My Last Post…

Well, I’m back home after a long day’s travel from Punta Arenas, Chile to Boston, Massachusetts and then to Cape Cod. I took a few days to think about the cruise and put it in perspective. The main impression I have is the wonderful camaraderie of the whole crew- from the captain and his guys from ECO through the techs from Ratheyon to my fellow scientists. People worked very hard, round the clock, and got along so well- a real team and almost family effort. Then there was the place we were working. Antarctica must be experienced in person to really appreciate it. It’s an awesome place (an overworked word, but appropriate here) that really gets under your skin. It’s not surprising that so many of those aboard come back many times.
So what did we find that was surprising? Well, first and foremost was the sea surface temperature- above 3 deg C in many places. This is much higher than anyone has seen before, and of course is the direct cause of the lack of sea ice we saw and what allowed us to get as far south as we were able to go (south of 70 deg- further south than the Gould has ever gone!).

We also saw a very high amount of microbial activity, again in some cases the highest that has been observed in the LTER. The high sea temperatures no doubt contributed to this, but the full causes remain to be elucidated. Lastly, the zooplankton group found Salps(they are a pretty large form of strange jelly-like zooplankton) in every net tow – something they never had seen before. Penguins, whales and seals do not eat salps, so their abundance might be detrimental to these animals.

Remember the the bulk of the work will be on the samples shipped back to the US so many conclusions await months or even years of work. Also, remember that no one year is indicative of the overall trend- that’s why the LTER exists- to study the same areas over many years, even decades.

So, it’s back to “normal” life. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and that it gave you a hint of what our cruise was like and with that I’ll say goodbye.

Ken Legg

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Gassy Microbes?

Dr. Tim Hollibaugh is studying the conversion of nitrogen (as ammonium ions) to oxidized forms of nitrogen like nitrite and nitrate by microbial species in Antarctic waters. To do this he must first filter (yes, yet again filtering) the larger species out of his samples.  Then he performs very sensitive assays to determine the amounts of the various nitrogen species in the water. He is trying to determine the metabolic pathways of certain microbes and he told me that there are indications that these microbes appear to have an unexpected metabolism- as Tim put it “It’s like looking at a field of cows that you expect to see grazing but find them to be raging carnivores!”.
Tim is also studying the genetic (DNA and RNA) makeup of certain kinds of microbes. Here he again filters the specimens- first through a pre-filter and then through a filter that traps the microbes he is interested in. He carefully takes the filter containing the sample and puts in in a sterile baggie (see second picture) and freezes it at minus 80 deg centigrade. These samples are sent back to his lab in Georgia and are analyzed there. In fact, the samples Tim collected from this cruise will occupy him and his students for the next two years in performing all the analyses they intend to do on them.

Dr. Lihini Aluwihare
is interested in dissolved organic compounds in sea water. She too filters many liters of samples to isolate the compounds she is interested in. Lihini’s big experiment, however, entailed the longest pumping and filtering we did- 2 20hr sessions! In the first picture you can see her pumps being recovered on the back deck after they have been working for several hours at a depths of  100 and 400M.

In the second picture you can see Lahini removing the filter from the pump. The filter has captured the organisms she is interested in. She too freezes the samples at minus 80 deg C and will analyze them for particular lipids (molecules important in the organisms cell membranes) back in her lab in La Jolla, Ca.

Tim and Lihini’s projects are not part of the LTER study but they have been invited along on the cruise to do their studies. About 1 cruise out of 3 has a guest project like Tim and Lihini’s. Tim and Lihini are not alone in taking many samples back home. Many samples of seawater collected from the various depths, after filtration, or other pretreatments have been frozen and will be shipped back to the US for analysis. The frozen samples seem to be the easiest to ship as the shippers use containers refrigerated to the proper temperatures. Some samples cannot be frozen, as they will be ruined if they are frozen. These samples have proven to be more of a problem because they can be frozen inadvertently in the cargo hold of an airplane.

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Gustavus Alaska Wants to Know

Hello Mr. Legg,
We have been following your blog and really enjoyed connecting LIVE on Torgersen Island.  We included a picture during the transmission…

1.  It seems that it would be so much fun to play soccer in Antarctica. I use to play soccer too so it was kind of interesting to see that you play it in Antarctica. How big were the Adelie penguins that tried to take over the field and how many of them were there? Response: The Adelies are about 18 inches high and there were three of them walking across the field.

Tabular Iceberg (Photo Credit: B.Simmons)

2.  Do you have any more pictures of the iceberg? If you do will you please post them?We live in Gustavus, Alaska. We have icebergs near Gustavus too. What is a tabular iceberg? I’ve never heard of one.  Response:  There are lots of pictures of icebergs.  Tabular bergs are large flat bergs that form when an ice shelf sheds them.  A few years ago part of the Wilkins ice shelf broke up and that’s why we saw so many.

3.  Have you ever actually seen the canyon? And how did you know the canyon was there? By the way the picture of the penguin is really cute and the picture of the icebergs are awesome!  Response:  We can’t see an underwater canyon with our eyes so we use sonar to map it.  We also use the gliders to track currents, and map characteristics of the water column (temperature, salinity, chlorophyll). Many of our gliders assist us with flying underwater through these canyons then they send us a picture of it onto our computers.  I’ve included two visuals for you to study.  The first here is an image near palmer station using the gliders.

Response cont': To see this glider in action I recommend going to COOL videos at Rutgers.  Hers is the URL just in case http://rucool.marine.rutgers.edu/index.php/COOL-Video/.  Scroll down to the forth video on the list to see a real animation of the glider riding through the canyons near Palmer station.  Let me know what you think.

4. Was it very cold? It sounds like a lot of fun. It would be fun to play soccer in Antarctica! Did it surprise you when the penguins walked on to the field? Response: It really isn’t too cold down here on the peninsula.  In general, in the low to mid 30 degrees F.  This is due to the moderating effect of the ocean which is between 1 and 3 degree C around here at this time of the year.  There were quite a few penguins around when we were at Rothera station but there were a lot of people around the area we were playing and it was a bit surprising that they wandered on the playing area.  They aren’t at all afraid of people if you are further than 5 feet or so away from them.  They even might come over and peck at your boots!

5.  How do you attach the PTT’s? Does it hurt the penguins? Are the PTT’s to track the penguins down to the underwater canyon? I am very interested. Can you post more? Thanks!  Response:  The PTT’s don’t hurt the penguins.  They are attached by special tape and zip ties.  We try to retrieve them after a month or so of use because they are expensive.  If a tagged bird eludes us the PTT will be “shed” when the penguin molts so the penguin is only  “wearing” the PTT for a month or so in any event.

Thanks for all the great questions… keep them coming! Ken.

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The Beauty of Antarctic II

Here are a couple of photographs taken two days ago before we arrived at Palmer Station.  The second photograph is at sunset around 11:00pm.  The last two were taken just a while ago as we transited the Neumayer Channel after leaving palmer this morning.  We ill be making our way back to Punta Arenas arriving there on Wednesday February 9th.  You must really be here to appreciate the awesome beauty in its fullness.

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In the Bubble

Marie Seguret is performing a very exacting and exciting study of trace metals in the Antarctic waters. In particular, she is interested in iron as many organisms are iron limited in their needs down here.  Marie has her “trace metal fish” (not a fish at all but that’s what they call it)towed while underway because the boat itself could be a source of contamination. The metal parts of the fish are also coated to minimize contamination. The whole idea is to get pristine samples of seawater- a very difficult task. This “fish” moves out laterally from the boat and thus is out of it’s wake. It’s sort of like a planning board fishermen use when trolling. The fish is connected via a long hose to a pump which Marie uses to pump large volumes of water into her “clean room” (or the bubble). You can see Marie outside her clean room in the first picture. Note that behind her it says “Serial Kriller”- scientists can be funny too! You can also see that she and the crew are pretty inventive when constructing a specialty research area.

The second picture of Marie inside the bubble. You can see a bunch of filters she uses to filter and concentrate the trace metals. These are then preserved and stored, and will be sent back to the US for Marie to do the very careful analysis she performs on the samples. The trace metals are so low in concentration that they are really below the detection limit of existing instrumentation. That’s why she needs to concentrate the samples on the filters, and the techniques she uses back home further concentrate the metals before final analysis. So Marie needs to be very careful about contamination at every step – by the boat, in her “bubble” on the boat, and back home.  In addition, Marie is doing experiments involving the effect of the addition of iron and other metals as well as vitamin B12 to seawater samples.   She is exploring the effect of the added metals on microbe growth.

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The Scientists Aboard the LMG

It’s worth looking at the scientists who are aboard for this cruise. They span a wide swath of experience and disciplines. There are 11 men and 11 women. Their education ranges from a college student to senior Ph.D. project leaders.
Here is a detailed list of the scientists, their affiliations and their education.

Joe Cope and Kirsten Gorman

Seabird Component- Shawn Farry, M.S. (Field Tech), Kristen Gorman (Ph.D. student, Simon Frasier Univ).

Phytoplankton ecology- Project leader- Prof. Oscar Schofield, Ph.D. (Rutgers Univ), Michael Garzio (MS Student, Rutgers), Travis Miles (Ph.D. Student, Rutgers), Grace Saba, Ph.D. (postdoc, Rutgers), Marie Seguret, Ph.D. (postdoc, Rutgers), Bethan Jones, Ph.D. (postdoc-European Project on Ocean Acidification).

Lori Price and Michael Garzio

Zooplankton component- Project leader- Prof. Deb Steinberg, Ph.D. (College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science(VIMS)), Joe Cope, M.S. (VIMS), Kate Ruck (MS student VIMS), Catlin Smoot B.S. (VIMS), Kim Bernard, Ph.D., (postdoc, VIMS), Lori Price (MS student, VIMS).

Dr. Debbie Steinberg

Microbial Biogeochemistry-Project leader-Hugh Ducklow, Ph.D.- Director The Ecosystems Center, MBL ,Woods Hole, Matthew Erickson, M.S. (Chief Tech, MBL), Zena Cardman, B.S. (Univ N. Carolina), Will Daniels, B.S. (Volunteer, MBL), Kuan Huang, (Ph.D. Student Princeton Univ), Ken Legg, Ph.D. (volunteer).

Marie and Dr. Lihini Aluwihare

Ecological Physiology of Marine Crenarcheaota Populations from WAP-Project leader- Prof. Tim Hollibaugh, Ph.D. (Univ of Georgia), Prof. Lihini Aluwihare,Ph.D. (Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Univ Cal, San Diego).

For more information on the science we are doing look at the Palmer-LTER web site. There is also a VIMS blog on the Palmer-LTER site that you will find interesting. There is a blog about the Rutgers work at RUCold? There is a Rutgers blog including data on the gliders at Ocean Gliders. You can click on ‘cool data’ , then ‘gliders’ and then ‘active gliders’ to access current data on gliders currently at sea.

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Charcot Island

A few days ago we were at Charcot Island a starkly beautiful place surrounded by patchy sea ice and big icebergs. We were actually in the vicinity of Charcot for 3 days doing a “process station” which means a lot of sampling in a relatively small area.   The primary purpose of going to Charcot was to get the “birders” ashore to survey the Adelie penguin colony there. The Gould first visited Charcot in 2009 as the melting ice allowed the ship to get close to the Island.  They wanted to visit because they had a hunch there would be a penguin colony there because Charcot isnear an underwater canyon and penguins tend to feed near these sites. Well, the prediction was right and they found a small colony of Adelie penguins. The study of this site is important as it represents a look back in time compared to the colonies further north. By attaching the PTT (Platform Terminal Transmitter tags) Sean and Kirsten can monitor the foraging paths of the Adelie.  Shawn Farry and Kristen Gormen study Charcot so they can  take a census and weigh the chicks to characterize the health of the Adelie penguin colony. The first time we sent Shawn and Kristen ashore, after a long, torturous trip, they arrived at Charcot, went ashore, and the weather changed – the wind came up and it began to snow so they retreated back to the Gould. We repositioned the boat and later that afternoon they made it ashore and completed the survey. You can understand that planning our activities down here is difficult as it all depends on the weather and the ice conditions.The continuing studies will be able to document the changes as the sea ice continues to retreat. The second picture shows one of the big tabular icebergs which abound around here. These bergs are remnants of part of the Wilkins Ice shelf, a portion of which broke up several years ago and allowed approach to Charcot. Note that 90% of an iceberg’s volume is below the water!

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The Real Antarctica

Today is January 29th and we really feel like we are in Antarctic waters.  We went south until we were in the sea ice as far as we could safely go about 70.05 S.  This is the farthest the Gould has ever gone!  We are completely surrounded by sea ice and there are large tabular bergs around us too.  Summer sea ice used to extend farther north but has retreated with climate change since the later 1970’s.  The first picture is by Tim Hollibaugh and shows the shadow of the Gould on an iceberg  at sunset last night.  The second and third pictures are looking around the Gould this morning after sunrise near our most southern position.  We performed our normal oceanographic sampling here and the 4th picture shows Chance and Oscar recovering one of the instruments we use to measure the optical properties of the water.  It was tricky working with all the ice around.  The last picture shows the CTD rosette as it just entered the water and is ready to be lowered to around 300 meters to get our water samples.  Again, you can see the ice very close to the ship and the rosette wire.  The captain uses acombination of the ship’s propellers, the bow thruster and rudder to keep a small patch of ice-free water near the boat.   Later, we also did  net tows successfully and didn’t even get ice in the nets.  everyone is very excited to be here.  We will remain here for the day and into the evening for another round of sampling as long as the weather and ice conditions permit.

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The People Who Make it Happen

Today I want to write about the people from Raytheon Polar Services who do many things to enable the science to be done. There are six of them aboard and they have catchy titles like MT (Marine Tech), ET (Electonics Tech), MST (Marine Science Tech) and MPC (Marine Project Coordinator) and while each of these is a specialty they all seem to be able to do a wide variety of things from launching and running the Zodiacs (our rubber boats) to working some of the cranes to coordinating the lowering and towing of nets, sampling gear etc. If something breaks they fix it. If it’s software – they know it. If it’s chemistry- they know it. If it’s an injury – they can handle it. It’s safe to say that none of the science we do aboard the boat would get done without the outstanding work of these guys and gals. You’ve seen some pictures of them in action in earlier posts. Seriously, they are very multi-talented, work in sometimeshorrendous conditions, and do it with a smile. They are great to work with and I am highly appreciative of their talents. You’ve seen a picture of Chance Miller (MT) and Mike Coons (ET) earlier when they were taking us to the Chilean base. You saw Stian Alesandrini (MPC) getting nailed by a wave on the back deck during the mooring retrieve. The first picture shows Cooper Guest (MST) on the left with Mike. The second picture show Stian on the left with Mereidi Liebner (MT) and the third picture shows Tony D’Aoust (ET) scratching his head- no doubt figuring out to solution to another problem.

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The Heart of the Ship

I was treated to a tour of the engine room yesterday. Believe it or not it is the cleanest place on the boat! The first picture shows the Chief Engineer, Mike (on the left) with one of his staff, Noli in the engine control room.  Here they can control the engines, generators, pumps etc and monitor a wide variety of performance functions. The whole engine room is visible from here through heavily soundproofed windows because it’s really LOUD in the engine room. You have to wear hearing protection when you go in there. The second picture shows one of the two big six cylinder Caterpillar diesel engines. There are also two big diesel generators with a third emergency generator. There are two flash evaporator water makers that make fresh water from the salty sea water. They work off the heat produced by the engines and can make 4,000 gal of fresh water a day. There are many pipes, pumps, control devices and fire protection gear in the engine room. All the way aft there is a steering station with full controls, a compass etc. so if something happens up on the bridge that takes out control from up there, the ship can be run and steered from down below. It was interesting to learn that the engines are always running at their maximum efficiency- at a constant (rotation per minute) RPM. The propeller shaft and propeller are also always turning. The propellers have variable pitch so by varying the angle of the blades the ship can go forward, reverse, fast or slow- all at maximum efficiency of the engines! Mike’s crew are also responsible for all the winches and cranes up on deck and they have the ability to fix anything as long as they have the correct materials and parts. The last picture shows their machine shop complete with a set of the biggest open ended wrenches I’ve seen, a lathe and other machine tools. They can, and have done, a complete rebuild of the main engines and just completed a rebuild of one of the generators. And, as I said, you could eat off any surface down there. It’s truly the heart of the ship.

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