Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thick phytoplankton water!

I had talked back before Christmas about how the water was changing color here and how it was due to the ice cover protecting the phytoplankton.  Well today we had the chance to go see how this has affected the sampling out at stations B and E.  Our sample depths are determined by the passage of light down into the water column on that specific day.  The deepest depth that we take is down as far as 0.5% of the light measured at the surface and is transmitted through the water column.  We started sampling earlier in the season to as deep as 90 meters out at station E and our deepest depth today was 14 meters.  That is how much growth has happened out at these stations since the beginning of the season.  But before the ice came in the lowest depth at E was 60 meters.  Having been covered by ice for twenty days increased the organic growth, mostly phytoplankton, causing the passage of light to be greatly reduced thus is bringing our lowest depth to 14 meters.  The rapid growth of a bloom due to environmental conditions is a very exciting thing to observe.  

Monday, December 26, 2005

Back to station sampling!

We are finally getting back on the sampling track here. The Gould came and picked up some great people to bring them back to Punta Arenas. It was sad, but we all kept our heads up and a lot of us jumped off the pier to give our best wishes to our friends. As sad as this leaving was it opened up some new opportunities for us. The boats exit from Palmer randomly signaled the winds to start moving the ice out. By afternoon we have enough ice out of the way to sample from station B, with a little pushing of some ice blocks. This was the first time we have sampled from a station in the harbor in ten days; yep that is what happens with the weather down here. Never expect anything! The ice continued to clear and on Christmas morning Santa delivered a perfectly clear station E. Now it was Christmas, and we all took that into account but we had not sampled from station E in 20 days. There is always too good of a chance for the wind to switch direction and leaves us without samples from E for another 20 days. So we went. It was beautiful.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!
We had a great Christmas here on the station. We started the day off with a quick sampling of the ice freed Station E. But soon after that we were enjoying gift exchange and an all out fun gathering. We ate homemade truffles, drank hot buttered rum, told stories and opened wonderful handmade presents. All together it has been an unforgettable Christmas. I miss my family but it was still a great day.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ice Ice and Tons of Phytoplankton

The ice has brought us a booming bloom. The phytoplankton are taking advantage of the calm water to grow. Looking out from the pier you can see the brownish green cloud in the water formed since the ice blew in providing shelter for the organisms helping their population explode. Phytoplankton need nutrients and sun to live. Under the ice they have both with no mixing and churning to slow the growth rate. Now we have a nice soup for the first twenty feet of surface water. After the ice clears we will be able to see what long term effect this has caused on the local aquatic environment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ice bound again.

Since we only made it to Station B yesterday the goal for today was to get out to E and finish the series of samples (this is because we are trying to relate changes between the two).  But last night the ice came in.  At this point in time I thought that all of the ice was gone but to my dismay, the wind brought back loads of brash ice and some large icebergs.  Today was utilized in finishing up sample analysis from yesterday, running an isotope experiment, and starting a grazing experiment.  

Normal sampling for us includes collection of water at specified depths and analyzing them for dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), dimethylsulfide (DMS), dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), chlorophyll pigments and chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM).  Experiments that show how these compounds behave under specific conditions are in addition to these measurements.  

DMSP is important to our study because it an organic sulfur compound that is produced by phytoplankton most likely as a cryoprotectant.  What this means is that DMSP might help protect the phytoplankton’s tissue during periods of freezing.  This compound is also suspected of having antioxidant properties, helping protect tissue against oxidation compounds like hydroxyl radicals.  

DMSP is the precursor of DMS.  It is not fully understood why phytoplankton break down DMSP into DMS, but we observe it regularly.  The importance of DMS is that it breaks down under different circumstances to become a sulfate aerosol which acts as a cloud condensation nuclei.  What this means is that the more DMS that is produced, potentially, more clouds will be formed.  This is one of the most important focuses of our studies.  We are most interested in the biogeochemical organic sulfur cycle to see how exactly sulfur effects our environment, and how t is transferring from one place to the other.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Windy Sampling

When your schedule is disrupted by storms, like we saw yesterday, you jump at the chance to make up the sampling. Today the Winds slowed down to a steady 20 knots and only gusting to 25, so we jumped out in the zodiacs to grab our samples. Keep in mind that 20 knots is the limit for allowing zodiacs to go out with gusts not to reach above 25. So we were just at the line.

For this trip out we took an extra set of hands (John Dacey) to help drive the boat into the wind while Kerry and I do the sampling. This is totally necessary once we reach station B due to the benthic topography. We were headed out to Station E with a big white line across the horizon. As we got a little closer we could see that Station E was completely obstructed by thick brash ice and we had to turn around.

Sampling at Station B made us very happy that we had brought John to steady the boat. We stopped on station, swapped drivers and changed some of the positions of our gear. Within this 3min period we had drifted 500 ft. The wind and waves made every aspect of the sampling event an adventure. The boat is rocking and the person tending the Go Flo bottles legs’ are dipping in and out of the water, while waves are inviting themselves into your lap. This sampling was a bit on the hairy side but was a lot of fun to experience.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sampling Woes

The weather took a turn for the worst last night.  The wind picked up and was howling.  At about five this morning Kerry was abruptly awoken with the sensation of cold water on her face.  A couple seconds later she was fully awake, shocked into consciousness by cold rain pelting her in the face.  The wind was gusting up to 50 knots and rain was filling the sky.  We have a tendency to fall asleep with the window open due to there being only one temperature for the entire floor in the building we sleep in.  So the high velocity rain was forcing its way in through the top of our window and had started to soak our bed.  Kerry jumped up and closed the window.  Shivering, she jumped off the bed and dried off with a towel.  Looking out into the harbor I could see that the water had taken on a whole new personality.  Waves were reaching as high as three feet, a total 180 from most mornings here. The most amazing aspect of this is that the waves were moving in the direction opposite of tidal flow.  It was crazy to watch waves forming away from the shore.

Well the real reason that I told this story was to show the kind of event that would keep us from sampling.  Ya, there was no chance that we were going to head out into this weather to sample today.  This allowed us one more day to try and get caught up with our samples.  True, we have not yet totally excavated ourselves from our built up workload, but we are very close.  Two of our GC’s are now functioning perfectly and we are keeping them working at all hours possible.  We are pulling shifts to keep things running; this is allowing the “off” person to get some much deserved “me-time”.  Things are really great right now, and I even had time today to get back to the RAD VAN.  

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Seasons Feelings!

The weather here has been so extremely abnormal that everyone who has been here before is commenting on it regularly. Yesterday we had a stupendous morning. The Temperature was up around 40 and the sun was intense, the regulars started up their normal inquisitive banter about global warming. But by afternoon the clouds had rolled in and the temperature dropped quickly, snow started to fall and all were delighted to see a more typical weather pattern. For me there was a deeper feeling of finally setting the mood for the season. In New York and the east coast I understand that there have been a couple storms so far and the snow might not be sticking around yet but it is definitely obvious that the winter and Christmas season are upon you. To my delight I awoke to find that about 4 inches of soft powder had collect and was now beautifully coating everything. I am starting to get the seasons feeling. We also set up our Christmas tree on this wonderful day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Check out our boating range. Now that I have had about two minutes to think about things other than “how we are going to get this stuff done in time?”, I realized that I have been talking about our stations without having shown any maps or photos. David Huang has put together a great bathymetry map and laid the boating limits map over it. Go to the boating MapThis shows us good places to sample safely without dragging our Go Flo bottles on the sea floor. Here you can see that Station B is very close to Palmer station and Station E is way out at the end of our allowed boating Zone. What this means is on any day that the weather permits we are allowed to travel out to this point but not beyond. With special permission, due to scientific needs, traveling beyond the boating limit is allowable. This line is set up mostly for the ability to respond to accidental tip-overs, engine trouble and in the event of ice blocking the passage back. Within the two mile limit there are emergency caches that are located in random locations and there is one outside the limits. This seemed very small when I was first introduced to the idea but since going out sampling I have realized that the limits are very reasonable considering that it takes us at least 15 minutes to get out to station E.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Game ON!

Things are really starting to work. I have finally gotten our Gas Chromatograph (GC) running in a reproducible manor. WOO HOO! This is the biggest relief ever. Samples were piling up and pressure was following suit. Malfunctioning equipment does not help with team moral. But the tides have turned (knock on wood) this evening. I had great success in calibrating the main GC and I was able to run our most important samples. Life is good now. As long as I can keep the GC in good operating condition, we will have no problems keeping up with the workload.

Other good news is that we were able to sample from both stations today. We have been sampling on Monday from station E and then on to station B on Tuesday. We then have to do the same thing on Thursday to cover two days a week in both stations. It can take up to two hours to get fully prepared to head out to sample. 2 hours x 4 days = way too much wasted time. Sampling two stations per day is extremely helpful due to the decreased amount of time involved in preparation.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Let’s talk about Sheathbills.  These very cool but gross birds are hated by a lot of people down here, especially the “birders”.  Birders are the people who are down here to study the lifecycles of the birds and penguins.  The problem with these birds is that they are fearless and disgusting all at once.  I have really liked these birds up until today when I found out where they got their nickname.  Today there was too much ice in the bay to set our Zodiacs in at our regular launch so we had to put in on the other side next to our outflow.  This is a place that we all avoid at all costs.  Well there were about ten “S!$@ Chickens” picking debris out of the water and eating it.  Yes, it was totally gross.  So the reason that people hate these birds is that they will not leave us alone.  They will dive-bomb us, hover over us or just plain follow, looking for us to drop something.  And knowing the kind of places that they hang out in you don’t want any part of them touching you.  These scavengers are also known as the preening crew for the elephant seals; they clear the nostrils of these huge beasts.  Yep, gross animals.  I have a different view of them now.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Here comes the LMG! (again)

The LMG is coming again! The Laurence M. Gould has been fixed at port in Punta Arenas. Both engines have been rebuilt and all possible issues have been explored. After completion the ship was loaded with new freashies and sent on its way with all of the things that we have been waiting for. Now, this morning, the LMG was supposed to arrive at 0800 but it has hit some pretty thick ice which has only slowed its progression, not stopped. So we will hopefully see the boat here at 1300. It will be good to see the LMG but no one is holding their breath.