Friday, January 26, 2018

Happy ride, Cowboys!!

Isa Rosso

The start of Cowboys’ ride

It seems like an old memory...that doomsday I detailed in my last post. A very calm ocean is now surrounding us. A bigger swell is sometimes appearing, but nothing so dramatic to notice. I can finally sleep! And, finally, the phone is no longer attempting to hit me!

Cowboys is ready for deployment with Uday, Nivas and Rakesh
Two days ago I had my last station, and my last float, Cowboys (Apex #12757), was deployed! Cowboys touched the water at 51 00.78’ S, 57 32.41’ E at 11:32AM on January 24, and left the deck riding smooth and gentle waves. The name of the float comes from the mascot of the Salinas High School, which is a cowboy. I’m waiting to see its first profile, as Cowboys was, together with Lil Sinker, in the rollercoaster of Jan 18. Fingers crossed all the sensors are OK! You can check it on the SOCCOMviz website.

As we are approaching our last site (at 40 degrees south), in search, again, for the lost mooring, the mood around is fizzy and excited, projected towards the end of the expedition. I started packing already, writing my reports, finishing up some work, in this wake of newfound excitement. I’m thinking about these past weeks. It feels like we’ve spent a year on board. My body feels like it: I have new wrinkles to prove it! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Zoe said that we went from summer to winter, and now we’re witnessing the blooming spring. We’ll reach Mauritius in summer, and I confess I’m not ready for the sticky, humid heat waiting for us there!! 

It’s always like this, for me, when I’m on a cruise. Time flows in a different way. Probably because of the intensity of every day. Friendships happen at a fast pace on a ship, in just a few weeks it’s common to bond deeply with someone. It's so intense that the goodbyes always hurt. But it's also precious, because then you have new beautiful relationships to nurture once back home... despite the distance. 

Indian Republic Day flag hoisting
Today is the Indian Republic Day, and I’m very happy to celebrate this important day with my mates here. In the morning, we had the flag hoisting on the heli deck, and the Indian anthem was sung. Then, we had a sweet buffet and a delicious cake prepared by the cooks (yuuuuum!!!!). 

I gotta get ready now for the night party!!  ๐ŸŽ‰

The fog appeared from nowhere and surrounded us in a huge and cold hug

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lil Sinker, the snow and the apocalypse

Isa Rosso

January 22, 2018

Photo: Rakesh Rao
Posing with Lil Sinker before its deployment. From left: Anoop (co-chief), me, Nivas (seaman) and Zoe (doctor) 

Lil Sinker prep in Port Louis
Let’s start with something good and exciting: Lil Sinker, aka Apex #12781 was deployed yesterday night (January 21, 2018 at 18:59 UTC) under the snow and with big swell, at 56° 58.83' S, 57° 39.08' E!!

The float was adopted by Cheryl’s class at Frenship High School. Thinking about the float’s cycle, which is all about sinking, drifting, sinking again and resurfacing, the class picked the name Lil Sinker. The float, indeed, after its deployment, is programmed to sink to a depth of 1000 m, where it drifts with the ocean currents for 10 days (who knows what it sees down there!? What would sharks and whales think when they see it? ๐Ÿ˜ฒ ). 

Deploying Lil Sinker
(white stripes are snow blown by the strong wind)
Then, it sinks again to a depth of 2000 m, after which it comes back up acquiring and storing data. Once at the surface, it sends the data using Iridium Satellite and GPS. The cool thing is that everybody can see and use this data, and who knows what we can find! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Just check for the float #12781 at the SOCCOM website and visualize its data. The deployment of Lil Sinker, apart from being freezing cold under the strong wind and snow, went very well.

“Everything will be fine, Lil Sinker!”
The days before the deployment... not so.

Wind direction and magnitude in the south Indian Ocean

It all started on the night of January 18, with a wind gust of 97 kn (although now there is a debate between ship crew and scientists about the reality of this value). After which, a constant 40 kn wind managed to make the ocean wild and furious. The roll was almost with no control. At midnight, staying in bed became a challenge. At 3am, completely impossible. Things were dangerously flying around the cabin. I got hit multiple times by the phone that flew from the desk to my bed. The guitar case was heavily hitting the bunk bed and the wall. In the cabin of my friend Zoe, the portable AC laying on her couch flew directly on top of her bed, passing over the table between the bed and the couch (thank god she didn’t get hurt!!). 

At 3am we were all up, trying to keep enough balance to not fall and hurt ourselves. We ``ran’’ to the helicopter hangar, where the disaster was at its most intensity: the ship’s tilts were so intense that nothing was secured to the deck anymore. All the boxes, crates, bottles with samples and chemicals, the boxes with our floats, chairs, glasses, tables...all went crashing to each other, rolling back and forth, like a dense and unstoppable wave. Some of us wanted to jump in the massive washing machine that the hanger turned into, but we had to stop to avoid serious injuries. And when we lost the 2 engines, there was no control whatsoever. The ship turned, with the side against the violent and huge waves. 

 The washing machine effect in the hanger

No tap water was available. And even though the galley was a disaster too, the incredible kitchen staff and stewards managed to prepare something to eat anyway. They are our angels, seriously! ๐Ÿ˜‡ In the afternoon, I was so exhausted from the lack of sleep and the constant motion of the ship’s rolling, that I tried to go to bed again. But despite the tiredness, the direction of the roll made it impossible to sleep in my bunk bed: the floor of the lounge made for a better bed, and I managed to get some sleep.

We had a maximum tilt of 40 degrees. At 50 degrees, the ship does not come back up. I have to admit that Zoe and I were planning what to bring with us to the lifeboat! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ 

Late at night, we got the engines back on (thanks to the hard work of engineers and crew!!!), and we could flee from the messy ocean state. Some of us managed to access the hangar and start cleaning up, enough to secure things down again. We cleaned for 4 hours at night, exhausted from the lack of sleep. In the morning I was in the hangar again, together with the cadets, to finish cleaning and securing everything properly. None of my samples got broken, thanks to the wonderful protection that the sample boxes offer, and by a visual inspection of the floats, none of them looked damaged. I’m now holding my breath to see the first profile of Lil Sinker, hoping that everything will look great!

After all the cleaning, I also helped my friend Zoe the doctor with some delicate medical procedure for a patient, which, despite the difficulty, went very well! Woohoo!! There’s always a lot that you can learn at sea!!

We are in some better conditions now, but definitely the phone in my room hasn’t stopped to try to knock me down at night! And the rolling is always so strong that I can barely sleep 4 hours per night.

But, what can I say? The energy that I feel here, from the power of the waves, and the whips from the wind, makes me feel alive. I LOVE THE SOUTHERN OCEAN!!!

January 23rd - Update

Lil Sinker has reported its first profile back; all the sensors are operating well!!! EUREKA!!!

I LOVE the Southern Ocean ๐Ÿ’™

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

In the snow she rides: FMS Maximum Ride

Isa Rosso

FMS Maximum Ride (Apex #12730) was deployed yesterday, after a long day, in which the nature, once again, reminded us of its power... and its beauty. 

Power and beauty
Let’s talk about numbers: the float started its journey at 63 59.22’S, 57 24.33’E, on January 16, 2018 at 13:17 UTC. The CTD casts took much longer to be completed due to the weather. We also had some issues at the beginning with the winch, but the main problem was the swell, which was picking up by the minute. Someone, at some point, shouted “SNOW!!” 

While waiting for the CTD to come up, armed with (not-waterproof-neither-warm-enough) gloves, snow jacket, butterfly boots and my knitted headband, I ran outside… where I had to fight hard for my dear life! Massive, well-compact snowballs were flying from every direction. The “I come in peace” didn’t really impress anybody. Everyone was out: crew, officers, cadets, seamen, scientists. Everyone playing, no matter how rush the weather conditions nor the sharp corners and chains and obstacles on the deck were. The floor was so slippery and the wind so strong, that other than protecting myself from the lethal snowballs, I also had to fight not to miserably fall down! Seriously, there was no safe place, not even in the corridor inside! Ha ha ha!! What a glorious reminder that, in the end, we just need an excuse to play!!

Some battles later (also, we somehow managed to use all the snow available on the deck.. and I was risking frostbite at my finger tips), I headed back to the lab, where I collected my samples, and waited for the operations to be completed, and the float to be deployed. 

photo: Rakesh Rao
Me, collecting samples

 photo: Rakesh Rao
Me with FMS Maximum Ride, ready to go
The float, which was supposed to be deployed with its cardboard box, had the box broken. Everyone was happy, I must say, as they could finally see what was hidden inside๐Ÿ˜ 

We got multiple pictures, and my mate Rakesh was finally happy to record me on the camera in front of the float, to say a few things about it. (He’s making a video about the expedition. I can’t wait to see it! He’s very talented!) 

FMS Maximum in its crate

The name of the float comes from a few reasons: 1) first, from the school Frenship Middle School (FMS), which adopted the float; 2) then “because it’s cool” :o) ; and finally because Maximum Ride is one of Cheryl’s class’ favorite book series, by James Patterson. I searched on Wikipedia before leaving for the cruise (I apologize, as I’m not familiar with this series). The protagonists are Maximum Ride and his friends, all hybrid teenagers, human born with wings (wow!!!!), who are part of a group called the Flock. The teenagers work with scientists in preventing an apocalypse. As the Frenship Middle School students remind me, the students themselves are also working with experts, by adopting the float and analyzing the data. What the students also like about the main characters, who are all kids, is that “they don’t just sit back and watch the adults struggle. They help them by working together which is what we should always be doing.” I couldn’t be more proud and energized by their energy!! This is a fantastic thought, guys! Now that the float is in the water, follow its ride on the SOCCOM website (, searching for the float #12730.

photo: Rakesh Rao
All together to wish the best to Max! These guys are The Best!!! 
The last view of the magical world
We have left the “dreamworld of ice”, a couple of days ago. Too sad. Too soon. I found myself with a heart full every time I was outside.. the beauty of the waters around Antarctica cannot really be described, only lived. 

Some of its magic will come with me
Before we started heading back north, my friend Zoelle and I went ice-fishing! With a bucket and (a loooooot) of patience, we got few pieces of sea ice (of course we did tasted it ;o) ), and saved it as a memory of this magical place.

PS. Did you know that there’s also a Manga adaptation of the books??? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
That must be really nice, too!!

Friday, January 12, 2018

A confused sun

Isa Rosso

Glorious sky on ice
Days pass by, all quite similar to each other. CTDs starting at 6AM, then deployment of the phytoplankton net, LADCP in the afternoon, etc. They caught some more creatures that looked like something coming straight from your deepest nightmares, or dreams, depending what you like.

All quite similar. Except...

Sun(set/rise?) behind an iceberg
In these last days we had about two hours of twilight, “which is the space between day and night, and confuses the daylights out of you” (cit. co-chief Anoop). Still not completely darkness then. A few days ago, the sun still looked a bit confused, not sure if it was ready to set or rise. So it did both, in just 30 minutes of time in between. I must say, the bright orange sky, with the shiny tired sun behind some solitary iceberg, is a view that put a smile on my face, and a sense of immensity in my heart. 

 photo: Rakesh Rao
Me jumping with Ingrid (my guitar)

Often we celebrated this moment with a series of “click click click” from our cameras, and few songs, played and sung at the sun.

My afternoons are pretty set. At 3PM I usually head down to the gym to keep up with my boxing training, and then I get an ice hydration lolly from the clinic (Zoelle, you are the best!!!). A few people got interested in my “not-usual” activity and started joining me for my routine. Same as teaching science makes me understand more about my subject, training someone else in boxing makes me a better athlete. It’s fantastic! We have a lot fun, and I especially enjoy seeing their enthusiasm… and their tired faces ๐Ÿ˜„  

While working on a new project today one of the scientists, a very clever and hilarious guy, first appreciated my work, and then he said something about me at the gym, or at the computer writing codes, or at the lounge knitting beanies and pompoms, or outside taking photos, and ended with, “Isa, you are well rounded.” ๐Ÿ˜‚ hahahahaha!! I said: “Well, I know I got a bit of new fluffiness with all this delicious food, but thanks!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

UGH!!! I almost forgot…

Baby fin whale

We had the privileged experience of being visited for a while by a curious baby fin whale (now, I’m not entirely sure it was a fin whale -- you judge)!!! Swimming slowly around the bow, it looked like sometimes it was looking at us, curious to understand what sort of creature we were. My heart was pounding fast on my chest (probably also because I kept running from port to starboard and back for 30 minutes). It was a beautiful experience. Then big mama probably called him/her from far, and they both swam away. Today other whales came swimming next to the ship: baby whale must have spread the word of some funny animals floating around...
I never get tired of this view

Friday, January 5, 2018

A never-ending day

Isa Rosso, two, three!
Celebrating the midnight of the New Year with daylight is definitely a first for me! It’s weird and magical at the same time. We had a bbq at the heli hanger, put up all the decorations, lights, the gigantic speaker and we danced to farewell the 2017, and welcome the 2018 over the notes of Indian, African and American songs. It was fantastic! Everybody showed up (minus, of course, who was in duty during hours) -- even the penguins! 

We’ve been working on very calm waters during these last days. We are so close to the Antarctic continent, but sadly not so close to be able to see it. A few days ago, we were in pack ice. Most of the time the sky is gray, but not always. Now, I don’t know what I like more of this environment -- the ice is so fascinating, in every form. Penguins are so cute, I wanna jump out of the ship and grab one! And the silence... I like walking outside on my own, when most of the people are sleeping, and I can hear the penguins calling each other from different patches of ice and nothing else (well, I have to block the noise of the ship from my ears, first). I kind of like the crispy air too; it makes me feel energized. Can’t stay out too long, though: I’d probably freeze, energized or not. 
You said what?!
We are in a very productive area, at 65.5S, 74E. Large phytoplankton bloom, lots of krills, zooplankton, which in turn attract fishes, penguins and whales (I finally saw one jumping out of the water the other day!!). Because of the high productivity, this is the perfect spot for a time series: 3 days of scientific operations in the same location, repeating the measurements every 12 hours. The other day I was part of the group in charge of the scientific activities, from 6PM. Other than the usual casts with the CTD, scientists collect water using different types of nets: I never thought the ocean here could be so green, full of super interesting creatures -- and horribly smelly (due to the phytoplankton emission of dimethyl sulphide, DMS, gas). And then LADCP for the ocean currents, microstructure for the mixing, optical and atmospheric measurements. To go through the whole set of operations takes about 6 hours or more, depending on how many CTD casts need to be done and how deep they go.

Sunrise over an iceberg

Super moon!

The sun sat (I didn’t actually see it go below the horizon) and rose around 1AM, during which the sky turns orange, and the ice shines in all its beauty. And at the same time, we had a super moon!!

Needless to say, we, the Frozen Pompoms, keep growing as musicians, as our friendship gets stronger. I’ll leave you with some cute words from the next super simple song we’re going to play (from the movie Juno, one of my favorite movies): Tree Hugger

And in the sea there is a fish,
A fish that has a secret wish,
A wish to be a big cactus
With a pink flower on it.

And the flower
Would be its offering
Of love to the desert.
And the desert,
So dry and lonely,
That the creatures all
Appreciate the effort.

HapPy NeW YeAR!!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

“Zazzies, Mac & Cheese”

Isa Rosso
December 31, 2017

All is ready for the New Year’s Eve celebration of tonight. Decorations and lights are up, ping-pong table is ready for the tournament, the bbq’s out. There’s a lot of excitement, lots of happy faces. The science activities have not stopped, though, and there are several scientists operating the CTD, collecting samples, running filtration. But all should be completed by 6PM, when the party will start! Funny thing: the sun basically doesn’t go down at all... just barely touches the horizon. So, we’re gonna have a midnight countdown with sunlight outside!! How cool is that!?

The Agulhas I sailing through pieces of sea ice

We are 65.5S, 72E, steaming towards 73E. The ice maps, images of ice concentration from satellite data, show us pretty high concentration of ice in the area we were supposed to cross. So, the initial decision was to avoid completely that area (a bit sad, I confess, as we won’t be able to see penguins, seals, maybe orcas), but now it seems we’re going to try, to go farther south and access the situation (fingers crossed!!!).
Landing on a freezing water

The other day we were surrounded by, not only giant icebergs, but also drifting pieces of sea ice. Some of them were sparkling white, some had beautiful blue reflections, and some had the sign of some phytoplankton activity. It’s pretty incredible, I think, that some organisms got adapted to such an environment. We saw the first 2 penguins on a piece of ice as well, but they were so distant that it was hard to see them properly :-( sigh…. I’m really hoping we’ll be able to see more as we move more south!

On December 27th, at 22:27 UTC I deployed my last SOCCOM float for the year 2017: Zazzies, Mac & Cheese (#12755)!! Its deployment occurred at the freezing 63S and 70E location. The float was named by the Seaside Middle School, after the first 3 pets of the class: Zazzy was a fish, Mac&Cheese was 2 mice.. adorable!!!! ๐Ÿ˜€ I hope I did a good job drawing their design on the float.

My guitar sessions have become a stable part of my ship’s life. I love it! I spend many nights playing and singing with some of my ship mates, and we’re becoming pretty good! Ha! ;~P We already decided our band’s name: “The Frozen Pompoms”. I’m knitting headbands with pompoms at the moment. We also have our first song written: “The Southern Ocean Blues”! We’re planning to record a video!! I’ll let you know how it goes.. 

So long from the Southern Ocean for the 2017. We all wish a HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you!!! Wherever you are, may you have a wonderful end of 2017, and a successful and adventurous 2018!!!

A deep dive for the “Tanker”

Isa Rosso
December 29, 2017

I’m still recovering from 2 very long days.

On the night of the 25th, we had a wonderful surprise at the galley: every table was decorated, there were dry fruit, chocolate and bottles of (no-alcohol) wine (pretty good, I must say!), a table full of delicious fruits, cut to resemble animals, another table full of desserts of any kind. It was such a feast! The cooks and everybody at the kitchen worked super hard to make us feeling as a big family.. and they doubtlessly succeeded!

photo: Rakesh RaoManker Tanker with me in the back
December 26th, the alarm on my phone rings at 1:00AM, just after 3 hours of sleep. We are on station, time to get ready. We should have started with the CTD cast, but again things are not going smoothly. The swell is big, as always. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it is... well, not so fun. Michelle (the CTD technician) notices that there’s an issue with the block that attaches the winch to the CTD rosette. We would have 100% lost the rosette if he hadn’t noticed that! This sets us back of a couple of hours. Hours of brainstorming, where engineers, scientists, crew members, all worked together to find a solution. I get always very impressed by the limitless resources of our brain in situations where resources are lacking. 

The cast started late, and after a few hiccups in which the winch got stuck, the cast was stopped before reaching the target depth of 2000 m. The current was so strong that the rosette was just drifting away instead of descending deeper. Now, here’s a funny thing: apparently, at any other station where no SOCCOM floats have been deployed, all this kind of drama never happened O.o 

We had some more drama right before deploying the float, when I noticed some oil on the top part of it. I confess I freaked out, but the SOCCOM team in the U.S. (who I was talking to via WhatsApp.. .notice that there it was Christmas day!!), together with the scientists here, made a dream team, and everything was soon solved!

So, Manker Tanker (float #0693) was deployed on December 26th, at 02:58 UTC, at the latitude of 58 59.75’S and longitude of 70 01.52’ E!! I did my best to draw a nice cartoon on it, which you can see it on the pictures (ok, I’m not an artist).

Manker Tanker safe in its crate

This is the second float adopted by Gilroy High School, a second class of Jeff Manker. The float’s name is inspired by the shape of the float itself, which the class thought it looked like a SCUBA tank :-) Scuba diving is one of the things I love most! I’m sure Manker Tanker is having an amazing adventure down there! The float’s already reported, and showed that everything works very well.. I wonder where it will end up after 1 year. Any bet? Think about it, and check its trajectory and its measurements during its life.
Holey iceberg

The first icebergs have started to appear, first on the radar then in front of our eyes. No matter how many you’ve seen before, these pieces of ice are masterpieces of nature! I can never get bored by looking at them. And with the icebergs, the first whales came!!! I still don’t have good pictures.. but I’m expecting to see more as we go more south.. especially because I completely missed out the orca breaching in front of the ship.. I was taking a nap. 

Whale blow, with ice in the background