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Week 05
Dispatch 19  |  Dispatch 20  |  Dispatch 21  
Dispatch 19

Wilkins ice shelf
Next stop, Wilkins ice shelf. We hope to find whales and penguins.

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Photograph by Mark Christmas




May 21, 2001

Latitude: 70° 31’ 827” S
Longitude: 76° 37’ 264” W

Temperature: -2.0° C (28° F)

Wind Chill: -10.9° C (12° F)

Seas: Calm

0300 hours: The line-transect survey of the cruise is complete. We finished yesterday. Afterwards, Peter Wiebe led a meeting of the science groups to reach a consensus on the research goals to be accomplished in the next 12 days. One of the first, the bird and whale groups need time to study their subjects, up close and personal. So it’s off to the Wilkens Ice shelf, just below Charcot Island. Hopefully we’ll find birds and whales there.

1000 hours: The trip to the ice shelf was uneventful. We encountered ice that was packed tightly. The temperatures have dropped to -4.2 C (25 F). The plan was to have the whale group head out in a Zodiac to search for whales to biopsy, and the bird group, also in a Zodiac, to look for birds to study stomach contents. The ice was packed too tightly for Zodiac operations. We changed course and headed to the edge of the ice. Flexibility is a necessity when the weather is a determining factor.

1230 hours: We finally got the Zodiacs in the water. I joined Ari Friedlaender, Catherine Berchok, Aparna Sreenivasan, and Cabell Davis looking for whales. The sun rose today at 1130 hours and set at 1400 hours. That’s not a lot of time to spend on the water. We didn’t see any whales, but we saw some crabeater seals and were followed for about five minutes by a lone leopard seal. I’ve been told that the leopard seal will actually bite a Zodiac. We were stopped for a moment and the leopard seal swam around and under us, carefully sizing us up. We returned to the ship, but not until after Ari took a couple of practice shots with his crossbow and we recovered the arrows.

There are televisions in every cabin and in most of the work areas. Surfing the channels here is very different than at home. There are video cameras aimed at various parts of the ship. The most interesting channels are those which have the heads-up display from the variety of sensors on the ship. At a glance you can learn; water temperature, air temperature, course, speed, wind direction and speed (both relative and true), barometric pressure, bottom depth, latitude, and longitude. This is the information I look at before I leave my cabin. There’s also information on currents, salinity, and a large number of environmental sensors that I admit to be ignorant about.

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

Q: How old is the ice cap in Antarctica? Is the ice clear where it seems to have a blue tint to it? Does the ice melt at a considerable rate per year?Vern in Iowa

A: John Klinck and the geologists of Old Dominion University tackled this question!

Evidence suggests that South America separated from the Antarctic continent about 30 million years ago, at which time there is evidence of an ice cap forming. Although the volume of the ice cap changes over time, there seems to have been ice over Antarctica since that time. However, you should think of the ice in terms of honey slowly sliding off the Antarctic continent. Snow accumulates over the land and eventually slides off the ice shelves, making icebergs.

Ice melts where it is in contact with the ocean, mainly. Deep in the ice, there is some melting due to high pressure. When matter is compressed, its temperature goes up. That is why your bicycle pump seems warmer after you use it. There is a complicated pattern of melting and freezing where the ice slides into the ocean, so the net melt rate is not very large. Ice tends to break off the shelves and move northward where it melts in the warmer water (after a few years).

New ice looks white or clear. The white patterns come from air that was dissolved in the water and becomes trapped in the ice when it freezes. Slow freezing makes clear ice, rapid freezing makes white ice (like snow). After enough time, the air works its way out of the ice, leaving a relatively pure crystalline form of water ice. This tends to scatter blue light stronger than other colors, so the ice looks blue.

Thanks for your curiosity,

John Klinck
Department of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.
****

I’ve received several questions about the camera equipment I’m using.

I’m shooting with a Nikon COOLPIX 990 digital camera. Most times I’m using the WC-E63 wide converter lens. I also have the TC-E3ED 3x Tele Converter (a telephoto) lens. For the iPIX images, I use the FC-E8 0.21x fisheye lens. I use a SB-23 Speedlight flash with the SK E-900 flash bracket. It’s extremely difficult to use the telephoto due to the low light and constant motion.

—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 20

Crabeater Seal
Marine Technician Matt Burke gets a good look at a curious crabeater seal.

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Photograph by Mark Christmas

360º Image

  • Ice from the science mast

    (Get iPIX Player)



  • May 22, 2001

    Latitude: 70° 31’ 827” S
    Longitude: 76° 37’ 264” W

    Temperature: -6.2° C (21° F)

    Wind Chill: -18.9° C (-2° F)

    Seas: Calm

    What a glorious day. A clear morning to start it off and a long sunset to end it. We’ve cruised over one degree of latitude northward and in the process picked up almost an hour of daylight. The sun rose today at 1130 hours and set at 1326 hours. The sun and the ice are a welcome contrast to the stormy open seas we experienced during the first part of the cruise. It provides the picture of Antarctica that I had in mind before I left springtime in Northern Virginia.

    We’d hoped to find good conditions for the Zodiac operations, but the ice was too tightly packed. The plan is to head to Lazarev Bay where the Laurence M. Gould is now working. We are trying to locate whales and birds for study. The word from the Gould’s Chief Scientist, Jose Torres, is that the divers have made it into the water.

    Scott Gallager was finally able to put the SeaRover into the water under the ice. Several krill were seen before the ROV was pulled. A leak was discovered and several hours of repairs will have to be made before it goes back into the water. The resilience and ingenuity of this group amaze me. No matter what the setback, it is seen as a solution waiting to be found rather than a problem.

    A group of really curious crabeater seals swam around the ship for the entire time the SeaRover was in the water. They seemed to be having fun checking out the ship and the equipment that was in the water. They played hide and seek with me and my camera. Of course, they won!

    A couple of milestones: Catherine Berchok and Tom Bolmer celebrated birthdays. Happy birthday!

    Will we find whales and penguins? Check back to find out.

    Here are a few more question sent to us via e-mail:

    Q: Hello all. I think you folks are on one terrific adventure! And I very much thank you for letting the rest of us join in from our comfy, warm, and dry living rooms!

    My question: Are there observed differences between the psychological and physiological effects experienced by crews surrounded by ice and coldness and those experienced by crews surrounded by open sea and tropical islands?Lorrie Ann in Boston

    A: Eileen Hofmann answers this one.

    Dear Lorrie Ann, thanks for your question because it does bring up an interesting point. I have done oceanographic cruises in warm climates as well as in the Antarctic. The two biggest differences that I notice for Antarctic work are the lack of light and the cold.

    We are now getting less than five hours of light each day and the days are rapidly getting shorter. A result of this is that one of the primary cues to which our biological clocks are tuned is severely limited. Several people on the cruise, including me, have experienced difficulty getting into a regular sleep pattern, even though we have now been at sea for well over a month. Without light, the usual resetting of the biological clock does not seem to be occurring, at least not quickly.

    The intense cold that characterizes the Antarctic does not encourage spending much time out on deck. The trips outside tend to be short and for a specific purpose. On cruises in warmer climates, we frequently spend time when we are not working sitting on the deck enjoying the sun and just watching the ocean. The scenery in the Antarctic is some of the most spectacular on Earth, but much of our viewing of it is from inside the ship. Even with lots of clothes, the cold eventually drives everyone back inside. An interesting side effect of working in the cold is that one tends to eat much more.

    If you would like to learn more about the possible psychological/physiological effects of working in a harsh and demanding climate like the Antarctic, check the Web site for the National Science Foundation (www.nsf.gov). This federal funding agency has funded research studies on the effect of working in the Antarctic on human interactions and human behavior.

    Again, thanks for your question and I hope you continue to enjoy the National Geographic coverage of our cruise.

    Eileen Hofmann

    Thanks to Eileen Hofmann for answering this one!

    Q: How do messages get to the ship if there are no telephone lines?Julian

    A: We rely upon satellites. The dispatches I send are transmitted as data using a satellite system called INMARSAT. We are able to communicate via telephone, data (e-mail and imagery), fax, and telex.

    —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 21

    Lazarev Bay
    The wake of the Nathaniel B. Palmer closes as the ships threads its way through the iceberg-filled Lazarev Bay.

    Photo Gallery >>

    Photograph by Mark Christmas

    360º Image

  • The bridge of the Nathaniel B. Palmer

    (Get iPIX Player)



  • May 23, 2001

    Latitude: 69° 19’ 588” S
    Longitude: 72° 21’ 281” W

    Temperature: -2.6° C (27° F)

    Wind Chill: -16.1° C (3° F)

    Seas: Calm

    This is the third day in a row that we’ve been treated to clear, sunny skies and they are providing us a glimpse of Antarctic splendor. As day broke, we entered Lazarev Bay. Rothschild Island to our starboard side, Alexander Island to the port, and the Wilkins Ice Shelf ahead. The sun never gets too high in the sky so the appearance is that of a long sunrise that at some point transforms into a long sunset. You’ll have to excuse the number of pictures that have no people in them that accompany this dispatch, but it was a day that was all about place.

    The bay is full of icebergs of every size and shape. The mates that pilot the ship are beyond compare. Their talents are brought sharply to mind when passing icebergs, so close that it seems one could reach out and touch them, that are easily twice the size of the ship. Hats off to Captain Michael Watson, Chief Mate David Fahey, Second Mate Marty Galster, Third Mate John Higdon, and Ice Pilot Vladimir Repin for guiding us safely on our way.

    The evening brought another opportunity to put the ROV SeaRover in the water. Before long, icebergs closed around us. The ROV came within a meter of being crushed by a “bergy bit.” A bergy bit was described to me as being the size of a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot home. A fast recovery by the SeaRover team and deft maneuvering by Second Mate Marty Galster removed us from harm’s way. After finding a friendlier spot, SeaRover was put back in the water to continue its research under the ice.

    The bird and whale observers are still hoping to get out in the Zodiacs and find some of the subjects of their research. The tightly packed ice still prohibits Zodiac operations, though, as always, there is hope for tomorrow.

    Here is a question sent in to us via e-mail:

    Q: As a follow-up to the question about the thermal wave, do you believe that these cyclical changes are being caused by our influences on the global weather system or are they part of a larger pattern?John

    A: Eileen Hofmann answered this one:

    Thanks for the follow-up question on the Antarctic Circumpolar Wave. At this time, the explanation being developed for this feature is based on it being part of a larger atmospheric pattern. The current research is focused on establishing a link between the wave and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that occurs in the Pacific. The preliminary results are suggestive of a linkage between the two atmospheric events but the causal mechanism is still unclear. There is much interest in the Antarctic Circumpolar Wave now from both the oceanographic and atmospheric sciences communities. So, hopefully we will develop a good understanding of this feature in the not too distant future.

    I hope you continue to enjoy the National Geographic coverage of our cruise.

    Eileen Hofmann

    Thanks to Eileen Hofmann for answering this one!

    —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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