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 @nbp.usap.gov
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!

Guest Star: Almy

We have one extra crew member who has come along with us to Antarctica.
You might have been able to call him a stowaway, but he is such a hard
worker that we had to make him one of the crew. Almy is a bear
provided by a middle school in Chapel Hill, NC so that the students can
learn science and geography.

In this picture Almy is rubbing the
toe of a large statue in the main square of Punta Arenas, Chile which
brings good luck for those crossing the high seas of the Drake Passage
(south of South America). We'll see if the toe rubbing works during our
crossing in the next couple of days.

Almy is strapped in with duct tape to the rail of the ship saying
goodbye to Punta Arenas, Chile as we head south toward the Antarctic. Duct
tape is an essential supply on all science cruises and is used for dozens
of different applications

Almy, the science bear, is taking part in the safety meeting in
which emersion suits are worn and all life vests and life boats tested.

As for the rest of the crew, we are spending most of our time making last
minute preparations to some of the sampling equipment, enjoying the
surprisingly good meals that our galley crew is whipping up for us, and
just getting to know this really, really big ship. We are now in the Drake
Passage, and the seas have gotten a little bigger than they were in the
Straits of Magellan, but this boat is big and stable enough to keep the
ride quite smooth. Be sure to check out the cruise track at the sail.wx
link at the top right of this blog. We are headed to the southernmost
station first (Sta. G), and are due to arrive there on the afternoon of the

The Research Vessel Ice Breaker Nathaniel B. Palmer. This will
be home for the next 25 days. It is a large scientific research vessel,
longer than a football field. The big bow is to limit waves from breaking
over the ship during the open ocean transit across the Drake Passage (one
of the windiest and waviest places in the world).

57* 51.43' S; 66* 04.78'W
Air Temp: 3,0*C
Surface Seawater Temp: 4.54*C
Wind Chill: -14*C

Day 1: The R/V NB Palmer

NBP departing dock with the LMG in background.

No news is good news. We had a very calm, ordered departure yesterday at
12:05. Lab spaces were prepped, gear strapped down, last minute shopping
and internet checking complete, and fingers and toes warm and accounted
for. Here's to having our poop in a pile!

Safety orientations were next, and we got to don life vests and exposure
suits (known as gumby suits) and strap ourselves into the lifeboat to make
sure that we are comfy doing this in an emergency. While our science is
performed in the safest manner possible, we have to do it very remote,
often harsh seas, and this kind of gear can save a life.

Right now, we are steaming south along the eastern tip of South America.
The seas a calm and, while most of us are a little drowsy from the light
rocky motion, everyone seems to be feeling fine. Seasickness can be pretty
miserable. Luckily there are medications that can help (sometimes).

Wolfpack Antics

We are leaving the dock tomorrow, and most of our preparations have been made.  The box core is waiting patiently for it's first mud sample, and the Blake trawls (we have three.. apparently they lost a few on recent cruises) are chomping at the bit for collecting critters.  Soon my friends, soon.

As for personnel, we are all here and accounted for.  Many friendly familiar faces have arrived, and many festivities have ensued.  The locals have a beverage known as pisco, and it is enjoyed by most, if not all, of our group.  This is the fun stuff that we squeeze in when we aren't working.


We have moved onto the boat today, and, if all goes well, we will be departing on noon of the 10th.  During the transit, we will try to get some posts up of the lab spaces and the rest of the R/V N.B. Palmer.

Punta Arenas, Chile

3 Days before departure aboard N.B. Palmer

Destination: Antarctica

We had a great day of varied activities. Clothing issue, always fun, was this morning, and is probably the most important thing to be done before leaving. These clothes are the only thing between us and the elements. Get something that doesn't fit quite right, and it could be a mighty uncomfortable trip! So trying each piece on, changing it out for something better, and making sure to get extra gloves is key. There was even some time for a little modeling...

The weather was off and on. The sun rose beautifully clear at around 9 am. At 13:00 it started snowing pretty hard, and then at 13:30 the sun was shining again.  We got most of the gear from the last cruise loaded, and can spend tomorrow getting the labs setup.  The N.B. Palmer is a much bigger boat, and the labs are much roomier.  We'll try to get some photos of the space up as we go along...


We have arrived in Punta Arenas safe and sound, luggage in hand, and the ship in port. Most of us brought extra warm clothing, but I was personally surprised at how cold it is here at the southern tip of Chile. The temperature is probably a few degrees over freezing, but the wind is howling at times which just steals every ounce of body heat you have. Clothing issue is tomorrow, and I can't wait for the extra pile of clothes.

Until then, we had a great dinner tonight. I ordered a traditional Chilean dish that is only available on Sundays. We decided it is a dish for those who choose to only eat once a week... the plate was enormous!!

Both Ari and I ordered this, and neither of us was able to put more than a mere dent into it. Still, it does feel nice after a long, somewhat arduous journey halfway around the world - and with a frigid wind blowing around - to have a full belly of food to keep you steady.

Stay tuned for clothing issue, and loading and setup of the labs on the ship.

Chile or bust

We are at it again.

The second installment of the FOODBANCS2 field expedition is soon to be underway. Most of us have spent the last few weeks making final preparations for the cruise, not to mention soaking in some of the hot summer sun. The weather in Punta Arenas is looking quite wintry (It's the equivalent of New Year's Day there now.. in Belgium!). Time to get out the fleece!

Here's a comparison of the forecasts between departure and destination:

So keep this site bookmarked and check in often, as things will start getting exciting soon.  We plan on posting at least once every couple of days while in Chile and on the ship.  Have a great 4th!


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