Greetings to our faithful readers. Things are finally winding down here at NCSU after a busy semester. Carrie and Dave have been immersed in a flurry of emails coordinating with Raytheon and Craig at the University of Hawaii to make sure the science goes smoothly, and everything is coming together. Here is an update of what is going on with our group and what we'll be up to on the next cruise!

Everyone is making big plans. Brian and Kim will be presenting their research at the ASLO meeting (American Society of Limnology and Oceanography) in Nice France in January. Rebecca and I will be heading to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine to do some kayaking and hiking, and will hopefully run in to the Hawaii group which will be hiking the infamous Patagonia "W" at the same time.

There will also be some exciting new science on this next trip. We will be leaving one of our own, Rebecca, at Palmer Station to do feeding experiments at the end of our cruise in March. She will be there for three weeks trying to fatten up Holothurians with some yummy diatoms and ooey-gooey Phaeocystis. Ken Buessler from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute will be leaving one of his students with us to investigate particulate transport along our stations. This will be a welcomed supplement to our Thorium and phytoplankton analyses. And on the way to our stations we will be dropping off two other science parties:

1) We will be leaving Dr. Ross MacPhee, a research scientist at the Natural Museum of Natural History and once Duke University associate professor, and his team on Livingston Island to look for fossil evidence of mammalian inhabitance as far back as 100 million years. A link to an article about his research is posted below:

The Antarctic Sun - Ross MacPhee fossil investigation

2) We will also be going to the eastern side of the peninsula in the Weddell Sea to drop off geobiologist Joseph Kirschvink at James Ross Island. His group is trying to solve the 65 million year old murder mystery, 'what killed the dinosaurs?' You might think this would be classified as a "Cold Case" but geologically speaking, this question is still hot!

The Antarcitc Sun - Joseph Kirschvink and the Dinosaurs

T-minus 56 days and counting until we shove off on the Gould for the final leg of our research! So kick back.. and stayed tuned for updates!

Today was quite a day for visits.  Santa Claus took a few days from his vacationing in Patagonia to some visit the good boys and girls on the N.B. Palmer.  With all the wintery weather we have been having, a little Christmas in July celebration was certainly in order (belated though... we had work to do, so it got put off till August.  Whoops!) 

It was really great.  We decorated the tree with ornaments maritime, gifts were swapped, and we even busted out the liquid nitrogen for a little homemade ice cream.   The evening was full of cheer and yuletide glee as we transited north towards home.  All is well aboard the Palmer tonight...

Alyssa sports the most X-mas like sweater
Ice Cream!!  Liquid Nitrogen boils off at -196*C, so it freezes the mixture and harmlessly escapes into the atmosphere.  Science is sweet!

King Neptune

Again, the weather broke for close to 12 hours and allowed us to get a small amount of sampling done at Station N.  The sediment was a slightly sandy mud underlain by a rather dense clay layer that prevented much our cores from getting great penetration.  Still, we were able to get a few megacores, and a blake trawl to study the benthos in this northern locale. 

With such a successful cruise, it is no surprise that King Neptune, the legendary ruler of the seas, graced us with a brief visit.  Very little is known of the rituals and customs of his royal court, but some tales are whispered among sailors and scientists alike in hushed tones.  I can share only this tattered and blurred photo...

Ice Ice Baby

Sea spray from the bow as ship pitches in heavy seas.

We have found a suitable site for station N, but the weather and seas are proving to be far too rough for sediment sampling.  Add to that the falling temperatures (-11*C and wind chill down to -32*C) and we have an icy situation on deck.  Seawater doesn't freeze until it reaches -1.85*C or so.  The back deck of the N.B. Palmer is heated, so no ice tends to form there.  Our sampling gear sitting on the deck - not heated.  So after taking a lot of water and sea spray, all of our equipment has approx. 2-3 inches of ice covering every crevice and cranny. 

  Boxcorer encased in ice.

  Unless weather improves, we may not be able to sample much here at our new station.  At least it's making for some pretty photos. 

Weather has been fairly poor, and the hunt for Station N, our new-fangled northern station has been unsuccessful.  A nice flat area near Elephant Island looked promising, but a survey with the Mud SCUD benthic video camera showed the site to be quite rocky and unsuitable for sampling. 

With weather flaky and the crew in need of a bit of rest, today we made a morale stop at Maxwell Cove on King George Island.  Any chance to get off the boat for a little time on land is likely to be the most memorable and exciting part of a cruise.  This was no exception, with a flock(?) of penguins near our landing site to entertain with their curious cuteness.   (Actually, what is a group of penguins called?  Not having Google on the boat is painful!)

  Chief Scientist, Dr. Craig Smith and Dr. Dave DeMaster posing nearby a small colony of gentoo penguins on King George Is.  

Testing the waters.

We had a rather close encounter with a leopard seal.   These guys are one of the major predators of these waters.  The zodiac offers relative safety, but leopard seals are known to attack humans.  This particular seal was very curious and swam under the zodiac a few times before deeming us a little to hard to eat.

And of course, what trip on land would be complete without a little winter sport.  Our landing location had a great hill that might have been great for skiing if we had skis.

However, we make due with what we have, and we all have butts.  Most of us tired ourselves out sliding down the hill on our fannies as many times as we could.
  We really had a great time out there, and smiles were contagious.
Great Day!

With a brief break in the  weather, we were able to complete all operations at station B.  This marked the completion of all of our planned stations and samples, with a whopping 48 hours of science time left in our cruise.  This is actually pretty remarkable, as weather delays and equipment failure are commonplace.  The early finish is a testament to the skill and professionalism of the science and technical staff here on the N.B.Palmer.  We rock!  Oh, and the spell of great weather helped out too. 

With the usual stations complete, we get to go home early, right?  Wrong!  Dave and Craig have ideas for a new station to sample along the northern end of the peninsula near the South Shetland Islands.  We are transiting there now to survey sites near King George Is.  The weather is marginal at best, with 30 knot winds and fairly heavy seas.  We may be able to expect some protection on the lee side of an island, but we won't know till we get there...

Wind and Waves

The days of sunny skies, gorgeous sunsets, scenic sea ice, and no sea or
swell are long gone and only a distant memory. Currently, science
operations have ceased because the winds are 35-45 knots (40-50 mph) with waves and swell on the order of 12-16 feet.

When the weather gets this bad, some of the scientists retreat to the Foosball table
in the helo hanger for consolation.

There are still a few operations that we can do under heavy seas. Almy is
taking a rest on the kasten corer prior to deployment. We use about 900
pounds of lead on the top of this corer to push it into the seabed, such
that it returns with a core that is 3-8 feet long. The sediments at the
bottom of these cores are thousands of years old, and they tell us what
oceanographic conditions were like in these frigid waters over centuries to

To collect bottom-dwelling animals we use either a Blake Trawl (shown here
with Almy riding the sled) or an Otter Trawl.

The animals come up, usually in a ball of mud, which needs to be rinsed down, and
then the various species of animals are sorted into buckets prior to dissection.

We are trying to understand the feeding strategies of these creatures living at the
bottom of the ocean in a pretty hostile environment. For example, do some
of the animals hibernate during the winter, when there is little or no
fresh plankton falling from the surface ocean (because of the low light and
ice conditions)? The bottom dwelling animals feed year-round at our
northern stations, but we don't know, what is happening at the southern
stations -- YET!.

We are hoping for better weather so that we can collect megacores. Due to
the need for undisturbed sediment, the ship needs to be pretty stable. We
are in between fronts, and the winds (we hope) should start calming. If
all goes well, we will get our window and complete station B.

Gettin' 'er done

With the sea ice keeping the ship so stable, we have had a very good
success rate with our sampling. Aside from the occasional rock in the
boxcore and an issue with the Tucker trawl, we have had textbook perfect
samples. We've been super busy getting all of the sediment seived and
jarred, the animals dissected and sorted, and the flux chambers fluxing.
We finished station F in a mere 40 hours and should be done with station E
by early tomorrow morning.

Right now at station E (-65* 56.686' ; -067* 18.706') We are at the edge of
the sea ice extent. We still have patches of pancake ice, but we are in
mostly open water. Still, we are surrounded by ice on 3 sides, and the
wind is low, so the seas are dead calm. It's a balmy -2*C outside, and
everything is going fine.

There really isn't a whole lot new to report, but there are some great
pretty photos, so we'll end this post with a few. Be sure to write us,
either by leaving comments on the blog or using our
addresses. We'd love to hear from you!

Megacorer being deployed into a hole in the sea ice.

Shadows of the boxcorer. Dr. Dave gives the thumbs up.

Spectacular sunset at Station F. The sunsets last almost an
hour at these high latitudes. Every 10 minutes renews the thought, "That's
the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen!"

Same sunset, 15 minutes later. The colors are no trick of the

Station F blake trawl got us a whole lot of Protelpedia sp.,
endearingly known to this group as Sea Pigs.

Dr. Paulo Sumida meets a rogue sea spider. Both parties were
stunned by the event, but seem to be getting better.

The ladies in the lab are usually running samples at a dizzying
pace, but you just gotta take a break for ice cream cake!


As mentioned in the last post, the sea ice eliminates many of the
complications involved in deploying instrumentation in heavy weather. We
have been fortunate to have a very high success rate with our megacores,
box cores, and kasten cores since the ship is very stable in the ice.

A picture perfect box core. Note the two burrow
holes, which actually is one u-shaped burrow. The picture doesn't show it
clearly, but there are little piles of Protelpedia sp. poop.


In order for sea ice to form, the temperature must be quite a bit below
freezing. The problem arises when we bring equipment up out of the water
(water temp is around -1.7 *C) into the approx. -11*C air. The wet gear
begins to freeze almost immediately.

Icicles on the catch-plate of the megacorer. The megacore has
many small moving parts, so ice is a real problem.

We have had to improvise sampling a little, mostly involving a quick unload
of the samples and moving them inside where it's a little warmer.
Strangely, a blow dryer has become one of our most important tool.

Dr. Paulo Sumida uses a hot air gun to get thaw and dry a
mecacore tube before deployment.

Still, morale is high and most of us are enjoying being busy. The scenery
is spectacular, though it has clouded over a little today. We plan on
being done with Station G either late tonight, or early in the morning.
We should have more time to blog during the transit.

Boxcore Bonzai

The boxcorer is one of out most important sampling devices. It allows us
to get a large amount of undisturbed sediment in one cast. It's big, heavy
and looks mighty sturdy. However, it's not meant to break up rocks.

A couple of rocks were lodged where the spade meets the faceplace. In
other words, a part of the box was literally between a rock and a
hardplace. The force sheared the screws in half and pretty much ruined the
faceplate. Luckily, the box was intact and we have a few extra faceplates.
This slowed us down a little, but we have plenty to do in the meantime
while it's being repaired. And of course some comic relief was in order.

In other news, the scenery is still unreal.. it's like we're on the moon
with the ice and the mountains around us. The sea ice satellite images
show the ice front moving northward, so we may be in ice for the next one
or two stations. Cold but beautiful!!

Satellite infrared image of ice cover. Purple to blue is open
water, where yellows to red are increasing ice coverage. Ship's track and
position in red.

Sea Ice!!

I noticed Sunday evening that the sound of the water splashing against the
side of the ship was a little different. We had finally hit a large patch
of sea ice! It was truly a gorgeous evening. The skies were clear, and
the moon and stars were shining brightly. Unfortunately, the darkness did
not lend to good photography, but here is a long exposure image that looks
kind of cool.

The morning came clear and beautiful. We were still moving through patches
of pancake ice. Pancake ice is the first stage of ocean freezing. As the
water gets colder, little pancakes freeze together to form bigger pancakes,
and eventually form sheets. On a clear morning, it's absolutely stunning.

Since we are below the Antarctic circle, the sun is only up for a very
short period of time. The sun only makes it up around a finger's width
from the horizon, even at noon. The following was taken after lunch
around 12:30:

We are still in transit to Station G, with an ETA of 6:00 AM on the 15th.
Most of us are chomping at the bit to get some work started. Luckily, with
the ice and the good weather, the sea state is very calm. This is
important, because many of our sampling procedures go much quicker and
easier in calm seas.

67*32.964 S, 70*23.407W
Air Temp: -8.8*C
Wind Chill: -20*C
SeaWater Temp: -1.79*C

We are in transit to Station G (our southernmost station) from Punta
Arenas. In order to get to the Antarctic Peninsula, we must cross the
Drake Passage, the stretch of sea that formed when S. America separated
from Antarctica millions of years ago. Transit time is expected to be
close to 5 days, depending on sea ice conditions. Since most of us have
our lab space pretty much prepared, many of us seem to be suffering from a
strange and new emotion - boredom.

Kim preparing standards for the Lachat nutrient analyzer.
We are collecting samples of surface waters in the Drake Passage for basic
oceanographic parameters.

Believe it or not, we are discussing science here. Really.

While almost as cool, but not quite, Dr. Rhian Waller is
organizing sample vials. The Palmer has a light table in the forward dry
lab, and is most excellent for making us look like we're in an episode of

The Marine Techs (MT's) are keeping busy building sampling
equipment. In this photo they are machining a 'messenger' - basically a
plug of metal that runs down the wire and triggers a sampler, in this case
a Tucker trawl. These ships have fully stocked metal and carpentry shops,
and the skilled staff to take care of almost any fabrication or repair

The Marine Science Techs (MST's) are responsible for keeping
the labs safe and running smooth.

And it just wouldn't be a transit worth speaking of if there
weren't a little foozball tourney!


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