Friday, February 25, 2011

Rough seas

I realize that I have not mentioned anything about the reason I am here in
the Southern Ocean. As part of the Calibration and Validation program at
NASA it is our job to ground truth data satellite products, such as from
MODIS-Aqua. These products include chlorophyll a, which is loosely
representative of phytoplankton biomass in the surface layer of the oceans.
As such, I collect biogeochemical samples that represent anything that
would influence the optical properties of the water: suspended particulate
matter, particulate organic carbon, colored dissolved organic matter,
particulate absorption, dissolved organic carbon, and phytoplankton
pigments. This involves a great dealing of filtering, which is like
watching for water to boil. Most sampling occurs from the subsurface but I
am getting profile samples, from the water column for pigments and CDOM.
Normally in our program we do not collect profile samples for pigments,
because we are primarily concerned with what MODIS-A 'sees', but I am
interested in phytoplankton community structure so, at my own accord,
decided to take profile samples. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much
biomass yet. The primary focus of this program called Climate Variability,
or, CLIVAR is chemistry and physics but I hoping to bring a biological

Today has been a non-science day. The winds were whipping up to 60kts and
the swell has made life difficult. I think King Neptune must be in a bad
mood. Thankfully this ship rides very well. I do not feel sick but have
been very sleepy and unproductive all day. We were not able to sample any
stations with the CTD rosette because of the weather. I did finish a book
on my Kindle and start a new one. That is my accomplishment for the day. Oh
yeah, and this blog entry. I am attaching a picture of the weather outside.
The picture was taken through the window of the bridge. There was no way I
was going outside!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch and update

I was, well we all were, saddened by the news about the earthquake that hit
Christchurch, NZ a little over a week after we left for McMurdo Station.
It is surreal to think that I was just there, walking through that
beautiful city. I will certainly cherish the pictures I have, especially
of the Cathedral, which was toppled yesterday. I am going to count my
blessings that we left in time. The people of Christchurch will be in my
thoughts and prayers.

On a different topic, today was the first day of science! We were supposed
to sample our first stations last night but we were hit with some
inconvenient weather: 15-25kt seas and 40kt winds. Needless to day it was
a bit rolley polley yesterday. But I am happy to report that I did not get
sick, although I was a bit sleepy, which is technically a symptom of sea
sickness. The captain took the ship further towards land, to the
protection of the ice, as a second low pressure system rolled through. We
resumed our first transect, the first station closest to the continent and
then moving outward, this morning. As a member of the calibration and
validation team of a satellite, these cloudy skies do me no good! Weather
has improved today though. All in all things have gone smoothly thus far.
Let's hope for clear skies!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Leaving McMurdo

The days since my last post have been crazy. We were finally able to board the ship on the 17th at 13:00. The loading of the ship with our equipment from the containers to the ship, to my surprise, went very smoothly. We formed human chains, working together as a team to get all equipment on board. I was very impressed and happy with the teamwork. Unfortunately I did not get to set up in the laboratory I had originally planned on because the other group occupying space in that laboratory are analyzing samples for helium and tritium and, apparently, they use liters of isopropanol that are allowed to volatilize into the atmosphere. First of all I was unsure if large amounts of volatilized isopropanol would compromise my samples and, secondly, I didn’t want to breath in isopropanol vapors every day. Luckily there was plenty of space still available in the wet lab, which actually worked out better for my storage needs. We set sail yesterday and have been steaming towards our first station. We have a 10:45 meeting to discuss the sampling plan and Jim Swift, the chief scientist, will also give a brief explanation of the CLIVAR (Climate Variability) program. It seems the cruises associated with the program are primarily chemistry-oriented. My self and my colleague Emily represent, as far as I know, the only biological component. I don’t really have a solid sampling plan yet, although I have some ideas. I will keep you posted on what develops.

Prior to our departure, we did get an opportunity to visit Scott Base, the New Zealand Antarctic Station near McMurdo. Normally, scientists from other countries cannot visit the station unless they are invited. But, I guess they host an ‘American night’ once a week when McMurdo dwellers can at least visit the gift shop and the bar at the station. I also was forced to sing a little karaoke one night but I am going to try and forget that part. On a side note, we did get to see the sun 'sort of' set while we were still in McMurdo. It was a beautiful site.

We haven’t seen too much wildlife yet. We saw some penguins and seals in the distance but they were little dots in the distance. As we were leaving McMurdo, we did see some whales in the very distance. I did get a couple of pictures and you can see a teeny tiny dorsal fin above the water. But hey, it’s a whale. Right now we are in open water, so there is less of a chance to see wildlife. But I will keep you posted.