On 11 June the wonderful endeavour of NBP11-03 came to an end. We arrived back in Punta Arenas, and spend a last day with hard work packing up all our gear, cleaning the labs, and unloading the ship. In the evening we then had the well deserved ‘end-of-cruise-party’. Everybody enjoyed a few drinks after five weeks of abstinence (yes – the Palmer is a dry ship, with zero alcohol policy).
I would like to finish this blog with the facts list from our official cruise blog site:
…we travelled approximately 2800 nautical miles… …
the biologists collected 1124 samples, representing 13 phyla, 11475 individuals, 1634 octocorals and 649 solitary scleractinians!!!
A couple of days ago we left our penultimate sample location, Sars Seamount, where we spent almost a week with dredging, imaging, and water sampling.
Sars is a quite sizeable seamount in the middle of the Drake Passage (~59.44S, ~68.08W), but why are we so interested in it? Sars is conveniently located in the middle of the Drake Passage, and hence in a spot where we should see changes in major water mass configurations on glacial-interglacial time scales. Finding old corals (e.g., corals with ages between 25,000 years ago and today) at Sars would enable us to obtain direct insights into the Southern Ocean’s role in natural climate change since the last glacial maximum (~20,000 years ago).
The last five days had everything the title of this blog promises – pretty corals and rocky seas.
A few days ago, we had our first ‘bad’ weather. It was actually not that bad, but 40 to 50 knot winds (75 to 90 km/hr) are enough to stop our science operations, and to start the chairs and containers in the labs to move around. Under these conditions it is simply not safe anymore to work on the deck and hence we all are stuck inside. Sleeping can also be a bit challenging – I had one night, where I woke up a lot because my duvet kept falling off the bed.
Today I want to tell you about live on the ship and the people out here. Our science team comprises 19 students and researchers from six different countries (UK, US, France, Spain, Argentina), plus an Argentinean observer. We work in two shifts, from noon to midnight (the day shift), and from midnight to noon (the night shift). I ended up as the ‘watch leader’ on the day shift. The watch leader is the person that keeps the science team informed on what is going on, makes sure all jobs that are outstanding get done, and that everybody in the team is doing ok.
For the past 18 hours we transited through the Bransfield Straits, which is the seaway between the Antarctic Peninsula (the bit of Antarctica that sticks out in the direction of South America), and a chain of islands in front of it. We were hoping to see the islands with a bit of luck, but all of our expectations got topped: we did not only see the islands, but also the Antarctic Peninsula, many icebergs, penguins, seals, and birds.
We also had the rare opportunity to observe what it looks like when the ocean freezes over during winter time (seasonal sea ice formation).
We have been out at sea for only a week now and despite spending half of our time with steaming to reach our sample locations, we have already made great progress on the science side.
Our first sampling site was on the shelf and slope area off South America.
There we collected hundreds of fossil corals, all the way from 300m to 2000m water depth. This is an enormous success! Of course we will only know how great our catch really is, once we get back to the lab and start dating all these corals. It really is the combination of the right age and the right sample depth that makes fossil corals so precious for palaeoclimate work.
On Monday, 9 May 2011, 4 pm local time in Chile we left the port of Punta Arenas and set sail for the Southern Ocean. The steaming time to our first site was about 34 hours and this morning we started our actual work.
The main purpose of the cruise is to collect deep-sea corals across the major oceanographic fronts found in the Southern Ocean. By combining a biology team, lead by
Co-I Rhian Waller, and a palaeo team, lead by PI Laura Robinson, we will try to tackle questions reaching from current habitats of deep-sea corals, to how their distribution may have been different in the past and why.
4 pm local time in Chile we left the port of Punta Arenas and set sail for the Southern Ocean. Our estimated steaming time to our first site is about 35 hours. At this site we are going to start will all our science activities from sampling water, over coring, to taking pictures, and (of course) sampling
After (unintentional) 40 hours of travelling, I arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile. Some of it was due to the rather interesting fact that the Chileans use a different local time at the moment than we assume they do in the UK. Hence my 2 hour stay in Santiago de Chile was cut down to 50 minutes, which was not really enough to catch my flight down to Punta Arenas. But in the end it really does not matter whether you spend 34 hours or 40 hours on airplanes and in airports – it is simply a long, long day. The view out of the airplane was however very rewarding!
As I am typing this, I am sitting at the airport of Miami, waiting for my connecting flight to Santiago de Chile. From there I will continue to Punta Arenas, the place where our ship and some of my colleagues are already waiting for the rest of us to arrive. The journey down there takes about 27 hours from London! Once I am there I will post a first little blog, hopefully with a shiny picture of the ship and us working hard to get the ship ready for our departure.