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!


Michael Lockridge said...

Wow! Great photos, and a nicely written blog. I picked up your blog on a search under "Antarctica." Just a moment of curiosity. I am glad I did.

I, too, work twelve hour shifts. However, I do so on land, and locked in a jail. I am a correctional officer working nights in Santa Cruz, California.

If any of you need a very short diversion I have some very short stories on one of my blogs. You are welcome to view those, and any of my blogs. Just click on my name.

Thanks again for sharing your adventure!

UH Manoa Ocean researchers said...

Hi Michael,

we are glad there are people outside University of Hawaii that is checking
on our stories and adventures. Thanks.
We are also curious about how it is to work in a 12-hour shift inside a
jail. What do you see most of the time?
Do you like what you do? And what are the main conversations among the
prisoners? Do you think they are aware of or either talk about global
climate change? Probably not right! They are likely concerned with their
futures more then anything.

Well hope you keep following us. Take care Michael.
Aloha from Antarctica!

Anonymous said...

Sea life is really complicated, Normally the crew has to work so hard day by day. it has an experience totally new.