Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29: In Rothera

On Tuesday the ship came down to Rothera, a British Antarctic station. The passage down was spectacular. The picture shows the "Tickle Channel", named because of its very narrow passage. It's the first time the Nathaniel B Palmer traveled this route, and it was quite exciting. As usual on the Peninsula, the landscape was breathtaking. To me the peaks looked very alpine.
In Rothera we met Ted, Erin, Ron and Terry who had flown from the ice core site via Twin Otter. We unloaded cargo and some fuel to get ready to access some of our glacier sites via Twin Otter. The ship left again at midnight, after people had taken advantage of the station's bar.
We organized gear on Wednesday and have been waiting for a flight since then. The weather is continuously bad over the glacier, so we're standing by and are enjoying the hospitality of Rothera.

Monday, January 25, 2010

January 25: On the way to Rothera

Today we received permission from the National Science Foundation to proceed to Rothera, the British research station. From there I will get off the ship and rejoin the rest of the glaciology team who flew there by Twin Otter from the ice drill camp. We will then do our glaciology program on the southern side of the Larsen B via Twin Otter and plan to rejoin the ship in about two weeks. In the meantime, satellite images show that the sea ice on the east side is starting to break up, so the ship is going to take advantage of that and head towards the Larsen B, where we wanted to be in the first place.

The weather today was strange, as usual. First, we received a phone call from the drill camp. They had blue skies, but we had very low clouds. Then the weather cleared and I took off with somebody to start installing a GPS station on the ice. But by that time, the clouds had moved over the glaciers and, again, we had to return to the ship. Today's picture shows the ship from the helicopter in a spectacular setting.

As I write we are at 66 1' S and 66 1' W, headed for Rothera, which is at the southern tip of Adelaide Island. We'll be following a very narrow channel to get there, which is faster and protects us from the open ocean swell. It is beautiful now, and the scenery just doesn't stop to be impressive.

After tomorrow I probably will not have email access, so this blog is likely to go quiet for a while. I'll report once we rejoin the ship or the civilized world.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 24: One station done

I remain the only glaciology member on the ship. Everybody else is at an ice core camp, which is about 20 km away from here. This is a somewhat unusual situation for me, as I usually try to be among the first ones out to a field site. Ted, Erin, Terry, and Ron installed an AMIGOS (Automated Meteorological Ice-Geophysics Observation System) and did some radar work see how deep the ice is and to look at layers in the ice. The ice core camp is run by Ellen Mosley-Thomson of Ohio State University and they are using the ice core to look at past climate in this part of Antarctica. We got one flight in early in the morning; and I already sat in the helicopter with rotors turning to take off on a reconnaissance flight. But once again, the weather closed in, and there was no more flying for the day.

The variability of the weather is amazing. I took the attached picture last night before going to bed, when several whales showed up right by the ship. We had a beautiful sunset with severe clear skies. Only 20 km away, the ice core camp was in a total whiteout.

While we were waiting for the other glaciologists to return, the marine science continues. We surveyed the entire Barilari Bay, which was previously unmapped. This is done via a so-called multibeam survey, where sound waves are used to map the bottom. The results are amazing. One can see where glaciers used to carve the bottom of the ocean, and where they have been digging deep marine basins. Marine geologists take cores and try to date them, because the retreat of the glaciers leaves clear signs in the ocean sediments.

January 23: Beautiful day in Barilari

We had a gorgeous day in an amazing landscape; or should I say icescape? The bay is surrounded by steep mountains, all of which are draped by ice. Despite the warm and sunny weather by the ship, the mountain tops still had lots of clouds. A few successful flights were made to the drill camp, which is only a few kilometers away. The rest of the glaciology team is up there now, installing a weather station. They got stuck there in bad weather. I'm the only one in the glaciology team remaining on the ship. I was supposed to do some reconnaissance on the glaciers for installing GPS monuments, but the clouds in the glacier valleys never cleared sufficiently for us to do that. It is kind of amazing, given the nice weather here. Hopefully

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22: Barilari camp

Yesterday we journeyed south to Barilari Bay (65 57' S; 64 37' W). We attempted to fly to the ice cap above us, where a team from Ohio State University is drilling an ice core. But we could never get there, because of blowing snow and low visibility. So back to the ship it was; the old story. But things are looking up. I took today's picture just a few minutes ago, at 10 pm local time. It has cleared up a lot and there is good hope that by tomorrow it will be clear. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20: Visitors

We woke up to find two ships in the neighborhood, one from the Chilean navy and a cruise ship. Later another cruise ship showed up. Then there was an airplane (see picture): a Chilean P3. Quite a busy place. I suppose we are not the only ones who think that this is a nice place. The weather is essentially unchanged. It's not bad, but we have solid low cloud cover that prevents any flying into the mountains. Some of the geologists were dropped off on small islands to look for evidence of land rebound: As the glaciers retreat the reduced weight of the ice causes the land to rise. They are also collecting erratic rocks that are then dated to find the time of

In the meantime a program of marine measurements and coring continues. Last night a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) was in the water for five hours taking video of all the critters that live on the ocean floor. It is full of little fish, krill, octopus, squid and other things. No wonder the whales and penguins like it here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19: Lots of wildlife

We are still in Andvord Bay, doing marine science. It is an amazing place. The fjord entrance is relatively narrow, so in the inner bay you have this impression of being completely surrounded by ice. The waters here are rich in nutrients and consequently there is a lot of wildlife. We've been seeing lots of whales, and today a few penguins came close to the ship. Occasionally they like to porpoise along and at first look one might mistake them for dolphins.

The weather has not been too bad, but the cloud ceiling is quite low, which keeps preventing us from doing the glacier work. But we still have a month and a half to go; eventually it will have to clear up, I hope.

Monday, January 18, 2010

January 18: Andvord Bay

Today we moved one bay to the north, to Andvord Bay. The bays here were all named by a Belgian Antarctic Expedition, after some people who presumably had something to do with it. The weather continues to keep us on the ship. The low hanging clouds just don't make great flying weather. The scenery is similar to Flandres Bay, so today's picture is not that different from an earlier one. There are lots of whales here though. I didn't get a good picture of any of them, but saw at least nine Humpbacks and one Minke Whale.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 17: Back in Flandres Bay

Last night we got back into Flandres Bay, much to my relief: No more ocean swells that roll the ship. For a while it looked like we would be able to fly, but then the ceiling kept coming down and that was it. So we started on marine work again. The ship goes along transects, and in regular intervals we measure physical properties of the ocean and look at life on the sea floor with a camera.

The bad weather actually makes for really nice scenery with low clouds hanging on the mountains, as in today's photo. We will move to the next fjord north tomorrow and keep hoping for opportunities to fly.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 16: A day of marine science

We spent another day out at sea, several hours west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The marine geologists got a 4 m long core from the bottom of the ocean (at 600 m depth). These cores can be used to see when the Antarctic Ice Sheet last extended to that point. The marine biologists deployed a camera to look for the creatures that are crawling around on the ocean floor. They call it a yo-yo camera, because it is deployed to the bottom, then raised a little bit so the ship can move, then they take another picture, etc. On a day like this, there is not much to do for us terrestrial people. I can't work for too long in a row on the computer before getting a headache when we are on the open ocean. At least today it was not as rough as yesterday. Now we are on the way back to Flandres Bay, where we were two days ago. If the weather is good, we'll fly, but the forecast is not promising.

Being out at sea gives us fewer opportunities for interesting pictures, so today I chose one from the ship. It shows my bunk, that I'm sharing with Ronald Ross, a Scottish engineer who lives in Australia and builds the glacier meteorological and geophysical stations that we will deploy. The room is not very big, but the ship offers plenty of space for lab work, computer work, watching movies, or holding meetings. So overall, we have a fair amount of space.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15: Bellinghausen Sea

Today was quiet for us terrestrial people. The program was to wait for better weather while the marine geology team was going to get some samples of marine sediments. We had some hopes to get to Hugo Island and measure the ice thickness and accumulation rate of its tiny ice cap. But the seas were too rough for coring, so we spent the day acquiring multibeam data to map previously unknown ocean floor. Now we're heading toward Palmer Station and are at 64 deg 53' S and 64 deg 16' W.

When the seas are high, I tend to function badly at a computer screen, so I spent my day reading and watching movies, and hoping for calmer water. Now it is better again. Today's picture is actually a few days old, when two humpback whales joined us for a while and circled around the ship.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14: Skunked again

This morning the weather looked great. Erin and I were ready and got into the helicopter to install a timelapse camera and a seismometer. But once we were in the air the weather looked suspicious on the other side of the mountains, where we wanted to get to. We climbed to 9000 feet and were presented with a view of solid clouds as far as the eye could see. So back to the ship. Today's picture was taken out of the helicopter on the way back to the ship. We will now embark on two days of marine science, measuring profiles of salinity and temperature in the ocean, deploying an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) and taking sediment cores from the bottom of the ocean to study the glacial history of the area.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13: Flanders Bay

Today we arrived at Flanders Bay (currently at 65 deg 5 min S and 63 deg 12 min W) after coming down Gerlache Strait on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. I would have to rate this landscape as one of the most amazing I have ever seen in my life. What a privilege and treat to be here. We are in narrow fjords with steep walls that are covered in hanging ice that comes right down into the ocean. The mountains look a bit like the highest peaks in the Alaska Range, but sea level is almost at the peaks. There is rich wildlife with many sea birds and penguins. We also enjoyed a visit from some humpback whales who decided to circle the ship a few times.

We were ready to put in a timelapse camera and a seismic station today, but the clouds kept coming lower and we eventually had to give up on the plan. High winds are forecast, but hopefully it will clear up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January 12: Go West

We are making our way south on the western side of the peninsula, and we are hoping to be able to do a lot of the glaciology from this side. This will involve flying GPS and meteorological stations over the crest of the Antarctic Peninsula to the glaciers on the eastern side. We are at 63 deg 25 min S and 60 deg 14 min W and it will take us another day to reach our target. This side of the peninsula is less protected, so we are exposed to waves again. But it is beautiful. There are large varieties of icebergs coming up from West Antarctica.

Today's picture was actually taken yesterday, as we were returning from the glacier. It shows the ship in heavy ice cover with the trail where it had been breaking ice. We turned around from that position yesterday evening.

Monday, January 11, 2010

January 11: First day on the ice

Yesterday we reached the end of the road. Sea ice conditions became so rough that it was not practical to continue. The ship can cut through an impressive amount of ice, but it takes time and fuel. So we decided to head to the western side of the peninsula first, and do some of the glacier work from that side. But first, several science projects happened today to take advantage of the great weather. Various teams were sampling sea ice, doing oceanographic measurements, and collecting rocks for exposure dating (to find the glacial history of the area).

Erin Pettit and I had the opportunity to fly to the Roehss Glacier on James Ross Island to do some velocity and radar measurements. It was a fantastic opportunity in very beautiful surroundings. You can see from the picture that I was happy! By the way: the exposed bedrock in the background was almost entirely ice covered in 2006. Where I stand, the glacier has lost 100 m+ in elevation in just a few years.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10: Beautiful sun set

Today we made our way through Prince Gustav Channel between the Peninsula and James Ross Island. We are currently at 64 deg 13 min S and 58 deg 37 min W. Most of the afternoon we were making our way through thick fast ice (ice that is still attached to the shore), but now we've stopped. The way ahead is full of very thick ice with many ice bergs (from glaciers) frozen in. So we are going to check the area out with a helicopter before proceeding or turning back and going another way. This is proving to be a year with above-average sea ice cover and we are having trouble getting to the Larsen B, where we really want to be.

In the evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset, and today's picture shows some of the marine techs at the bow of the ship enjoying the camera opportunity.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

January 9: Navigating through heavy sea ice

Today our progress south was stopped by heavy sea ice. It was impressive to see and hear the ship go through very heavy sea ice cover. But eventually it slowed us down sufficiently; so now we're headed north a bit to try a different way.
The ice here comes in a variety of size and shape. From the 1 m + thick snow covered sea ice to a variety of icebergs that can be hundreds of meters thick. Some are jagged and have turned over, others are very tabular in shape. They have come here from many different places, breaking off some of the big Antarctic ice shelves. It is quite likely that some of the bergs come from the recently broken up Wilkins Ice Shelf. Other, smaller, ice bergs are probably of more local origin.

Going through sea ice brings us frequently close to penguins and seals. So far we've seen the Crabeater seal and Adelie penguins (see picture). I also thought I saw a whale blowing in the distance.

We spent most of the day on deck going through some glacier travel issues and taught self-rescue and Z-pulley techniques to people who might accompany us to the glaciers.

Friday, January 8, 2010

In Antarctica

Last night we reached the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and with it first views of ice bergs. We spent the day calibrating the multibeam system to measure the bottom topography of the ocean. When it is operating, the transmitter emits a repeating click that can be heard on all the lower
levels of the ship and that will be with us for the next few weeks.
We (the glaciologists) are getting things ready. It will still be several days until we're within reach of the glaciers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Drake Passage

The last two days we sailed through the Drake Passage. The first day held true to its promise: 50 knot winds and 30-40 foot seas kept most of the people horizontal. The first time I tried to eat was dinner. But today it all calmed down and the going is incredibly smooth. And we've almost made it. As I write we are at 61 deg 26 min S, almost at the end of the passage. In fact, we can already see some of the islands on the northern end of the peninsula.

One of the great things about being in the southern ocean is the opportunity to see albatross. Today's picture shows a young Wandering Albatross. You can tell it's young, because the wings are still mostly black. These amazing birds stay at sea for most of their lives. They are amazing gliders and can reach wing spans exceeding 3.5 m. It is a beautiful sight when they glide along the ship, easily keeping up and only make small changes to the shape of the wing, going for long periods without having to flap their wings. Unfortunately, these great birds are increasingly threatened by long line fishing (they eat the bait, get hooked, and drown), and by plastic garbage that floats in the ocean and accumulates in their stomachs.

Goodbye Americas

We are just about 55 deg S and are about to leave South America. The picture shows Tierra del Fuego to the West. In the East we got a nice view of Islas de los Estados, an island with beautifully carved mountains, but unfortunately no glaciers are left there. Not too much is happening on the ship as we are all waiting to cross the Drake Passage first. The science will really pick up in a few days when we'll make it to the Antarctic Sound.

One of the nice things on a ship is the bird watching. It is a unique opportunity to see Albatross. Quite a few of those have been following the ship, and I even got to see the beautiful Wandering Albatross, which can reach a wing span of 3.5 m and is a master glider. In the evening we also saw several pods of porpoises who followed the ship for a while and were frolicking in the water.

Departing Punta Arenas

We left Punta Arenas late afternoon after a two-day delay, because we had to wait for some critical cargo. Now we're on the way out towards the Atlantic from where we will cross the famous and feared Drake Passage. The picture was taken as we pulled away from the pier in Punta Arenas, and it shows the brand new British research ship James Cook. Currently we are still in Magellan's Strait and are enjoying a beautiful evening. Tomorrow morning we'll be out in the open ocean and things are expected to get a bit rougher.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Punta Arenas

Happy new year!
Three days ago I arrived in Punta Arenas on my way to the Antarctic Peninsula. Punta Arenas is at the southern end of Chile and the South American continent. The picture shows a view of the famous Magellan Strait.

For the next two months we will be on board the Nathaniel B Palmer, a US research vessel. The ship is quite big, bigger than any I have been on, with generous lab space, meeting rooms, etc. While it looks big in port, it will feel like a nutshell once we're out in the Drake passage (between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula)

Below is a picture of the main deck on the back side of the ship. Yesterday was very busy, stowing all the cargo away. The cruise has marine biologists, physical oceanography, marine geology, and us land-based creatures. We will be using the ship as a platform to get to the glaciers in the Larsen B/C area of the Antarctic Peninsula. We have two helicopters available.

A view of the Nathaniel B Palmer (the closer one) and the British James Cook on New Year's Eve.

We won't have internet access on the ship (except for email), so I won't be able to update this blog. But watch for updates on