Wednesday, December 19, 2018

PS117 - RV Polarstern; Blogs by Paul Chamberlain. Dec 15, 2018 - February 7, 2019

Logbook of PS 117 (latest posts at the bottom, last updated on January 6th, 2019)
Paul Chamberlain

Hello SOCCOM enthusiasts! 

My name is Paul Chamberlain. I am a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography under the advisement of Dr. Lynne Talley. I am a physical oceanographer; this means that my specialty is coupling mathematical models with scientific observations to describe the currents and waves in the ocean. I am in my 5th year of graduate school, which means that I am going to graduate soon and be a full fledged doctor of the ocean. 

Our impending expedition titled "PS117" is 55 days long and will take on 53 scientists working on 13 unique science projects. We will travel south into the Weddell Gyre, then head west in a zig-zag fashion until we finally make the Weddell outflow. We will then transit to Punta Arenas, Chile where we will unload and ship our discoveries home. I am originally from a tiny town in northern California called Eureka. Eureka is on the coast and I grew up spending a lot of time looking over the ocean horizon wondering what was out there. I studied math and physics at our local Humboldt State University and then pursued my curiosity by joining the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officers Corps (NOAA Corps). The NOAA Corps is one of the seven Uniformed Services of the United States and operates all NOAA ships and planes. After training, I was first assigned as a Junior Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Ka'imimoana which was based out of Hawaii and serviced an array of moorings in the tropical Pacific. My second sea tour was as Operations Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown. The Ronald H. Brown is the flagship of the NOAA fleet and conducts important research all around the globe. 

After this second sea tour - again motivated by my curiosity for the unknown - I made a pretty major career change and decided that instead of driving boats that research the ocean, I wanted to research the ocean myself. I was accepted to Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2014. Scripps is my home and every day I am allowed to study here is a gift. I live in San Diego with my lovely wife Taylor and our newly adopted cat Rusty. We got Rusty to keep Taylor company while I am gone on this long trip. 

The ocean - and particularly the Southern Ocean - is not very well observed or understood in comparison to the atmosphere, but we do know that it is very important for making our planet the cozy little gem that we all get to enjoy. Because of my time at sea, I can tell you first hand how labor intensive and difficult it can be to observe the depths of the ocean. Ships are also expensive to operate and it is not feasible to have ships in all parts of the world at all times. 

The Argo float platform is a transformational oceanographic tool: Argo floats are a type of robot that are deployed from ships and sink down to 1000 m, they then drift at this depth for 10 days and then sink all the way to 2000 m and come to the surface to transmit all the data they collected while drifting under the ocean. After transmission, they repeat this cycle of sinking to 1000 m for 10 days and collecting 2000 m ocean profiles for their entire lifespan of 3-4 years. There are currently around 3800 Argo floats deployed in the ocean all transmitting data in near real time to oceanographers. Traditional Argo floats measure temperature and salinity, but oceanographers have recently miniaturized additional sensors that measure oxygen, pH, nitrate, and the optical properties of small plant life in the ocean. We call these Argo floats equipped with these additional sensors Biogeochemical Argo (BGA) floats. These additional sensors inform us how the ocean is absorbing or emitting carbon dioxide and oxygen - similar to the way that you do every time you take a breath. The ocean is one regulating factor in global climate and measuring these biogeochemical quantities in the ocean is not only important to creatures that live in the ocean but to you and me in our everyday lives. 

 I am passionate about SOCCOM floats because of my curiosity of the unknown and I hope these writings spark your interest about this project. Feel free to email with me with any thoughts or questions while I am at sea. I can be reached at Please note that because of limited satellite communications while at sea, emails with any type of file attachment will not go through.


December 13, 2018

 Figure 1. Elise and I at the last gorge of the ascent

Figure 2: View from Table mountain
After a 34 hour flight, we have finally arrived in beautiful Cape Town. Seizing the opportunity after far too little rest from the long days of travel, my colleague Elise Droste and I decided to hike Table Mountain - a geological feature which offers prominent views of Cape Town and surrounding countryside in all directions. Oceanography is a job that can take you all around the world and you have to take time to enjoy it! The climb was vigorous (Fig. 1) but we made it and enjoyed a panoramic view (Figs. 2and 3) at the top. After, we took the gondola down. 

 Figure 3: Obligatory selfie at the top of table mountain

 Elise is also a graduate student like me, but from the Netherlands and studying in the United Kingdom. She will also be deploying biogeochemical floats onboard the RV Polarstern, but for a European project. 

 We were first allowed onboard the RV PolarStern in the afternoon to check over our floats. Our colleague Greg Brusseau came to Cape Town as well to help prepare the floats for deployment. It was the first time I saw the RV PolarStern. She is a handsome and capable vessel with such luxuries as a heli-deck, a cinema, a pool, a sauna, and - unusual in comparison to my time on American vessels - a bar. 

Figure 4: The RV Polarstern! (photo credit Markus Rex)

Figure 5: SOCCOM Floats with Capetown in Background
 What strikes you is the size: at 117.91 meters the RV Polarstern website advertises that it is not a jam bucket and I have to agree (Fig. 4). While the RV Polarstern is an icebreaker and has very powerful mechanical engines, the real engine of any research vessel is her sailors that operate the vessel. The crew and officers of the RV Polarstern are helpful and extremely competent. I have every hope that this impending expedition will be a great trip. 

 Deployed floats must communicate with satellites while at sea to transmit collected data and receive additional instructions. To test these communications, we must have an unobstructed view of the sky. Because of this, we chose the heli-deck on the RV Polarstern for our float testing area. The view was not bad either (see Fig. 5). 


December 14, 2018
 Second day of float testing! Scientific equipment is delivered to the ship either on wooden shipping pallets or large shipping containers. Some shipping containers are even remodeled to act as portable labs so that they can be easily transported around the world from ship to ship. 

 My gear arrived on 2 pallets and consisted of the floats themselves, as well as all the equipment that I will use to calibrate the floats upon deployment. Our biogeochemical floats measure the temperature and salinity of the ocean as well as the pH, nitrate, oxygen, and optical properties. It is important to calibrate all the float sensors with measurements taken from actual seawater to give us confidence that the floats are working properly. At every location that I deploy a float, the ship will lower a large instrument called a CTD on a conducting wire to the bottom of the ocean and collect water samples at many depths of the water column. Did you know that much of the ocean is deeper than 3200 meters (2 miles)! 

 The scientific party will analyze these water samples in laboratories onboard the RV Polarstern or back home at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and compare our findings with what the float sensors record. If there is a close match, then the float data can be used for scientific applications. 

 With so many scientists receiving shipments and preparing laboratories and the ships crew loading stores and equipment for the long trip, the RV Polarstern was a little beehive of activity. Antarctica is known for having violent storms; if equipment is not properly secured and tied down, it can become damaged during the large rolls of the ship. This means that every piece of equipment must be tucked away or tied down lest it fall on the deck and break during a large roll from a wave. If something breaks at sea, we can't go to the store to replace it, so we must be careful to maintain and protect our equipment. At the end of the day we had things sorted and stowed (for the most part).


December 15, 2018
 Today we depart! On the way to the vessel today we passed through customs and immigration and were formally stamped out of South Africa. After so much planning and preperation, we are finally off on our trip. Greg needed to make some final changes to the float settings and afterward we said our goodbyes. 

 As the crew made the final preparations for our departure and finished fueling, all the scientists were summoned to the heli-deck to participate in a mandatory safety briefing. While at sea, we are very disconnected from the conveniences of modern society. We cannot call an ambulance if someone is injured and we cannot call the fire department if there is a fire onboard. Therefore, we have to be totally self sufficient and it is the responsibility of everyone onboard - scientists included - to know how to safely respond to fire and emergency and abandon ship commands. Part of our fire and emergency exercises are to assemble in the designated area and don life vests (Fig. 6). 

 Figure 6: Fire and emergency drill before getting underway
 At 4 PM we cast off lines and began our long voyage. The transit out of Capetown was short and we were finally at sea on the good ship RV PolarStern - our home for the next 2 months. Scientists and crew gathered on the Helideck to wave farewell to civilization (Fig. 7. We were also treated with our first proper dinner onboard RV Polarstern. Overall, the food is excellent with fresh baked breads and nice salads. As one might expect, the cuisine is distinctly German - raw minced pork with onions as well as potatoes and eggs with mustard sauce gave me a little pause - and I am looking forward to expanding my palate. 

 Figure 7: Capetown as we were departing

December 16, 2018 
Today we had several orientation meetings that describe the dos and don'ts of life at sea. We also became more acquainted with the vessel as well as our fellow scientists who we will be sharing this ship with for almost 2 months. 

 Figure 8: PolarStern CTD rosette, the grey bottles are water samplers and can be triggered to collect at different depths. The actual CTD or Conductivity, Temperature, Density instrument is located in the middle. 
 I will be on the 4-8 CTD watch during this cruise: this means that I must be available to deploy the CTD between the hours of 4 am to 8 am and again from 4 pm to 8 pm. These types of shifts are very standard while at sea and feel natural to me. The CTD operator is responsible for working with the crew member controlling the CTD winch. As the name implies, the CTD winch is attached to the CTD and lets the CTD sink to the bottom of the ocean and then hauls it back on deck. The CTD must be stopped at certain depths as it ascends so that bottles on the CTD rosette can be closed and scientists onboard the RV Polarstern can perform experiments on samples from different depths (the bottles can be seen as the big long grey things in Figure 8). The CTD operator sends the command to close the bottles via a computer system. The CTD also has sensors onboard that measure temperature, salinity, pressure, oxygen, and the optical properties of the water; the CTD operator is also responsible for ensuring a high quality data stream from these sensors to the computer system on the ship. The CTD is one of the primary tools in the physical oceanographers toolbox and mastering its different systems is a goal of mine this cruise. 


December 17, 2018
 Today was our first CTD cast. It was handled professionally and all sensors worked perfectly. Success! The CTD is most vulnerable when it is first deployed from a ship and right before it is recovered. CTDs weigh about 680 kg (1500 pounds) when full of water and freely swing during deployment and recovery. If someone is in the wrong place, the CTD can crash into them and they could be injured or knocked in the water; in Antartica the water is near freezing and your survivability time is only a couple of minutes. Falling overboard down here can easily be fatal! Another concern is the CTD can damage itself by banging against the side of the ship so it is important that everyone is careful and wears hard hats and safety vests at all times when handling the CTD on deck (Figure 9). 

Figure 9: CTD Deployment


December 18, 2018
 We conducted a CTD cast this morning and Elise and I continue to work to make all necessary preparations to deploy the BGC floats. Yesterday we measured the volumes of the bottles that we will use to sample HPLC/POC for float deployments. The floats have sensors on them that measure the optical properties of seawater. Microscopic life that lives in the ocean have different optical properties than seawater and change the value that these optical sensors record if they are present next to a float. We calibrate these optical sensors by sampling surface waters (where microscopic life is found in abundance) and then filtering the water through special pieces of paper that catch all the Particulate Organic Carbon (POC)- a technical term for all of the microscopic bugs. These papers are then frozen in liquid nitrogen and shipped to special laboratories at the end of the cruise which can determine the amount of POC. To conduct this filtering you need to have a very accurate measure of the amount of water that you are running through the filters, which is why we carefully measured the volume of our bottles. We are using a sampling rig from Plymouth Marine Laboratory which is different from the one I was trained on at Scripps. It uses larger 2 liter bottles stacked in a wood frame (Fig. 10). 

 Figure 10: HPLC/POC rig used for SOCCOM Float Deployments
 At the end of the day, a group of us decided to watch the sunset from high up on the ship. A ukulele was passed around and a good time was had by all (Fig. 11).
Figure 11. View of the fantail from B deck. 
One of the fantastic things about science is how collaborative it is. We all build our work on the fundamental discoveries and knowledge collected by humankind since the beginning of civilization. In our impromptu gathering we had German, Dutch, French, and American delegates. The scientists onboard are truly an international cohort with 9 nationalities represented highlighting the fact that science is a discipline that transcends culture and language. 


December 19, 2018
 The weather is starting to get worse. The Southern Ocean is known for violent storms and consequently its latitude bands have been labeled with ominous names like "the roaring forties", "the furious fifties", and "the screaming sixties". As a precaution, the weather decks of the ship have been secured; this means that no-one is allowed to go outside without first contacting the bridge (where the ship is driven from) and getting permission from the officer of the watch. The storm is to the southwest of us right now - exactly where we are heading - and so this weather situation is going to get worse before it gets better.


December 20, 2018
Figure 12. Wave crashing over the bow.
 The weather has continued to deteriorate. Today, a wave broke over the stern with such force that it damaged a shipping containers that are kept there (Fig 12).
The waves have been rolling the ship a lot. The ride on even a big ship like the RV PolarStern can get uncomfortable in high seas and many of the new scientists who don't have much experience are seasick. I think my roommate did not get out of bed today. In spite of this, the work continues. A decision was made to skip every other sampling station so that we could increase our progress south and get around the storm that is battering us. I am projected to deploy my first SOCCOM float soon and current predictions are for 8 meter (24 foot) waves; this is concerning. BGC floats have many delicate sensors and have to be carefully lowered into the ocean. If a float hits the water too hard, or is banged against the side of the ship on deployment, it can break. There is nothing to be done now except hope that the weather calms down a bit, or if that doesn't happen that I have a steady hand during deployment.


December 22, 2018
 It has been a very busy day. To start with, we deployed our first SOCCOM float this morning. Ship operations happen around the clock and I set my alarm for 2 AM so that I would not miss my opportunity. We deploy SOCCOM floats directly after CTD casts so that we can use the chemical analysis results from the water samples we collect to calibrate the SOCCOM sensors. The SOCCOM floats are vulnerable to damage during deployment and I was concerned that the bad weather would make things difficult. On this particular night the seas were approximately 15 feet which is enough to significantly roll even a large ship like PolarStern. Despite my concern, the deployment was professional and smooth and the float departed this ship without problem. After, we collected water samples to calibrate the float. As this was my first time collecting the necessary water and running all the experiments, it took me about 8 hours to wrap everything up. I also installed an additional optical sensor on the CTD and calibrated it. By lunchtime, I had worked a full day and was ready for a little nap. 

 At 430 PM, a special announcement was made of the ships intercom for all scientists to gather in the ships cinema. We have daily meetings at 630 PM, so we knew that whatever was to be discussed would be of great importance to call a meeting only a couple of hours before our other gathering. We were informed that a crew member had suffered a minor stroke and that we were proceeding directly to a Russian research station Nowolasarcwskaja (NOVO) located on the Antarctic continent. It is in times like these that it is important to remember that oceanographic research - although exciting - can also be dangerous and the safety of life and limb is paramount. We are a long ways away from NOVO station and it will take about a week to steam there and back which will affect the amount of science that we can do. This is alright; what matters most is the safety of this crew member. I hope that he can get the medical treatment he needs before things get worse. 

 This change in plans does disrupt my original time table for float deployments. I was originally going to deploy a float a day for the next 2 days: one at 55ºS and one at 57ºS. After the medical evacuation it looks like we will only have enough time to return to 59ºS and restart our work south from there. This means that I will have to reconsider where to deploy these 2 floats. 

Figure 13: First Float Deployment: Float 886 at 51º00.617’ S 03º54.390’ E at
0458 UTC on December 23. This float has been adopted by
Lead Deadwood High School in Deadwood, South Dakota and has been
named Shark Bait Hoo ha ha


December 24, 2018: In which Christmas fun is had by all 
Christmas at sea can be kind of depressing. Being gone from family and friends around the Holidays is never ideal, so it is important for people onboard ship to take the extra effort to remember these traditions and festivities. The command of our expedition understands the value of Christmas and organized a Christmas program to lighten the mood. It began with the chief scientist playing guitar. A group of scientists (myself included) organized ourselves into a little choir and we sang some tradition German Christmas songs as well as some Christmas standards familiar to my American ears. The ships captain and senior scientists made speeches and read poems. It was moving to be apart of this little gathering in the vast and harsh wilds of Antartica and reminded me of the humanity that connects us all. 

 Figure 14: Christmas Eve festivities on RV PolarStern (Photo credit: Vl)

 But what is Christmas without presents? At the direction of the chief scientist, the scientists with the necessary ... proportions ... were volunteered to put on a little play and distribute presents. In the German tradition, Santa is joined by 2 helpers: an angel as well as Knecht Ruprecht - a shabby brown suited man who carries a stick and punishes the children so that Santa doesn't have to. I was given the honor of performing as Knecht Ruprecht in our little play. During one of the choir songs we snuck out of the party and donned our makeshift costumes (Fig. 14). At the appropriate moment we came back in carrying our angel on our shoulders and he "flew" around the room giving out presents. This greatly pleased the crowd and we all had a good laugh. After passing our gifts to the scientists and crew, we went around the ship to those on duty to deliver presents and also visited the sick crew member in the hospital. He seemed to be in really good spirits and greatly appreciated his presents.


December 25, 2018: In which we arrive in the ice 
Wow, what a white Christmas to wake up to; we are in the ice and heading south to evacuate the crew member. We need to do this quickly so that he can get the necessary medical attention. Luckily the RV Polarstern has very large and powerful engines as well as a specially designed thick hull so we smash through the ice like a hot knife through butter (Fig.15).

Figure 15: The RV PolarStern breaks through ice
We will proceed South till we are within range of NOVO station by helicopter at which point the crew member will be evacuated and we will wait for the helicopters return. The ice is amazing. It feels like another world - yet still full of life. Adelie penguins and crabeater seals can be seen as we make our way through the ice. The crabeater seal had a large but healed bite mark on its side (Fig. 16). I can only
Figure 16: A crabeater seal!
wonder at what peril was narrowly avoided by this wily little seal (perhaps it was from the larger leopard seal that likes to munch on seals and penguins). Penguins, while supremely graceful in the water are rather awkward on land and it was hard to not laugh as they ran in all directions after being surprised by the ships passing (Fig. 17).

 Figure 17: Penguins!

It is bitterly cold here which necessitates several jackets and boots be outside while outside. It amazes me that so many animals are able to make this place their home and thrive. At 69ºS we are in the Antarctic circle and, because we are so close to the winter solstice, we live in a world where the sun never sets. "Sunsets" - periods of time when the sun are low on the horizon - last for hours and create a beautiful scene over the ice (Fig. 18). This is an amazing place. It is truly a privilege to be here.

Figure 18: Sunset at 70ºS

December 27, 2018: More floats
Figure 19. Paul Chamberlain and Elise Droste
with a BGC float. 
Core Argo floats and BGC Argo floats are different: core Argo floats have sensors that measure temperature and salinity, whereas BGC floats, in addition to temperature and salinity, also measure Nitrate, pH, oxygen, and ocean optical properties. These additional sensors on BGC floats can be delicate. A controversial, but common, deployment technique for Core Argo floats is what is called "the toss" method. As the name implies, the execution of "the toss" is simple: you throw the float off the back of the ship. The delicacy of BGC floats require a little more finesse. We use a method called "the rope" method. To execute the rope method you need one long piece of rope that has one end tied off to the ship; half of the remaining length is then run through a small hole in the collar of the float. Using this rope sandwich, we lower the float to the waters edge, when the float enters the water, we pull the side of the rope sandwich attached to the ship (letting the other side run). This detaches the float from the ship and allows it to conduct its mission. 

Elise is scheduled to deploy 2 Core Argo floats and 2 BGC Argo floats over the next couple days. As she has never used "the rope" method before, we decided that it would be a good time to practice. We are also relatively close to the ice edge, so we do not have very significant swell. Elise did great and successfully deployed her first float (See Fig. 19)


December 30, 2018: And more floats
It has been a busy last couple days: Elise and I deployed 1 core Argo float and 2 BGC Argo floats (PICCOLO project, not SOCCOM). All deployments were successful, and we believe the floats to be happily collecting data. Deployments have been at all hours of the day and night and we have been working hard. At the end of the last deployment, Elise and I were complaining to a colleague about how long our HPLC/POC sampling was taking - this is an experiment that neither Elise nor I had ever run in the field and the rig we have been using is unfamiliar to us. Our shipmate agreed that the filtration was much too slow and suggested that we might have a leak in the vacuum pump that draws water through the filter. Sure enough, after some fiddling and reconnecting hoses, we realized that this must in fact be true. The system seems to now be holding strong vacuum and we will hopefully be able to process stations a bit faster. 


December 31, 2018: SOCCOM Deployment 59º 04.95' S 00º 04.81'E

Another float deployment today after some mooring work, this time it was part of the SOCCOM project. Yay! Because of some scheduling concerns, we were not sure if we would be able to deploy at this location, so we did a full BGC sampling at both this station and the last. Go team BGC! 

Today, the weather was so nice that if I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine that I was home and off the coast of California - except for the icebergs floating in the background (see right side of Fig. 20). Its hard to believe this is Antarctica as you can almost be out on deck in shorts and t-shirts. This is a dynamic place!
Figure 20. Seaside Middle School's
 float Lee Nation

Seaside Middle School, congratulations on your new float! I hope (and am confident) that the Lee
Nation will collect lots of interesting and important data. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about science or life aboard an oceanographic research vessel. Your float deployment went very smooth (see Fig. 21), and - as the float was sinking to collect its first profile - an albatross landed on the top of the float. I am going to take this as a sign of very good luck because this might be the first time this has ever happened. 
Figure 21. Lee Nation being deployed

Happy new year everybody! 


January 1, 2019: New Years!

Happy New Years! The RV Polarstern put on a great party last night. As a polar research vessel, this ship has spent many a Christmas and New Years at sea and they really are expert at putting on a celebration. 

Figure 22. Large tabular iceberg
Figure 23. Helicopters were moved out of the hanger to provide
room for the New Years Eve Party!!!
Yesterday, a barbecue was set up on the working deck and all types of interesting German (and other) cuisine was available with a variety of sausages, beef, pork, and ostrich (which I didn't know was a German delicacy). Salmon bakes and veggie dishes were also available for our vegetarian colleagues. The barbecue was grill your own, and we spent a couple hours on the working deck making our dinners. It was the first barbecue i've been to where ice bergs size of skyscrapers and city blocks dot the seascape (see Fig 22). After grilling, we moved up to the hangar to enjoy our dinners in the comfort of the ship. The helicopters were moved out of the hanger (See Fig.23) to make space for the party. The hanger was festively decorated and in a touching gesture of community the country flag of every scientist onboard was hung (See Fig. 24). After dinner, the music started and the tables and benches were moved out to make space for one of the most southern dance parties on the planet. At midnight, the officer of the watch gave blew a long blast on the ship's whistle and welcomed us into 2019. 
Figure 24. A veritable feast for all along with decorations
that included flags from every country represented on board
and some festive balloons. 
Happy new year everyone! 


January 2, 2019: Salinity
Figure 25. Salinometer
Yesterday evening, I took the opportunity to catch up on measuring salinity samples that have been taken over the last couple days. The salinometer is a necessary piece of equipment onboard any oceanographic research vessel and measures how saline sea water is with very high accuracy and precision. Surely everyone knows that the sea is salty, but did you know that the ocean is saltier in some places than others? The salinity of the water affects the density - increased salt implies increased density - and scientists can use information about the density of the sea water to determine where it came from and where it is going. A hot region with a lot of evaporation for instance will have saltier and warmer water. The CTD measures the conductivity of the entire water column and from this we can calculate salinity, however this instrument must be routinely validated by analyzing individual water samples. The density of seawater is also dependent on temperature and so the salinometer is placed in a small temperature controlled room (See Fig. 25). 

Prior to running any samples, the salinometer is first calibrated by using a small bit of water that has a salinity that is known very precisely called a "standard". We then compare the value we measure on the salinometer to the value of the standard and any difference is noted as the offset of our instrument. We apply this offset to all salinity values that we calculate during the salinometer run.


January 3, 2019: Land of ice
We are at the very southern end of our meridian transect and breaking ice again. It still amazes me that ships can operate in this kind of environment. In thin ice, the ship has powerful engines and can push her way through, but lately the ice has been getting too thick lately and the ship has to adopt a different strategy: the battering ram. In which the ship goes ahead at full steam, makes a small dent or crack in the sea ice, reverses to get some distance, and throws itself against the ice again. Years of ship driving has ingrained in me the strong instinct to avoid running your ship into anything, and this method still seems a bit crazy. We are making slow progress and following leads in the ice (regions where the ice is thinner or large cracks have formed) to make forward progress and conduct our science. 
Figure 26. The forever sunset!

The wildlife and scenery is amazing down here. Sundowns last for hours (see Fig. 26), and many crab eater and Weddell seals can be seen sunning themselves on the ice (see Figs 27 and 28).
Figure 27. a crabeater seal
Figure 28. a Weddell seal
The Adelie penguins we have seen seem to be in a state of either constant surprise or curiosity of the passing ship. These funny little guys run around in all directions as the ship approaches, then stop - possibly embarrassed - and take a more measured evaluation of the situation, watching the ship carefully as we pass (See Fig. 29). Later in the cruise, I may have the opportunity to get on the ice. It would be wonderful to have the chance to see these birds a little closer. 
Figure 29 Adelie penguns


January 5, 2018: Moorings
We are out of the ice. Today's primary operation was the recovery of an AWI scientific mooring. A scientific mooring is an instrument (or series of instruments) connected to some kind of floatation that is then connected to a long rope that is anchored to the sea floor. The ocean is over 1500 meters deep where we are working, so the anchor lines have to be very long! Moorings at times have surface flotation with satellite communication systems that allow us to monitor the data they are collecting and the health of the mooring, however these moorings are subsurface which means they live below the water and their data is only collected when the mooring is recovered and downloaded on the ship. The moorings we recovered today have been in the water for 2 years and have many secrets about the ocean to tell. 

The instrumentation on today's mooring includes sensors to measure temperature and salinity as well as acoustic transducers that send sound signals to position oceanographic equipment and listen to the song of the ocean. 

Argo floats generally position themselves using satellite fixes received while they are at the ocean surface transmitting data. In the Weddell Sea, the ocean is ice covered in the winter and floats, which are not able to surface, patiently save all of their data until the summer when the ice recedes. Once the ice melts the floats can surface, connect to satellites, and send their data. We download the data that has been collected under ice, but do not have locations as to where these data were collected! Some floats have the ability to listen to the sound signals of the moorings we are deploying, then, when scientists get the data, we can then use these sound signals to figure out where the floats were while under the ice. Its pretty neat and one of the projects that I am working on for my dissertation. 

The acoustic receivers on the moorings record sound at high frequency: marine animals call to one another in the ocean in ways that are unique to each species. These recorders are like having a secret telephone wiretap on all the whales and seals in the ocean. Once we recover the moorings scientists can analyze the recording to determine the frequency and duration of animal activity in this region for the past 2 years. Needless to say, recovering these instruments is important!

Unfortunately, bad weather can make these recoveries difficult and the ocean was very temperamental today. It can be difficult to connect the ship's winches to the mooring and it took several passes before we finally got it. 


January 6, 2018: SOCCOM Deployment: 69º 1.1' S 6º 59.0' W}
The mooring deployment continued well into the early hours of last night. At 0310 all the scientific operations were done and it was time to deploy the newest SOCCOM float, "Sadie". The Sadie has been named after Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, who among many other accomplishments was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Economics in the United States and was the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. I hope that she would be proud that her likeness is going forward and will continue to make discoveries and advancements in unknown frontiers. 

Congratulation Penn Alexander School! You have successfully adopted a SOCCOM float. You rock! Satellite communications at sea (and particularly in the polar latitudes) are difficult and there are only a handful of computers onboard connected to this satellite link. After about 15 minutes of patiently waiting, I was able to download a picture of Sadie Alexander. I am no artist, but I did my best. I hope you like it. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the science we are doing out here or what ship life is like. My shipboard email is at the top of this blog.  

Figure 20. Sadie getting ready for launch.
Sadie is named by Penn Alexander School
I have to say that this was my most difficult deployment yet. The weather decks had been secured the day earlier due to the high sea state. I performed my final cleaning of the optical sensors and brought the float out on deck accompanied by a watch stander to guarantee my safety. It was snowing and the waves were big enough that it was necessary to time the lowering of the float so that it reached the waters edge at the proper moment where it would not slap the waves. My goal was to target the wave at the upper part of a rising crest, but, unfortunately, my timing was a bit off and I hit the wave too low. The rising wave created slack in the rope as the float lifted; this slack then allowed the rope to twist and wrap around the small forest of sensors at the top of the float. The ship was steaming ahead at 2 knots (a unit of speed which denotes nautical miles/second) and the forward way of the ship created tension in the rope which formed a tight knot in the twisted line that I was unable to slip the rope through. I was forced to heave the float about 5 meters back up the side of the ship and untangle the rope at the top. The float is most vulnerable as it is being raised and lowered over the side of the ship because it can bang against the side of the hull. 

It is these slightly terrifying yet exhilarating moments that I sometimes get moments of clarity about my situation: I am almost as far south as you can be on the ocean on one of the most capable research ships in the world struggling to deploy a revolutionary observational instrument in harsh weather - what a life, what a world! The SOCCOM float weighs about 30 kgs with a volume of about 30 liters (more information here - and after some nerve wracking moments, some grunting, and some cursing, the watch stander and I were able to wrangle the float back onboard and clear the line. I lowered the float again without issue and it was successfully deployed. I really hope that these problems during deployment did not damage the sensors and I will be waiting anxiously to hear that the data has come back alright.