumbers in an aquarium filled with sediment and cold seawater, mimicking their natural environment. We were able to see some of their feeding behaviors, ingesting the food particles mixed with the muddy substrate. One of the goals of our project is to track what these animals are eating during different seasons of the year and relating it to the sea- ice duration in the surface ocean. While studying their feeding strategies in low and high sea-ice conditions, we can make predictions on how climate warming will affect the functioning of these benthic ecosystems and how species will respond loss of sea ice.

Keep following us in the next adventures. Station F, our next stop, will be our last chance to be surrounded by the calmness of the sea ice. As we move north, the absence of ice and the not so good weather forecast make us wonder whether our glory days are about to end. Feel free to send questions or messages to one or more of our research team members. We would love to hear from you! Aloha!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Parked in the Ice - July 17, 2008

Folks are working around the clock now and with ice not as consistently thick as first reported we look to be ahead of schedule and should be on our first station site (station G of 5 station on our transect) between 5 and 6 AM. The ice in the south is still thicker than the pancake ice we
rolled through earlier and it is pretty loud against the hull as heard from the galley at meal time. The sound at times resembles a passing train. Despite the noise it is spectacular to witness.

The last thing we saw tonight after 1 AM was PI, Craig Smith and team Brazil working on the bottom camera, referred affectionately to as the Yoyo Camera. The NBP technicians and scientists worked together to create a new frame for the camera set up welded in Punta Arenas and rigged on the ship. It is quite the feat to rig this high tech gear at sea but with a full
machine shop, the experience and skill of the scientists and the crew it seems like we can make anything happen. Despite all the gear and talent much goes wrong and folks spend hours taking apart and refitting the equipment.

The yoyo camera will be pulled near the bottom at each study site to take real time digital images of sea floor. As it moves it will be dropped down and retracted along the bottom, which is where I assume the name came from. There is a trigger that sets off a strobe and the 35mm camera lens when it makes contact with the bottom taking a high resolution digital image of
four square meter area. From the cable we can control how many times it makes contact and distance of the area we photograph. By creating a grid of the images, the data can be used for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the seafloor. In addition to seeing what is on the bottom in order to give us a whole picture about the sediment we pull up in our
coring instuments we can collect data on species diversity, detritus coverage and feeding rates.

Dr. Smith rigs the name frame of the bottom camera

There are 26 deployments of the nine main instruments we sample scheduled for the first two days at our Station G, the furthest point south on the cruise. There are plans to core the bottom, check the water quality, collect images and trawl for plankton and larger organisms. There was much science talk today about order of operations once we are on station but the highlight for all was clear skies and the first sight of Antarctica near Adelaide Island.

Sunset was around 2:30 PM and I was on the bridge and surroundings decks for the entire photo shoot. I was very excited to be witness to 360 degrees of amazing views. If a picture is worth a thousand words I should stop here and let my images say the rest.

BOW: Pancake ice of the bow of the NATHANIEL B. PALMER

STARBOARD: Sunset off the starboard side

STERN: Ice, Broken

PORT: First views of the Antarctic Peninsula under the moon drenched in sunset