Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 8-9

The longest day of my life ! Not because I have been awake for 38 hours, I had done that already when I was younger (although I had never worked for 36 hours non-stop before !), but because the sun never set during these 38 hours, therefore it seemed like a single, long day !...
We installed 4 of our 5 moorings. One, the longest, remains to be done tomorrow if the ice conditions are good, otherwise later during the cruise.
That's all for today, I am a zombie, I am going right away to bed !
More tomorrow hopefully...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 7

Much better sleep with the ear plugs, and I even did not miss breakfast !
Another boring day preparing the second water sampler (see picture below).
At least it is done. Almost all the instruments are ready, just in time since we are arriving in the planned deployment area tomorrow around 2 am. But we won't deploy right away, we will first look whether there is not too much sea ice to deploy the instruments. The moorings have been designed to go "anchor last", which means we put all the buoyancy devices and instruments in the water, and then throw the heavy weight at the end of the mooring line over board, and it entrains the mooring with it as it sinks to the bottom. So we need an area clear of sea ice, otherwise the mooring elements would get entangled and damaged by the ice floats. If there is too much sea ice, we may have to deploy elsewhere or at another time later during the cruise...

I am out of luck picture-wise: this morning when going to the room where the instruments are, I have to pass on deck first, I saw a nice seal 20 m from me, who was looking at the ship passing next to him, but of course I did not have my camera ! At the end of the afternoon, after finishing preparing the water sampler, I took a break to try to get pictures of seals or penguins, but saw none during 20 minutes. Then, when going back to the instrument room after dinner, I saw a group of penguins making a circle on an ice float, as if they were discussing or playing, and again I did not have my camera with me ! Arghh !!! I cannot have my camera all the time, especially when I am working... But patience, once our moorings are deployed, I'll have more time for taking pictures and enjoying the landscape. I hope we will be able to deploy tomorrow !

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 6

As expected, I did not sleep well this night, because every time the ship was encountering some sea ice, I was awakened by the noise and shaking. I did not put my ear plugs because with them I don't hear my alarm clock, but I don't care missing breakfast tomorrow morning, I want to sleep well tonight !

After the most amazing day of the cruise yesterday, today has been the most boring day of the cruise so far. I prepared one of the two automated water samplers that we are going to deploy, and that will automatically take 500 ml samples of seawater near the bottom of the Antarctic shelf once every week. The water samplers will then be analyzed for salinity and for oxygen isotopes ratio, which together give information on the origin of the water: melt water from ice sheet or from sea ice, local precipitation, or oceanic water. The goal is to quantify the freshwater budget at a particular location around Antarctica, to better understand the physical processes influencing ice shelves melting and modifying the properties of the water that ultimately sinks to the deepest parts of the world ocean. But back to these water samplers, they each have 48 bottles, that must be individually carefully prepared before deploying. It is a very tedious and repetitive task, but research cannot be exciting all the time ! I managed to prepare one of them today, I will do the other one tomorrow.

So I did not have time to take pictures today, to hunt for seals and penguins, sorry...
I wanted to put a video I took yesterday instead, but I realized I forgot the cable to transfer the video from my camcorder to my laptop. What an air head !...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Day 5

Oh my God ! This has been the most amazing day of the cruise so far !
When I came outside this morning after breakfast, I first saw lots of little pieces of ice floating around the ship, in a very calm sea, "glassy" like we say in surfing jargon.

Then I realized we were following the edge of a sea of ice !

I went to the top of the ship to look ahead: the ice floats were getting denser !

The ship was leaving a trail of clear water behind, which soon was closing on itself.

I spotted a seal taking a nap on an ice float. Too bad I did not have my zoom lens on ! I am sure I'll have many other opportunities to get a closer snapshot... Later on, I was on the bridge of the ship, without my camera unfortunately, and we saw a seal sleeping on an ice float right ahead of us. He did not seem to have noticed the huge ship that was coming at him quickly ! Then just before the ship hit his ice float, he pulled his head up and looked at us. The captain was shouting: "get out of the way, quick !" The seal started to undulate on his belly, and got out of our sight below the hull. I ran to the side where he had disappear from our field of view, to see him safely undulating on his belly, then stopping and lying down again as the ship was sailing away from him. It must have not been the first ship he saw...

The ship was now hitting big pieces of ice, which made it shake entirely ! It was scary at first, but after a while I got used to it. The hull is very thick and made to withstand these shocks. It is a very weird navigation: the ship does not roll at all, since the waves are almost completely damped by the sea ice, but it shakes randomly, sometimes shifting laterally quite abruptly, to the point of making your fall if you are not holding to anything ! The night is going to be difficult...

A sea of ice...

Then we came out of this pack of ice, and I had the impression the ship was not moving any more, since it was not shaking any more nor rolling. As the daylight was decreasing, the colors of the ice became more and more intense !

A penguin waved goodnight at me. The time to aim the camera and he was already a bit far. Like for the seal, I'll try to get better shots !

I can't resist showing one more ice float...

Workwise, I finished testing the PIES today, and started preparing some clean sea water for the automated water samplers, on which I'll work tomorrow. We should reach Antarctica by Thursday evening, do CTD transects on Friday, and deploy our instruments on Saturday. We should be ready by then.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 4

I read the entire user manual for the PIES, and asked questions by email to the scientist who developed the instrument. I think I gained a good understanding of how the instrument works and must be prepared, and what settings to choose. I'll finish preparing it tomorrow, and then will switch to a different kind of instruments: automated water samplers. Their preparation is boring and time consuming, but I have already been through it during a trial cruise in Oban, Scotland, last spring, so no surprises there.

We recovered some moorings that had been in the water for 2 years (see pictures). Once the data will be uploaded, they will be redeployed for another 2 years on our way back. They are part of a long-term monitoring program.

Although the air gets colder and colder (it was snowing today !), the icebergs have disappeared. Probably because of different current directions. We will see them again soon, before reaching the continent.

Day 4 pictures

Retrieving a mooring: a CTD (Conductivity/Temperature/Depth) sensor

and buoyancy elements (glass spheres protected in yellow plastic shells)

Day 3

I started opening the PIES, and realized that the cable to communicate with the instrument from a PC was missing from the package, along with other less important stuff ! Furthermore, the instrument did not seem to start as described in the user manual. I can't believe nobody tested this instrument before putting it on the ship !... Finally, John made a cable "a la Mc Giver" from bits and parts from the ship reserves, and we managed to talk to the instrument and solve the booting problem. I played with the settings and self-tests for the rest of the day.

We must have crossed the polar front during the morning, because suddenly the air was much colder, and we started to spot some icebergs ! It is impressive to see these huge pieces of ice floating on the ocean for the first time ! Then we stopped in a bay of the South Orkney Islands to test an instrument, and I saw some penguins on a rock that was too far to take pictures.

Tonight, there was a party on the ship. We drank beers and whiskey, and played a game where you have to build up a tower from a stack of small wooden logs, by removing some logs below, without making the tower collapse. Not easy in a ship rolling with the swell !

Day 3 pictures

John "Mc Giver"

First iceberg !!!

Followed soon by plenty others...

Inaccessible Islands

South Orkney Islands

Avoiding icebergs

All sizes...

... and shapes

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 2

I slept very well this night, the sea remained relatively calm all night and all day today. It was sunny and almost hot: when we were taking breaks from the work, I was wearing only my t-shirt on the deck, and felt comfortable. We are very lucky with the weather ! I hope it will stay like that until we have finished preparing the instruments, it is much easier to work when the sea is calm than when the ship rolls like crazy.

Nothing very exciting today, but rather tiring: most of our equipment was stored inside a container, but the instruments that required the longest preparation had been put first in, i.e. at the rear of the container. So we had to remove everything else first, before being able to reach these instruments. We therefore spent the whole day carrying heavy things, with the additional difficulty to keep your balance while the ship is rolling with the swell. Yesterday I was thinking that I would start doing some sport today, like running on the running machine or paddling on the paddling machine, but today there is really no need !

Yesterday, I forgot to mention, at the scientific briefing, they explained briefly what the seal tagging experiment was going to be like. 5 people would go on the ice to catch the seals and put instruments on them. 4 of them were already assigned, because they have previous experience, but there was going to be one slot for volunteers. So today I spoke with the seal tagging guy, Patrick, to tell him I was interested in participating. He said they were going to tag 10 seals, and would give a chance to volunteers to tag at least one seal, so I could certainly do it ! More on that when the day will arrive (should not be before a week at least)...

Tomorrow I have to figure out how to prepare an instrument, a Pressure Inverted Echo Sounder (PIES), for which I had attended a 5-day course to learn how to process the data, but not to learn how to prepare and deploy the instrument, which was supposed to be done by people from Southampton who know how to do it, but they ended up not coming, so nobody really knows on the ship ! I have to study the user manual tonight...

Day 2 pictures

Some of our equipment

More inside the container

The bow

The stern, with an helicopter landing zone behind the containers

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 1 pictures

Ascension Island airfield

I've been there !

RRS Ernest Shackleton

RRS James Cook

A cruise ship that brings tourists to Antarctica

Falkland Islands scenery

Sailing away...

The lighthouse at the end of the world

Day 1

En route to Antarctica !
Our ship, the RRS (Royal Research Ship) Ernest Shackleton, sailed from Stanley, Falkland Islands, at 8 am. The sea is rather calm, with only a small swell making the ship roll a little bit, but nothing uncomfortable. We are sheltered from the rough Southern Ocean seas by the tip of South America, though, so soon (tonight or tomorrow) things can get quite worse. I hope I'll have enough time to adjust. Since my first time on a sailing boat when I was 7 years-old or so and got really sea sick, I have never been sea sick again. But with the particularly strong Southern Ocean seas, I don't know how my body will react...

We arrived yesterday evening, after 16 hours of flight from Brize Norton, a Royal Air Force airport in England, with a 1.5-hour stopover mid-way at Ascension Island for refueling. It was good to feel the warm and humid air there (it is just south of the equator), much like in Hawaii, after the cold England weather. The Falkland Islands were also warm (it is summer there) but very windy, and the plane was shaking, like when flying through turbulence, as we were landing. It was the roughest landing I ever had ! But I admired the pilot for being able to land in such a strong wind, which we received in our face when we got out of the plane. A mini-bus was waiting for us to take us to the ship, but half an hour down the road, she received a call and had to turn back to take somebody she had forgotten at the airport ! An hour and a half later, we finally arrived at the ship.
Despite our weariness, we had to listen to a safety lecture by the safety officer, who had a terrible accent from I don't know where yet, so I could understand only half of what he was saying ! I hope I did not miss some critical safety tips...

We all have our own cabin for now, but later we'll pick up about 30 persons at Halley and Signy Island bases and will have to share the rooms with them, as the ship will then be full ! There are ethernet connections in the cabins, which is quite convenient, except that I left my ethernet cable at the University of East Anglia, because I had read that cables were provided on the ship. How stupid I am ! I could have taken it anyway, just in case, since it does not weight anything. It turns out that there are no ethernet cables in the cabins, so I had to ask the IT technician for one, and he grinned and said: "I'll see if I can find one". Luckily he found one, but added: "Please give it back to me when you are done with it." Which means I cannot keep it for me for the whole trip. Damn !...

The night was pretty good since the ship was not moving at all in the harbor.
Breakfast at 7:45 am, fire and abandon ship drill at 10:30 am, lunch at noon, scientific briefing at 2 pm, and now resting time. We'll start unpacking and preparing the instruments tomorrow. We have about 6 days before reaching the location where we will deploy our instruments, next to the ice shelves at 12 degrees west, upstream of the Weddell Sea. This is plenty of time, but not to be wasted anyway.