Friday, November 30, 2007:
One of the best parts about working in the Crary lab is meeting all the other grantees and seeing their projects unfold, and today i've got a sampling of groups i've met over the past two months around station. By next year, the NSF should have updates it's US Antarctic Program website
with a list of active science groups, but for now i'm all you've got...
A nudibranch collected by a diver from Amy's group
Next door to us in the aquarium area is Amy Moran's marine ecology group, which this year is studying sea slugs. They are one of the rare other diving groups and we share holes and huts with them pretty regularly; check out their updates here.
Sea spider tank
A few of Amy's students are working on a sea spider maneuverability experiment to measure how fast the oversized cold water variants can "right" themselves after being flipped on their backs (one of the factors which might normally limit the maximum size the spideys can grow to). It's nerve racking watching the crawlers stretch and shimy right on the edge of balance over and over trying to get right side up again, but it's amazing to see them pull it off.
We also end up working a lot with the fish guys: Art DeVries and his students John, Eric, and Kevin. The fish guys put in lots of hours squatting around in huts with Scooby Doo fish poles pulling up bernachii for the aquarium and mawsoni for sampling. They are mostly interested in the special proteins the fish keep in their blood to prevent ice crystals from growing into deadly shards in the sub-freezing water. They have to maintain a careful balance of salinity, lipids, anti-freeze proteins, and fluid pressure to stay alive.
The ANDRILL site from our helo flight returning from New Harbor
ANDRILL is one of the largest projects operating out of McMurdo this year, and includes a number of collaborators from Germany, New Zealand, Italy, and the UK, which gives Phase Two a more sophisticated international air. Though their coffee unfortunately isn't any better, thy did pass their depth target of 1000 meters about a week ago and are wrapping up their geographical coring and starting to pack up this week. ANDRILL is a rock coring project based on the sea ice; first they drill a few meters though the ice, then down hundreds of meters to the sea floor, then start drilling cores through the rock. It's a large operation to do seismic scouting for future drill sites, process and split cores, and maintain a safe large sea ice camp.
The long duration balloon (LDB) project is one of my favorites down here because they do PHYSICS and have a balloon that goes up 35 kilometers, where it expands to 130 meters across. This year's payload includes CREAM (a muon energy detector), BESS (a giant 0.8 tesla magnite, like an MRI machine, used to detect anti-proton interactions), and ATIC (a project to measure the extreme high energy spectrum of low atomic number elements). We're really hoping to see a balloon launch in the next few weeks before we leave, it all depends on the weather...
There are two seal groups that we met way back at snow craft training; the smithsonian group with Crystal, Wendy, Warren, Lisa, Regina, and Roberto, and Marcus Horning's group with Sascha, Jen, Adam, and Derick. They've all been living out at field camps, tagging and weighing the giant Weddell seals that we run into from time to time at our dive huts. Birthing season ended a few weeks ago and we're just getting into mating season now, so they've been quite busy.
Weddells are pretty amazing; they can chew through sea ice to create new breathing holes, hold their breath and swim for more than 40 minutes, and somehow survive the extreme winters in this area. After birth the mothers pass on hundreds of pounds of body weight as extremely think and fatty milk to their pups, not eating themselves the whole time; we have some footage of seals underwater that i'll try to back post here if it's more feasible to upload.
In other news, it's hot here! I'm sweaty pretty regularly just walking around town in my bunnies (the only waterproof boots I have) and a long sleeve shirt. Pretty soon it'll be colder back home in Boston that it is here; i'm looking forward to more snowy winter and a second spring in a few months!
OCTOPUS 8.0: RETURN OF OCTOPI
Thursday, November 29, 2007:
Because it's there...
What do you do when you come across an iceberg frozen in the sea ice? On our trip to Cape Evans Bryan and I had the opportunity to find out!(continued...)
What do you do when you come across an iceberg frozen in the sea ice?
The Big Ice... its lure is irresistable.
Well, you walk up close and then you test the boundary between the sea ice and the berg with the best tools you can find. Being the wiley veteran, I sent Bryan out in front.
It was Peque's idea to let Bryan go first...
Once you know its safe to reach it, you lick it. It was an irresistable compulsion, like certain people have for chocolate. It overcame both Bryan and myself. Peque carefully watched to make sure we didn't take too much.
all you can eat!
Once you have licked it, taking the icy goodness of the frozen
continent into your own body, you just have to climb on it.
No one can resist...
It's mighty slippery to climb...
...but just fine to rest on for a spell.
Lastly, after the close relationship we had shared, I just had to hug
the big hunk of ice goodbye. I miss it even now.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007:
Trip to Cape Evans
Tuesday, November 27, 2007:
Turtle Rock scuba dive, Video Ray mission and octopi
Well today was an eventful one. As the title implies the schedule called for a scuba dive and a Video Ray mission held at Turtle Rock which is north of McMurdo. Stacy and Rusty were the divers who collected our normal suite of experiments while BLee and myself focused on carry out the Video Ray mission. We were joined by the dive tender William Tinus who works as the local machinist at the Vehicle Facility Maintains. William has be very helpful in the SCINI Project as we have asked him to machine a few pieces for the robot and he has provided us with excellent parts.This picture was taken by William while I took a second to take in Mount Erebus. It felt like I could almost touch it.
Stacy, Rusty and BLee left ahead of William and myself in their speedy Piston Bully while we trudge behind slowly in the might TUCKER! The Tucker is a beast and isn’t really built for speed but for it’s raw power. I heard the Tucker took on a glacier head on and busted it to pieces, this vehicle demands respect.
While in route to Turtle Rock I learned all about how William became a machinist and it all started back in the Navy. William scored one of the top two highest scores in his class and the Navy told him he had the opportunity to choose where he would like to go to school. Well like any right minded person would do he asked to be an electronics technician on a nuclear submarine. Apparently there were plenty of young seamen who were looking to do the same job so decided to go with his second choice, machinist mate. Something about the title had a ring to it and sounded very appealing to William. After he finished with his classes he was deployed in the Pacific and toured all around the Pacific Ring. After the Navy he did some machining in Long Beach and Colorado where he used to own a machine shop. But now I find this gifted machinist at the bottom of the world sitting next to me telling me how the beginnings of a machinist were created. William is from a time when you learned a trade and mastered. He even went so far to bring a pair of calipers, high accurate measuring device, just in case he needed to take some measurements on the rov. What a guy!
After some entertaining stories we arrived at Turtle Rock. We checked in with the divers as they were busy suiting up and go an okay to take a walk around to check out the pressure ridges. We were told to take some bamboo poles because to probe the ground with because there are unseen cracks that will gobble you up! Well not really but you can get pretty wet and be uncomfortable the rest of the day. Not only are there magnificent pressure ridges but there is also a colony of Waddell seals surrounding Turtle Rock. William and I wove our way throughout the colony but were mindful to keep a respectful distance. It is currently the season when female seal give birth and introduce their pups to the underwater world. Many of the pups were still feeing from the females but seemed to be growing rapidly. After snapping some photos we returned to the dive hut and helped with getting the divers out of the water. Both Rusty and Stacy said this dive site was an amazing place and the crack really helped to illuminate the world below the ice. With the divers out of the water and all packed up, BLee and I began to focus on the Video Ray mission.
Our goal was to locate some raised platforms that were at 20, 40 and 60 meters along the Turtle Rock slop. After some strategic navigation planning, hole drilling and set up time, we were ready to drop Video Ray into the water. Now this was a new experience for Video Ray because we normal deploy it though a hole but today it was deployed through a naturally formed crack. I was a bit skeptical but the crack was plenty big enough. With the rov in the crack I piloted to the sloping face of Turtle Rock. Between BLee and myself we did various search patters in depths of water from 40 to 60 meters which took us to the end of our tether but we were unable to find any of the platforms that we were looking for. We all agreed that we may have misjudge our deployment location and we were going to be unable to locate any platforms with our current tether length. At this point we ended the mission, recovered the rov and broke down all of our gear. To many people this may seem like an unsuccessful mission but I left Turtle Rock satisfied for a couple of reasons. Throughout the whole deployment we didn’t have any mistakes, we didn’t forget to bring important pieces of equipment and the dive went as smooth as it could have. From a piloting standpoint everything went as well as we could have planned for and next we have to expand our search more inland. We could expand our search by increasing our tether length or deploying the rov closer to Turtle Rock. Either way it may be a goal we shoot for next season as our time is running short here and it feels like there is still so much to do.
Ma and pup nose to nose
I asked this seal nicely to pose for the picture.
A fraction of the Turtle Rock Waddell seal colony.
Not only are there seals but Turtle Rock is surrounded by these pressure ridges. They are formed when sea ice is uplifted against the land.
Now for the octopi part of my update. The Fish Guys, as they are know to us, lay out fish traps to catch various types of fish to study how a certain type of molecule acts as an antifreeze agent that prevents the blood in the fish from freezing. One type of fish they are trapping is a Mossinite which is a very big fish that can weight over 100 pounds and lives at depths around 500 feet. Sometimes instead of Mossinite they catch other organisms, like an octopus. This was the second one they brought back with them and I have to admit they are very interesting creatures to look at. Just look at him, with a head that big you know it has to be a smart organism. I bet it could solve a rubix cube if you gave it one.
The day after this picture was taken the octopi went missing. Apparently it crawled out of the tank and someone found him in the middle of the night laying on the floor and put him back in a different tank.
Monday, November 26, 2007:
A day in the sunshine
Today we are working on access to two sites that are several kms away from McMurdo, Turtle Rock and Cinder Cones. We have been laying the groundwork by helping the Field Safety folks survey the area to be sure there is a safe way around the cracks for the large vehicles to travel, and flagging those routes. Today we accompanied Tom the driller out to put in the holes, and put a hut, kindly shared by another researcher, Amy Moran of the ANUDE project, on one of them.
Some of the beautiful pressure ridges, areas where(continued...)
the ice has been pushed up against the shore,
at Turtle Rock.
We’ve talked before about the drilling operation, so I’ll skip another description of the shoveling exercise. Because of the sea ice cracks at Turtle Rock, we could not get to one of the sites we wanted to drill. So we carefully surveyed the naturally occurring openings in the cracks for one that the ROV would fit through. Fortunately, this location is extensively utilized by Weddell seals as a pupping area, and they have contributed to easy access to the ocean. We found a hole that was large enough, and had solid ice nearby where we could park the Tucker, our control center.
Setting up for drilling at Turtle Rock.
Today was one of the few clear days we have had so far this season, with blue sky and an awesome view of Mt. Erebus and even glimpses of Mt. Terror. We enjoyed the sunshine, and the calling and whinging of the new pups as they searched for mom and more milk. It is hard to imagine that the seals are comfortable laying on the cold ice, but they give a convincing demonstration of absolute contentment, flopped about bonelessly and only occasionally worming their way into a more comfortable position. They took almost no notice of us, our shovels, or even the tractor and drilling rig.
Mother and pup pairs of Weddell seals decorate the icescape at Turtle Rock.
At Cinder Cones the drilling went even more smoothly, and we are eager to dive here because the ice is clear of snow – so there should be lots of light underwater. We finished our two holes in short order, paid our respects to the gorgeous views of the Royal Society Range, Mt. Erebus, and Castle Rock, and returned home in time to make it to dinner with the Kiwis.
The slopes at the base of Mt. Erebus are beautifully fissured and crevassed.
We had a kind invitation from fish researcher Victoria Metcalf to come to dinner at Scott Base, New Zealand’s research station which is only a few km from McMurdo. Scott Base is smaller than McMurdo, and thus has better food and a more personalized atmosphere, if slightly less sophisticated lab facilities. We thoroughly enjoyed excellent John Dory fish, and pumpkin phyllo wraps, as well as conversation on fish behavior and physiology and a tour of the aquarium, and of course a wonderful view of the pressure ridges in front of the base. A brilliant end to a beautiful day!
Clear water ice melting in the warm Antarctic sun.
Sunday, November 25, 2007:
Werner Herzog Review
Sunday night at the end of Thanksgiving weekend McMurdo station got a screening of Werner Herzog's new documentary Encounters at the End of the World
, which he shot last year in Antarctica as part of the NSF's writers and artists program
. Many of the individuals interview in the film were present, and it was interesting to get an outsider's (warped?) perspective on life on the ice.
The first thing to say about any Herzog movie is of course that many of his victims/subjects have been somewhat misrepresented and represent caricatures from the director's unique world view. Given that the real world characters need little embellishment or spin, and that Herzog's technique is to draw out the excitement and passion in people only to trip them up with awkward pauses, a few scenes were painful and frustrating. I have seen a few other Herzog documentaries and knew what to expect but the effect is a little different when you know the person squirming under his strange celluloid stare.
Excusing a few half baked interviews, I think the film did a great job portraying the side of McMurdo that attracts many of us: incredible people, fantastic and surreal locations, fresh research, and a constant energy for exploration and discovery. The portion about the vulcanologist on Mount Erebus at the end made me wish I could get such an introduction to every research group; I had no idea just how active our island is nor had heard of the natural steam tunnels underneath the ice up there.
The portion on benthic ecology diving at New Harbor was a surprise to me, it's hard to belive we were just there at the beginning of the month. Much nostalgia over the drilling, dive tending, and a movie on the last night before flying out; we missed the rooftop concert and blasting.
The production could have been a bit higher quality, especially the video from under the sea ice, but I do appreciate what I assume was a more frugal use of resources than some film makers on the continent. This isn't the place for even a 4 person film crew when every individual is a mouth to feed, a body to clothe, a bed to reserve, a helicopter spot, and gallons of fuel and water to be transported and purified. I'd much prefer 5 Encounters at the End of the World than a single larger budget, more resource intensive production.
In other news, earlier in the day I took a walk out on the Cape Armitage loop, which goes around Observation Hill to the New Zealand Scott Base. It was so warm I could lie in the snow barechested and feel my skin fry in the high-UV light. I've never felt so strongly that I'm exposing myself to the raw radiation from a thermonuclear reaction millions of times more massive than the entire planet as I have down here... psychosomatic or otherwise, the light feels completely unfiltered.
Saturday, November 24, 2007:
Steady as we go...
We have been making steady progress at improving our operation.
Of course, there are still better things to do...(continued...)
Congratulations are in order for the whole team as we have accomplished the goal for this season here in Antarctica: We can navigate under the ice. We have used Project Scini's nav equipment on the Video Ray and succesfully made maps of in-place science equipment on the seafloor. We have made good use of the sonar Video Ray lent to us to find the old experiments.
Sonar image of three cages that have been on the ocean floor for up to 40 years.
Peque is proud to lend a flipper. Note the Nav Ducer now stands upright (the better to hear) after sonar installation. Extra blocks of foam have been added high on the vehicle to compensate for the added mass of the sonar. A well-deserved rest is in order.
Video Ray gets a freshwater soak in the sink after a busy day of swimming in the salty ocean.
Meanwhile, back at the lab...SCINI has been undergoing a testing program seeking to tune the power system in order to run the propulsion thrusters more smoothly. Bryan has had the lead on this and had worked long and hard, and has made great progress. Most of the week SCINI's inside were outside as we tested, measured and tweaked.
Doctor Bryan operates...
There is still work to do, but we have the brains to do it. Nick will need to build up the thruster motors so we have spares. Bob and Bryan will test various fixes we have impleneted as they put the vehicle back together. And finally we will be operating SCINI in a seawater tank in Crary Lab to ensure we have a reliable build. Then back we go under the ice. To help make sure we are prepared for that harsh environment we have enlisted the aid of Peque, the worlds most technically astute penguin, to oversee the entire operation.
Peque stands ready to help with the assembly of SCINI
Friday, November 23, 2007:
Critters and SCINI
For those of you waiting for news on the latest progress with SCINI, you'll have to be patient because this update will discuss the other major component of the project. Dr’ Kim’s past research in Antarctica has focused on benthic community changes (critters living in and on the seafloor) resulting from human activities in the Antarctic. Detecting benthic community change requires years of patient and focused sampling so long term data sets can be compiled and analyzed. Read on for a taste of what the marine biologists do when sampling for community change in the Antarctic.
This project is sampling the sea floor around McMurdo Station where human impacts are expected and reference locations far from McMurdo where human impacts are expected to be minimal. So what kind of impacts are we talking about? Any time people occupy a location for an extended period of time, wastes are generated. This includes things like trash, used fuel and lubricants, human wastes and a wide variety of construction materials. McMurdo’s long history of activity dates back to 1901, and over the years and phases of development at the station, waste disposal policies were not always as environmentally responsible as they are today. This was primarily due to the extreme logistical difficulty and cost of transporting waste back out of Antarctica. Ocean disposal was common in the past and today we still find extensive evidence of waste products on the ocean bottom. Because the environment is so cold here, waste products degrade very slowly, forcing biological communities to contend with these conditions for many years. Some species are tolerant and can adapt to contaminated conditions while others are very sensitive and unable to adapt. This often leads to an increase of the tolerant species and a decline in the sensitive species. Increases and decreases of even a few species can lead to major changes in the entire community due to the interdependency of species in this harsh environment. Detecting changes in community structure and tracking those changes over time allows us to assess the magnitude of the human impacts around McMurdo and the rate at which communities are recovering now that effective waste management has been implemented. Dr. Kim and her colleagues began monitoring benthic communities around McMurdo in 1988 so those data sets are now invaluable when assessing human impacts and long term change around McMurdo. The current project will add three years of benthic community assessment to the existing data and will serve to further expand our understanding of long term change in Polar regions.
Benthic community sampling under the ice is extremely difficult because of the effort and cost of drilling multiple holes through the ice. Small ROVs like SCINI can’t perform all the needed sampling and large ROVs with manipulator arms capable of collecting all the samples are typically too large to fit through ice holes. That means divers are still the most effective sediment sampling tool in this environment. It leads to some pretty cold fingers, toes and lips but each trip under the ice amazes us in some new way. Getting to see and study these communities is a marine biologist’s dream so I for one hope that we are never able to completely automate sampling with ROVs.
We collect three types of samples at each study location: infaunal cores, digital photographs and video transects.
Six infaunal cores about the size of a coffee can are pressed into the sediment and then capped (not easy with big gloves on) so they can be transported to the surface.
In the lab, sieving the sediment through a fine screen separates the critters from the sediment and allows for easier preservation and handling.
A microscope is then used to do the taxonomic identification and counting of the various species in the sample. Infaunal core sampling is used primarily for identifying small species such as polychaete worms, crustaceans and bryozoans that can be found living in or on the sediment in relatively high numbers.
Next, ten underwater digital photos are taken at each location in such a way that the image captures 1 square meter of seafloor. These images are then analyzed to do area counts of larger species like nemertean worms, urchins and anemones that the cores don’t effectively capture.
A final sampling effort involves taking underwater digital video along three ten meter long by one meter wide transects of sea floor. These video images are then analyzed to identify and count larger and more mobile species such as sponges, pycnogonids (sea spiders), large isopods and nudibranchs along the transect.
Each of these sampling efforts yields a list of species and their average abundances within the sample area. By combining the species counts from each of the three sampling techniques we can develop a basic community structure for the location we are interested in. In short we simply are trying to determine what animals live at a location and the relative density of those animals. Tracking that information over multiple years at many locations helps us understand whether the communities are changing and whether the communities are healthy or impacted. That in turn allows us to associate human activities with community changes so that we can better mange the unique resources in Antarctica.
So what ties SCINI and benthic community assessments together in this project? Divers in the Antarctic are restricted to shallow water (<130 feet) by physiological limitations and U.S. policy. We also need a three to four foot hole to dive through. That combination prohibits the exploration of vast areas of the sea floor deeper than 130 feet. SCINI however requires a small ice hole so it can be deployed with much less effort and costs and eventually should be able to reach depths of several thousand feet. Its high resolution video allows us to observe and quantify at least a portion of the community at much greater depths than previously possible and its navigation capabilities allow us to build more accurate maps of each sampling location. This gives us complimentary sampling techniques that actually broaden the information we can collect and expands the depth range over which we can sample. It’s a great combination of old and new technologies that will give us better insights to marine life under the ice.
Thursday, November 22, 2007:
Happy Turkeylurky Day and don't forget to ask me who turned 50!
So Thanksgiving crept up on me this year and for some reason I thought it was on the 25th. In the light of this holiday I thought I would write a little about what I am thankful for this year. I would have to say I am thankful for all of my family and friends that miss me so during my time here in Antarctica. I really enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas because it is a time when much of my family, some who I haven’t seen all year, comes together. I am also missing the first Thanksgiving that is going to be held at my brother’s house and I wish I could be there to celebrate it with them. A Happy Thanksgiving to all loved ones from the SCINI team. On with the update!Go ahead, ask me who turned 50 today!
Today was an interesting day in the world of our ROV Video Ray. We planned on traveling down to Dayton’s Wall to do some science. Our goal was to map some old experiments that Dr. Paul Dayton had placed underwater several years ago. In order to map the area we needed to drill some holes for our navigation system. So after a morning of prep, Stacy, Rusty and I went out to drill three holes in the ice. I can’t believe how easy it was to drill these holes, I’m used to the hard ice that we were drilling through at New Harbor. After an hour we drilled and GPS each of our holes without a problems. We returned for lunch and gathered up all of our equipment for the Video Ray dive.The deployment team consisted of BLee, Bob, Stacy and myself. Before deployment Bob made some extensions for our navigation cables so we could extend our range and allow us to navigate more efficiently. Well when we got to the dive hole we found our navigation cables weren’t long enough and we were about 10 to 20 meters off. I think someone forgot to carry a zero! To solve this problem we rearranged some cables and pulled one of our cables higher in the water column. After this little mishap we were on to some science.
This is what a typical rov mission looks like. Lots of wires and lots of computers.
We ran into some unexpected navigation problems and after about an hour of attempting to solve the problem we decided to cancel the science portion of the mission. With the mission canceled this was a perfect opportunity for Bob to do some test piloting. So I handed the piloting controls over and took a break from driving. Bob was doing a great job of piloting and as another navigation test we decided he should try to find our navigation transducers that were hanging in the water column. He flew Video Ray over to transducer one without any problems. Well while we were nice in warm in the dive hut the weather outside had started to get ugly. The weather around here can change in a moments notice and by the look outside a storm was blowing in quickly. Even though we were only about a mile away from McMurdo Station there was still the possibility of getting stranded in the dive hut. Stacy didn’t hesitate to call the rest of our testing and decided that we need to pack up the necessary gear and head back to town.
While BLee and Bob recovered Video Ray, Stacy and I went outside to collect our cables. For some reason we couldn’t pull transducer cable number one through the hole and Video Ray couldn’t get away from transducer number one. And then it hit us, Video Ray tether was caught on the first transducer! BLee took over the piloting controls and attempted to untangle the tether but was unable to. So now we were faced with a tough decision. We could keep trying pilot Video Ray to untangle the tether or we could unplug the navigation cable at the surface and hope that Video Ray would be recovered with a navigation cable hanging from it. We decided to go with the latter and Stacy and I unplugged the navigation cable and watched it sink under the ice. We rushed back into the dive hut to help recover Video Ray and see if our plan worked. Unfortunately, Video Ray was recovered without the transducer and cable. By this time the wind was howling outside and we loaded up our vehicle to head right back to town. We weren’t too worried about the cable because we knew it was in between the dive hole and transducer number one which was about 20 meters away. And with the visibility here we should be able to find it while scuba diving in no time. So we made it back to town and the clouds that looked mean and vicious turned out to be nothing more then strong wind.
This is an example of how tether and transducer were tangled up.
Now that we returned to McMurdo it was time for dinner followed by our “engineering meeting” at the dive locker. We weren’t really having a meeting but that’s what we told Rusty to get him to the dive locker. Today is Rusty’s 50 birthday and we were trying to have a surprise party for him. Too bad I showed up late to the surprise part! Anyways we had a grand ol time and we all laughed and giggled late into the evening. We were even joined by some of our Kiwi friends from Scott Base, oh how I love their accents. Rusty received several gifts to remind him that he just turned 50 but some how I ended up wearing half of his gifts.
These are just some of the gag gifts Rusty received for his birthday. Notice the bleeding lip, I guess when you turn 50 your parts just start falling to pieces. Happy birthday to you Rusty.
I don't know what to say, just hand me another beer.
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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 (http://www.nsf.gov
Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.