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Dispatches Departure Week 01 Week 02 Week 03 Week 04 Week 05 Week 06 Return

Week 02
Dispatch 06  |  Dispatch 07  |  Dispatch 08  |  Dispatch 09  |  Dispatch 10
Dispatch 06

BIOMAPER is lowered onto the aft working deck after a very tense few moments of maneuvering in heavy seas. It was pulled in for more adjustments to its telemetry and video systems.

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Photograph by Mark Christmas



April 29, 2001

Latitude: 64° 46’ 251” S
Longitude: 64° 03’ 252” W

Temperature: -1.5° C (29° F)

Wind Chill: -6.1° C (21° F)

Seas: 2 to 4 feet

In the predawn hours, the CTD was deployed from the Baltic Room with a wind-driven snow blowing outside. It was dropped to a depth of 50 meters to allow for testing of the Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer (FRRF). The FRRF is being used by Wendy Kozlowski and Mike Thimgan of Scripps Institute of Oceanography in productivity measurements. When the FRRF came topside, the CTD was again deployed, this time to 835 meters. Water samples were taken at 16 different depths.

The water is what’s needed by the primary productivity and nutrient groups to begin their work. The labs they have set up here are quite impressive and now quite busy.

After the CTD was recovered, the BIOMAPER was launched. We cruised from survey site one and began “tow-yoing” BIOMAPER. Tow-yoing is when BIOMAPER (often referred to as the “fish”) is towed on a cable while being lowered and raised—resulting in a motion similar to that of a yo-yo. With the “fish” in the water, our speed had to remain between four and six knots so as to not skew results.

The survey portion of the cruise has begun. There are 84 consecutive survey stations planned. An around-the-clock blur of activity has begun. Check back to see what the different teams are up to and to see what’s being learned.

—Mark Christmas, nationalgeographic.com field producer


Have a question for Mark or the SeaLab team about the expedition or life at sea in Antarctica? In every dispatch, Mark will answer selected questions from readers.


[Note: nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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Dispatch 07

Blue skies, calm seas, and sunshine are a welcome sight after several days of heavy seas and snow.

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Photograph by Mark Christmas



May 1, 2001

Latitude: 66° 06’ 639” S
Longitude: 70° 53’ 106” W

Temperature: -1.0° C (30° F)

Wind Chill: -17.1° C (1.2° F)

Seas: 2 to 6 feet

We’re on Station 10. There’s a raging snowstorm outside. It’s 0300 hours. A CTD has just been recovered and MOCNESS is about to be deployed. It takes total concentration and an awareness of your surroundings to work safely in these conditions. The boat is heaving and awash with waves. Ice and snow are on the decks. There are cables under tension. MOCNESS goes in without a hitch.

The morning brings blue skies with clouds on the horizon. This should be a good day for bird and whale observations. BIOMAPER is back in the water. There have been a whole lot of solutions to be worked out. The team is hoping that things will run smoothly now.

A single humpback is sighted off the starboard bow. Catherine Berchok of Penn State University gets the word and rushes to deploy a sonobuoy so she can listen for its call. So far, only the sound of the ship’s engines. I’ll recap the sightings and soundings tomorrow.

I have received many e-mails from people around the world who are following our expedition on nationalgeographic.com. Here are a few:

Q: I was reading about the extreme temperatures, and I would like to know, how do you possibly stay warm? —Julie

A: The temperature range on the continent and on the water differ greatly. The extreme cold temperatures of the mainland are severe. You must remember that the freezing temperature of seawater is just about 28° F—and we’re not even in the ice yet. If you look at the temperatures on some of the dispatches, you’ll see that it’s mild compared to the temperatures at the South Pole Station, which can reach -90° F and below. Two of the keys are to stay dry and wear layers.

Q: Does the ozone hole that opens up periodically over Antarctica have any effect on the krill population? —Gary

A: According to the scientists onboard the Palmer, the effects of the ozone hole on the krill population is indirect. The effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation directly on krill is minimized as the UV radiation is contained to the upper levels of the water column—above the area in which krill are usually found. The phytoplankton on which krill feed however, are affected.

There also is a global warming link to the cycle of sea-ice formation. It has been observed that in the summer following peak sea-ice formation there is a bloom in krill production. This peak sea-ice cycle had historically been determined to be six years in duration. There is evidence that this cycle is now an eight-year event.

If you consider that the lifespan of an Adelie penguin is believed to be 12 to 14 years, the penguin would enjoy two krill blooms in its lifetime with a six-year sea-ice cycle. If the environmental frequency of sea-ice formation changes, it is almost certain to have an effect on the biological frequency of the penguin, which would in turn affect the krill as there is a shift out of equilibrium.

Remember, if you have a question, drop us a line!

—Mark Christmas, nationalgeographic.com field producer


Have a question for Mark or the SeaLab team about the expedition or life at sea in Antarctica? In every dispatch, Mark will answer selected questions from readers.


[Note: nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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Dispatch 08



May 2, 2001

Latitude: 66° 29’ 439” S
Longitude: 69° 31’ 50” W

Temperature: -2.1° C (28° F)

Wind Chill: -11° C (12° F)

Seas: 6 to 10 feet

We’re at survey station 14. There will be a total of 84 survey stations. It’s been a rather calm day that included a much-appreciated visit from the sun. A lot has been going on, which I’ll include in future dispatches. We’ve received questions via e-mail from many of you. Here are some of them.

Q: What gives krill its red color? —Robert

A: Not all krill are red. Those that are, Euphausia superba among them, get their color from the pigment carotine in the algae they eat. The color red is also a defensive mechanism for the krill. Red attenuates quickly in the water column and helps the krill seem invisible to its prey.

Q: The description of your research area mentions hurricane-force winds. How do you and the team work in these kind of conditions? Also, during this time of the year can you observe or interact with any of the animal life, such as the penguins? —Josh

A: The Palmer is a fine example of marine technology, a very stable platform. We’ve not yet encountered hurricane-force winds but commonly work in wind conditions of 40 to 45 knots. Add to that a rolling sea and waves washing over the aft deck and you get an idea of what it’s like. Being aware of your surroundings and strictly adhering to safety procedures is essential in these conditions.

We can observe animals but not interact with them. Specific permits are required by the Marine Mammal Act to approach animals. We expect to observe Adélaie and Chinstrap Penguins in Marguerite Bay.

Q: Hi, I live in Mexico, and I have enjoyed your article a lot. I wish you well. My question is, have you tasted the krill and does it taste like regular shrimp? —from Mexico

A: I have not yet tasted krill. I spoke with Eileen Hofmann to get the answer to this one. I think the specific word she used to describe the taste was “nasty.” Of course, this was a purely subjective response.

The shells of krill have a high fluoride content. This can result in a metallic taste. There was once an attempt to grind krill for use as chicken feed. It was a short-lived effort as the chickens began dying from fluoride poisoning. Krill are used in some salmon fisheries to give the nice pink color to the fish. Some countries do use krill as a staple of their diet.

Remember, if you have a question, drop us a line!

—Mark Christmas, nationalgeographic.com field producer


Have a question for Mark or the SeaLab team about the expedition or life at sea in Antarctica? In every dispatch, Mark will answer selected questions from readers.


[Note: nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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Dispatch 09



May 3, 2001

Latitude: 66° 50’ 566” S
Longitude: 71° 24’ 127” W

Temperature: -0.3° C (31° F)

Wind Chill: -19.4° C (-3° F)

Seas: 6 to 10 feet

A very gray day. Fog and blowing snow. The whale and bird observers must hate days like this.

Visibility was limited to less than 1,500 meters. We’re up to station 20 of 84. Catherine Berchok has been deploying sonabuoys with success. She heard a blue whale yesterday. For a typical deployment, Catherine might receive a call from either the bridge or Ari Friedlaender saying that they had sighted a whale. She’d then run to get the sonabuoy, making sure to have someone in the lab to record latitude, longitude, depth, and time. After deployment, it’s listening time—sometimes for hours upon end.

Our first iceberg! Captain Mike Watson made radar contact with an iceberg. Visibility was poor so there was no visual sighting but it was exciting to know there’s one out there.

Here are some more answers to viewers’ questions.

Q: I was just wondering how the weather is there now, how long you plan to be there, and how you like the cold down there.

A: Our cruise is scheduled to last until June 6. The weather has been generally overcast with lots of snow squalls and moderate to heavy seas. At the moment, it is snowing outside and the temperature is -0.5° C (31° F) with a wind chill of -14.4° C (8.5° F).

Q: What is it like to be able to go to a place where very few people have and will ever travel? Does the climate and environment both give you excitement as well as a sense of fear about such extreme cold temperatures?

A: I was on the deck one day watching the snow and waves being driven by the wind. The swells were 15 to 18 feet, and seabirds were flitting in and out of the whitecaps. I couldn’t help but feel extremely humble and at the same time mesmerized by what lay before me. I imagined what it must have been like for the explorers who first charted this continent. To be out here on a wooden ship without charts must have been a tremendous challenge.

Remember, if you have a question, drop us a line!

—Mark Christmas, nationalgeographic.com field producer


Have a question for Mark or the SeaLab team about the expedition or life at sea in Antarctica? In every dispatch, Mark will answer selected questions from readers.


[Note: nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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Dispatch 10

A snow petrel, perhaps disoriented by the snow and the lights of the ship, settled in on the deck of Palmer before going on its way.

Photo Gallery >>

Photograph by Mark Christmas



May 5, 2001

Latitude: 66° 58’ 163” S
Longitude: 72° 27’ 608” W

Temperature: -1.4° C (29° F)

Wind Chill: -21.2° C (-6° F)

Seas: 6 to 12 feet

What a variety of weather over the past 24 hours. When I began this dispatch at 0300 hours, there was a blizzard raging outside. Now, nearly 12 hours later, it’s sunny and clear, quite possibly the best day we’ve had on this trip.

A minke whale was sighted and Catherine Berchok put out a sonabuoy. A short while later a humpback was sighted. Catherine didn’t hear the minke, but she did hear the humpback. From the bridge, I saw my first whale spout! And I saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Captain Mike Watson pointed it out to me from the helo deck.

We’ve been working on the survey and mapping stations since April 29. We have just left station 25 of 84. The MOCNESS is just out of the water.

I bet you’re wondering, if this research is about krill, then where are they? We have three ways of seeing the krill.

The MOCNESS has been netting krill and bringing them aboard since it was first deployed. The krill have been predominately juvenile, in the furcilia stage of development. They’ve been, on average, 6mm in length.

Another way we “see” krill is bioacoustically. The BIOMAPER II measures backscatter from bodies it reflects sound off in stepped intervals from 1 meter from a transducer to as much as 300 meters away.

The third way we see the krill is with the Video Plankton Recorder (VPR), which is mounted on the BIOMAPER II. The VPR is essentially an underwater video microscope that uses two video cameras (high and low magnification) and sophisticated software to detect in-focus plankton, automatically identify and count the different kinds of plankton, and plot their population sizes together with environmental variables (e.g. temperature and salinity) in real time. The VPR can also be deployed in several other ways, including from tethered remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and untethered robotic vehicles.

And what have we learned about krill? There are a large number of juvenile krill here, most likely from a huge spawn in February. The question is, will they survive?

—Mark Christmas, nationalgeographic.com field producer


Have a question for Mark or the SeaLab team about the expedition or life at sea in Antarctica? In every dispatch, Mark will answer selected questions from readers.


[Note: nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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