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Week 04
Dispatch 16  |  Dispatch 17  |  Dispatch 18
Dispatch 16

Crabeater seals
Crabeater seals follow the Nathaniel B. Palmer in the waters off Alexander Island. As many as 70 seals followed the ship for about four hours.

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Photograph by Mark Christmas

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  • The Dry Lab of the Palmer

  • The Engine Room of the Palmer

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  • May 16, 2001

    Latitude: 69° 11’ 118” S
    Longitude: 72° 45’ 901” W

    Temperature: -0.7° C (31° F)

    Wind Chill: -17.6° C (1° F)

    Seas: 6 to 8 feet

    Video: Watch crabeater seals

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    Over the past four days we’ve completed a survey transect that took us out to sea and back to the coast of Alexander Island. During this time, we weathered another gale. We lost about 16 hours to weather as we had BIOMAPER II in the water and decided to cruise a course with following seas so that there would be less wear on the tow cable, which had just been repaired.

    Daylight is very short now. Less than four hours. We were treated to an escort by about 70 crabeater seals. They started trailing the ship before daylight and stayed with us all day.

    We’re heading back out to sea after passing over some of the largest concentrations of krill that we’ve seen thus far. We may revisit this spot after the survey portion of the cruise is complete.

    Here are more questions sent in to us via e-mail:

    Q: I am a seventh grade geography teacher in Greenfield, Wisconsin. We are following your journey as part of our Antarctica unit. The students really want to know one thing: Why are there no polar bears in Antarctica? We have discussed possible reasons, but they would like an expert opinion.Denise Kultgen in Wisconsin

    A: All bears (not just polar bears) evolved in the Northern Hemisphere (in what is now North America, Europe, and Asia) and adapted to habitats all the way up to the Arctic, which is where polar bears now live. By then, Antarctica was geographically isolated from the other continents, and bears were nowhere to be found in the Southern Hemisphere. Similarly, there are no penguins in the Arctic. Hope this helps.

    Thanks to Ari Friedlaender for answering this one!

    Here are some questions from Mrs. Mohr’s second grade class in Florida:

    Q: How is the ship able to break through the ice?

    A: The ship has a specially constructed bow that lets it ride over the ice. The weight of the ship then breaks the ice. For a good description of the ship, see Captain Watson’s description.

    Q: Did anyone get seasick or hurt going through Drake Passage?

    A: A few of the scientists on board did get a bit seasick during the crossing of Drake Passage. No one was hurt.

    Here are some questions from Mrs. Butler’s sixth grade classes in Indianapolis, Indiana:

    Q: Is the water that you drink while in Antarctica imported, or does it come from the glaciers?

    A: The water we drink is desalinated seawater. In the engine room, there are three evaporative desalinators. They are able to produce 15,000 gallons of potable water daily.

    Q: While wearing all the gear in Antarctica, do you ever get hot?

    A: The key to staying warm is dressing in layers. One of the benefits to layering is that you can adjust the temperature by adding or removing layers. So, when you get too warm, just simply remove a layer.

    Q: Is the work that you are doing in Antarctica going to affect the rest of the world in a beneficial way, and if so, how?

    A: Eileen Hofmann gave a very good answer to this question earlier in the cruise.

    Q: What exactly are you doing there?

    If you look at the mission page, you’ll find the overview of the Southern Ocean GLOBEC program. I’m documenting the cruise for At the same time, I’m serving as part of the science crew. I work the midnight to noon watch working with the CTD. The science goes on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When I’m not on watch (and sometimes during slow periods when I am) I try to keep up on what’s happening around the ship.

    Q: Is the chance to be in Antarctica worth the long round trip?

    A: Most definitely. The round trip is not really that long. It takes about a day in airplanes to reach Punta Arenas, Chile. Then, after a 3 to 5 day crossing of the Drake Passage, you’re in the waters of Antarctica. Except for a brief stop at Palmer Station, we have been at sea since April 24. So far, I can say that spending time in Antarctic waters is phenomenal.

    —Mark Christmas, 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: does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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    Dispatch 17

    Palmer’s Baltic Room
    The massive door of the Palmer’s Baltic Room swings open to reveal the ocean.

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    Photograph by Mark Christmas

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  • The Baltic Room

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  • May 17, 2001

    Latitude: 68° 23’ 827” S
    Longitude: 75° 19’ 264” W

    Temperature: -0.7° C (31° F)

    Wind Chill: -21.6° C (-7° F)

    We’re in the open sea now and things are flying off the countertops! A moment ago my chair fell over as we caught a large swell. Our world is rocking and rolling. And still, the science goes on.

    BIOMAPER II is in the water, collecting data. The weather has been horrible, especially for the whale and bird observers. The days are short, the visibility is limited, the winds are strong, and the ship is moving. Observations are much more productive when we are closer to shore and the weather is calm. I’ll give you an update on their progress in the next dispatch.

    The midnight-to-noon watch, now off-duty, decided to take a walkabout, a short journey to the bow of the ship. What’s it like? Well, I was a little behind the others and went out to catch up to them. Opening the heavy steel door was the first challenge. With a 40-knot wind blowing hard and still feeling the effect of my broken rib, it was all I could do to lean my body against the door and force it to give to my weight. The wind was blowing spray from the tops of the waves into my face and covering my camera gear.

    Step 1, put camera under jacket. Step 2, grab hold of the rail, climb a set of ice-covered, steel-grated stairs, all the while wondering if this is a sane thing to be doing. Step 3, edge along the rail feeling as if my face looked like those of the astronauts being launched into orbit. I made my way to within sight of the bow and not surprisingly, saw no one. Step 4, carefully retrace steps as a wave crashes over the starboard rail and soaks me. Everyone else must have had second thoughts.

    The cold wave made me think of the water cycle. You know, condensation, precipitation, evaporation. We have a slightly different water cycle here: collection, distribution, analysis.

    The CTD probe brings up water samples from different depths. The samples are carefully labeled when they are brought on board and then distributed to the nutrients group, the microzooplankton group and the productivity group. They are tested for chlorophyll, oxygen, carbon uptake by phytoplankton, microzooplankton, and nutrient availability in the water column. The National Geographic Society strives to explore the world and all that’s in it. I guess you could say the mission of the CTD probe is to study the ocean and all that’s in it.

    Factoid: To date, we’ve cruised 2,836 nautical miles!

    Here are a few questions from Mrs. Butler’s sixth grade classes in Indianapolis, Indiana:

    Q: What do you miss while you are in Antarctica?

    A: This answer has a couple of different levels to it. I miss my wife, Elizabeth. I miss my sons Colin and Brett. For obvious reasons. On the creature-comfort level, I miss a bathtub. There are only showers in the cabins. One thing I really miss is sitting on my back deck in the morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, listening to the riot of sound from the birds.

    Q: Have you had any accidents?

    A: If you look back to the early dispatches, you’ll see that I managed to fracture a rib before we set sail. I’m happy to report that it is mending nicely.

    —Mark Christmas, 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: does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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    Dispatch 18

    From left, Carin Asjian, Maureen Taylor, and Peter Wiebe move BIOMAPER II to its storage van on deck. MOCNESS hangs in the background, ready to be deployed.

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    Photograph by Mark Christmas

    May 19, 2001

    Latitude: 69° 19’ 538” S
    Longitude: 75° 24’ 295” W

    Temperature: -1.1° C (30° F)

    Wind Chill: -15.6° C (4° F)

    Seas: 4 to 6 feet

    The end of the survey portion of the cruise is in sight. The rhythmic nature of our lives will soon change. We are approaching station 79 of 84. The days have blurred together in the past two weeks. At any hour of the day, the greeting “good morning” is appropriate, depending upon who you meet and what shift they happen to work. The days aren’t marked so much by sunrise and sunset as they are the meal schedule. One person’s breakfast is another’s dinner and yet another’s lunch. If you’ve never had spaghetti for breakfast, you just may want to try it!

    Erik Chapman and Chris Ribic have continued their bird observations in spite of the poor conditions. They have been using night-vision goggles to conduct nighttime observations. The amount of time they are able to observe varies from day to day, but the average has been about four hours.

    For the observations to be valid, the ship must be under way at four to five knots, following the predetermined survey track. They limit their observations to the forward port quarter of the ship. They focus on that 90-degree area for hours on end.

    It may not sound difficult, but imagine driving in a thunderstorm and focusing intently on the road ahead or taking a four-hour test, every day. That’s the kind of focus it takes. The species sighted over the past two days have been Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica), Cape petrel (Daption capense), Southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides), blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea), Southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), and snow petrel (Pagrodoma nivea). Snow petrels have been found in larger numbers in the areas where ice forms, while in the open sea there tend to be more blue petrels.

    Chief Scientist Peter Wiebe is putting together the science plan for the cruise time left after the survey. We are in search of ice and penguins. We hope to do some work with the RV Laurence M. Gould. There is a team of divers onboard the Gould. They hope to dive near the ice … brrrr! There are plans to use the ROV SeaRover to look under the ice. Check back to see if we find ice or penguins (or frozen divers!).

    Here are some more questions sent in to us via e-mail:

    Q: How much fuel do you use (in general and in keeping the ship warm) and don’t you get claustrophobic?

    A: I asked Captain Watson to help with the fuel question:

    The ship can hold around 450,000 gallons of fuel and on a slow cruise like this one, cruising at 5 or 6 knots, we only burn about 5,000 gallons a day. So working the math out, that would give us 90 days of travel time. It’s a little more complicated, since we can’t actually get 100 percent of the fuel out of the tanks, and a prudent reserve of fuel would be around 40 percent on arrival at your home port. Also, if we’re running a full-ahead cruise, we burn closer to 9,000 gallons a day and if we’re in very heavy ice, where we’re backing and ramming with four engines on line, it can get up to 15,000 gallons a day—figure out how long we could run at that rate.

    Those fuel figures, incidentally, cover everything we’re running—main engines plus two generators. For an extreme case, if we were to get beset in the ice, we could get that number down to about 800 to 900 gallons a day if we were to shut down our main engines and only run on one generator. Since our heaters onboard are electrical, we do need to have a power source if we’re going to stay warm. It wouldn’t take more than a couple of days for the ship to get down to freezing temperatures if we were to lose all power.

    Captain Michael Watson

    And I asked Baris Salihoglu to give his opinion on claustrophobia:

    I do get claustrophobic, especially when I’m in my little room. It is tight and dim in there. The first night onboard was quite unpleasant for me. There are two bunks in each room. I got the upper bunk. You cannot even sit in your bed—the ceiling is only about two or three feet away from the bed. I couldn’t sleep at all. I even couldn’t stand staying in my room and spent the night in the TV hall (which is a huge room) instead.

    Baris Salihoglu
    Ph.D. student
    Center for Physical Oceanography
    Old Dominion University
    —Mark Christmas, 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: does not research or copyedit dispatches.]

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    Resources and Links Classroom Ideas Credits National Science Foundation GLOBEC Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution National Geographic Today SeaLab: ANTARCTICA: Search Home Get E-mail Updates