Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Much-delayed PICTURES

Rather than run through each entry and add pictures to each one, I've decided to install a link to the photos from the trip on my web site. Here it is:



Sunday, March 25, 2007

straits of magellan

Hi everyone. we're about 6 or so hours into the straits of magellan
and should be in PA by nightfall. most of the morning has been spent
on the bow, watching the albatrosses, cormorants, penguins (Magellan
and/or some other non-traditional penguins) and seals circle around
the NBP. the land on either side is shrubby and rocky -- depending
on where you're from, analogies might be Scotland, Pt. Reyes, Alaska,
or Norway. everyone seems to have a different opinion, so i'll leave
it up to you to call upon whatever reminds you of a rugged, pristine,
windblown, maritime setting.

it's really exciting and invigorating to see land (in the non-
antarctic sense), I can only imagine what it must be like for people
who spend months and/or years at sea. but at the same time the
sensory deprivation has really been pretty minor. i hope i've kept
you informed about the creature comforts and relative lack of
struggle which we've had to confront (not that that's a bad thing).
really the only things that is completely different about being
aboard the NBP is a physical removal from family and friends. and
even that is made easy by the communication that's available.
talking to one of the -- how should i say -- more experienced members
of the team here puts the communication in perspective. I guess
since the 70's it has evolved from nothing to ham radios to primitive
email once a week to daily email for everyone on board. and 25k/day,
though it seems small in our multimedia-swamped world, is really
plenty for any sort of normal communication. i probably couldn't
write enough even if i had all day to fill that quota. maybe someone
with skills -- like typing skills, or nunchuck skills, etc... not
many of you know that i've had access to a satellite phone when i've
been on board. that's a new development, i think since last year.

all of these things make life aboard this ship easier. it's an
interesting philosophical question as to whether they "mute" the
experience. i think i would have emerged OK without them, but it's
tough to tell not knowing a cruise without them. our more
experienced friend is wholeheartedly for this type of communication
though, because he feels like he's lost some of those sights,
thoughts, and feelings from earlier cruises. so i'll listen to him,
and not wonder what it might have been like. i hope the explicit
purpose of this blog -- to communicate with the world outside the NBP
-- provides me with the side benefit of remembering some of these
experiences better.

see you in North America,


Friday, March 23, 2007

reflections, pt. 3, Antarctica

hi everyone, and thanks for the email to those who've sent it over
the past few days! I'm still looking good on the quota front so if
you're thinking of writing, the next few days are your last chance to
write to my nbp address. it leaves me when i leave P.A.

we've made a lot of progress given the great weather which we've
experienced on our travels through the southern ocean. at some deep
dark level i'm a little disappointed in the calmness of this transit.
In part because it may be my only time to experience this, and
because i built up the drake passage to those who I've talked to.
Unless something sneaks up on us though, i'll only have stories of
gentle swells to relay.

We have seen our share of albatross -- is that plural? -- since we
left the coast. They'll follow us for hours, just out of range of my

Like the albatross, Antarctica can not be done justice with photos.
The best pictures from the trip are of the smaller things, penguins,
snowflakes, etc, taken from up close.

The icebergs, ice shelves, ocean, fields of sea ice, etc. are too big to convey (at least in a
picture taken by me). Not that this will stop me from showing you
hundreds of pictures of icebergs. But I can already sense the

Icebergs may still look cool, but what really gets to me -- their
size -- is minimized when it's taken out of context. And the problem
is that even if the scale of the icebergs is adequately captured,
their smallness relative to everything else is left out. The bergs,
even the biggest ones, are just a tiny piece of an ice shelf, which
is a tiny piece of a glacier which comprises a tiny fraction of the
ice sheet. Which, even though it has enough water in it to raise sea
level by 60 or so meters, is just a tiny fraction of the water that
is in the ocean already. I don't know how to take a picture that
will be able to put that in context. Following the coast for a 3000
kilometers or so only gave us a window into the bigness and iciness
of it (and science-wise, hinted at more questions than answers).

So it might be better that I haven't been able to post pictures of
the trip. I've tried to convey some of this with words instead -- I
hope that the fact that it's taken a month and a half to get the
snapshot that I've had impresses some idea of the scale. Everything
we've done and I've written about on the cruise -- the planning, the
traveling, the watches -- has been in an effort to understand a
little more about a small part of this place.

Anyway, we're moving away from Antarctica now at 10-11 knots, hoping
that we managed to collect the right information while the window was
open. We're just about to cross 57S, within Chile's 200 mile limit.
I've finished (i think) the cruise report. We watched Dodgeball and
Rounders last night, Wonder Boys tonight; tomorrow, ping-pong will
interrupt the movie marathon.

two days out from P.A, I remain,


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

reflections, pt. 2, blogging

amazing weather today for the mooring recovery. right around
freezing with gently rolling seas, tons of sun. we tried to organize
a back deck BBQ and find the lounge chairs to no avail. the mooring
was recovered safely and the data is being downloaded now and we are
now headed north towards P.A. for real.

i am sitting down with revisions to the cruise report. I learned
something yesterday -- when submitting the cruise report, do so on
the last possible day (despite the hints/pleas of the chief
scientist), and then get out of town quickly. otherwise you might be
subject to more work -- like reviewing old data sets for comparison
to the current cruise. so i have a new project. but I'll try not to
get in the way of my "reflections" project.

this was/is the first time i've really kept a journal, and even more
the first time that i've let other people see it. i've talked about
the weird aspects of this one-way communication -- i.e. not knowing
who you're addressing and what they want to know -- so i won't dwell
on that. it's been valuable for me for a few different reasons --
it's forced me to reflect on some of the minor things which I might
forget otherwise, it's made me communicate with friends and family
even though I've been tired and too lazy to write a lot of emails at
night, and maybe most importantly it's forced me to write, and to not
be worried about finalizing thoughts beforehand (or during, or
after). i've wanted to use writing more as a tool to understand both
scientific and personal stuff but sitting down and doing it is hard.
hopefully i can keep it up in some form going forward.

for family,
i hope this was personal enough and maybe a bit more news and info
about why i'm doing this and what's happening than i'd give if i
wrote to you individually...

for friends,
i hope this wasn't too dorky; all the family stuff applies to you too.

for those who don't know me but paid attention while i was gone,
it's exciting to me that you took the time to read this and, if
you're reading it just because you want to do something similar, I
hope you get the chance.

for those who don't know me but are reading it after the cruise,
same as above! write me an email/comment if you want to...

for NBP0702-ites who are reading this after,
i hope i didn't screw up my recollections (please correct me if i
did), and i'm sorry i didn't get to talk about everyone, because i
could have written (mostly favorable...(just kidding)...) whole
entries about each person on board.

for everyone,
let me know what i did well and poorly (i.e. too many parentheses),
and especially leave notes and comments if you think i should fill
something in and/or elaborate. thanks for reading whoever you are!

Now at 66S, past the antarctic circle, off to watch ice age II,

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

reflections, pt. 1, the NBP experience

I had an inkling that we weren't really completely finished with the
scientific part of this trip yet when I wrote the last email. We
have a little bit of time (maybe a day) extra between now and when we
have to get into port in order to make our plane flights. So we are
in a kind of quasi-transit mode right now for the next few days and
instead of making our way more north than east towards PA, we're
heading more east than north to the Bellingshausen Sea near the
Antarctic Peninsula (the part that sticks up towards South America).
There is a mooring in place (another one of the same series which we
have been picking up in the Amundsen) which we will try to recover.
The TV says it's going to be about 24 hours from now until we get
there. So now that we've finished a draft of the nutrient cruise
report and Brice has taken care of storing and itemizing our samples,
it's a lot of time to use either productively or unproductively.

So far I've used some of the time to adjust to a normal schedule,
which didn't take that much time as all because all I had to do was
sleep 4 or 5 hours longer, which is not that hard for me. Now I have
to find a (several) new project(s). One of them is reflecting on the
trip. I'm going to try to break it into parts. Today -- my first
experience on a ship for this long.

The ship
The NBP is a stellar ship -- big, totally designed for science,
stable, well-run. Of course I have nothing to compare it to. But I
was constantly surprised by our self-sufficiency. Fuel and
responsibilities at home are really the only thing that limits our
time at sea.

So far, so good. The more time that's gone by since our first
episode of rough seas, the more I've learned about how people were
feeling, which is to say not real good. The most I can say is that I
got a little sleepy, which may still have been related to early-trip
sleep deprivation. So that was a plus for the overall experience.
I'm not holding my breath, because the worst is likely yet to come,
but it could have been worse. I need to find a use/home for the 80
dramamine pills, seasickness bands, and patches which I brought with
me. Any takers?

I miss my family and friends and my home. That's always there at a
background level. But I think it is balanced most of the time by the
newness and excitement of the cruise and daily activities. There was
definitely a time, say post-midpoint, in the open ocean, when the sun
hadn't been out in about a week, when the newness of the pneumatic
impact wrench wore off, where I was ready to be home. And I am ready
to be home now. But what's a cruise without a long transit home?
And what's another week?

other things I've missed:
the internet
beer and wine (though not in an unhealthy way)
my normal sleep schedule
probably other stuff too...

I haven't written about food since the very beginning of the cruise.
And while the desserts have kept up in their variety and quality
(some really interesting surprises of late -- "sour cream extract
cake", "chess pie", a yogurt and jello parfait), the rest of the food
has been less stimulating. Part of it is due to the fact that all
fresh veggies have been gone since the first week, part has been
repetition, part due to the weird eating schedule, and part of it has
to do with the fact that we eat in the same place all the time.

Social life
I've definitely been lucky to be on this particular cruise. The
relatively small size and all-around decent folk on it have made it
easy in an environment which could (and has according to most, often
does) disintegrate into madness...

Work and life definitely overlap. But there's really very little
life after work. A meal and some time in the gym is basically it. So
it makes sense to enjoy the people who you work with, and to stagger
shifts -- I'm really glad we did this, although it made mealtimes a
little weird.

But even the people who I didn't instantly jive with have been great
as the cruise has gone on because it's nice to talk to someone "new"
with a closed social circle.

Will I do it again?
Liz was the first person to ask me this question, although I think
her perspective on it is different than the people who've been asking
me over the last few days. So I'll give her a more thorough answer,
or rather we'll discuss it, soon. But in the meantime, here's some

There is a natural channelling towards finer degrees of
specialization in academic research, which is fine with me, but
likely limits the type of work I'll be able to engage in. I'm likely
never going to be as "free" as I am now, and any trip I take in a
scientific role will have to be justified -- research-wise,
financially, etc. Also, I really do like to be home, probably too
much to do this every year. Every three or four, maybe. But then it
will be even harder to justify. I think there are people who defy
convention and both observe and model. I'll have to see if that's
achievable and/or practical.

Anyway, it's been a great, eye-opening experience and I won't regret
treating it as a treated it like a one-time thing, but we'll see if
that's what it ends up being. Overall, I've had it easy --
constantly something to see, good people, good weather, ping pong,
and work that interests and is valuable to me. I worry that no
subsequent cruise has as much going for it as this one. I've
probably been spoiled.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


we are packing up the Lachat, battening down the helium channels, and finishing up our data entry around 70S, 105W.  No official word has been made as to the suspension of all things science-related on board (maybe keeping us on our toes), but I feel safe in saying that most of our work is done out here.  there will be time for reflections and more thoughts over the next week or so, but I received an email from Karl, our MPC (head honcho), which I thought should be relayed as we approach if not the Drake Passage, the wilds of the Southern Ocean.

"though we know the sea to be an everlasting terra incognita, ... though, by vast odds, the most terrific of all mortal disasters have immemorially and indiscriminately befallen tens and hundreds of thousands of those who have gone upon the waters; though but a moment's consideration will teach, that however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make; ... man has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it."
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

a light-hearted reminder to secure our belongings, huh? 

i'm going to put a positive spin on this, and paint this warning as an opportunity to try out some of my new knots.  hopefully they will knot be tested!

finally, before i reflect, i'd like to re-iterate an earlier solicitation for comments and questions -- my email quota is not in danger of being used up, so if you want to write me, please do,  Otherwise, I'll keep you posted with whatever pops into my head, as usual.  And also thanks for reading so far!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

cold weather phenomena, pt. 2

I'm writing this note early in the morning because I'll be tired

before getting into bed, i usually check the window to make sure i'm
not missing anything outside. Last night i looked out and saw that
we were in open water and the ocean was steaming -- sea smoke! holy
smoke, i thought to myself, and ran up to the bridge.

there were already 8 or 9 people up there looking out at the ice. we
had found a lead a little wider than the ship and were cruising
through it. you could basically see (sea?) ice forming in the water
-- little pancakes forming in rows, wind-whipped waves hitting the
edges of the lead and instantly freezing. And paths of steam rising
from a few main leads into the sunset. you could see where there was
open water tens of miles away by the plumes coming off the water. It
looked like a big river in the morning, with fog tracing the path of
the lead. also, all of the sea life was clustered into this area.
mostly, there were tons of penguins. they were hanging out right by
the edges of the open water, behind ridges that were blocking them
from the wind. we'd crash through a group (up to maybe 30 or so)
around one bend, then see another one right up the road. they were
probably a little irked but man is it funny to see penguins run.

i ended up staying up later than i wanted to -- luckily we have a
time change on my shift today, which means one fewer hour i have to
stay up. one more time change between now and P.A. -- getting close.


Friday, March 16, 2007

toasty columns and frozen seas

i can almost guarantee that I didn't ask for air in the nitrate
column last night, but i got it anyway, and toasted another column.
i guess i haven't mastered the lachat yet. there are innumerable
ways to let your guard down with that machine.

if i'd asked for cold, though, i would have been 3 for 3 in the ask
and you shall receive department. winds changed around to the south
and left brilliant blue skies and 20-30 knot winds all day. when
paired with temperatures of about -20C (-5 F), it makes for a cold
day, say -50 wind chills. I'm still left-over cold from some time
spent on the bow this afternoon.

the weather report is only so interesting for you i'm sure, but it is
related to (and responsible for) a few of the unique vistas outside
today -- sundogs and diamond dust. the sundog is a rainbow halo
around the sun...i saw two distinct rings around the sun which went
almost all the way around the sun until they intersected the sea
ice. the diamond dust is tiny pieces of ice that shimmer and sparkle
in the air under clear skies. it's almost like blown snow, but it's
sparkly and just seems to hover. i'm not real sure of the physics/
optics behind these, but my guess is that at cold temperatures,
moisture in the atmosphere condenses into really small pieces of ice
which don't form clouds (with big ice crystals and or water). my
second guess is that it's these crystals which are causing the sundog
(and weird light -- really bright up close, but misty farther away).
i'm really not sure of this though, and i haven't done any research
and/or asking around the ship, so correct me if i'm wrong.

(photo courtesy bettina sohst)

anyway these things made venturing outside well worth the trip (and
it was yet another opportunity to try out some of the ECW I received
about a month ago but haven't gotten to wear yet). Brice put on his
furback gauntlet mittens, which were a huge hit when we'd tried them
on but that I have since mostly forgotten about. These are the
mittens you'd want to use if you were wrestling a polar bear (NOT
that you'd be wrestling a polar bear in Antarctica, right?). They
have elbow length green canvas type lace up arms, heavy duty yellow
leather palms, and some kind of rugged fur cover over the hand. They
are very cool but probably impractical around campus. I'll have to
find some excuse in the next few days to try them out...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

data and its discontents

wow. i've decided that somebody must be reading this -- and he/she/
it has some serious pull. Yesterday I asked for the ice, today the
sun. both were supplied the next day. Ice might be in the power of
the chief scientist, but the sun is beyond his control. What should
I ask for today (three trees make a row, you know)??

the sun's gone now, but it's OK -- better for sleeping. while it was
out, we were moving through the ice -- big floes but easily pushed
aside -- and it was scattered with amazing bergs and several tons of
blubbery crabeater seals, who took their time getting out of the way,
allowing us to get decent pictures even with my camera skills.

when i've been inside today, i've been thinking a lot about this data
which i am collecting. not much about the data itself, but the
amount of effort and time that I (and everyone else who's been
helping) have been putting into getting the data ready to use. Today
I put the nutrient info from yesterday's long day at the Lachat into
a cumulative spreadsheet and started to look at it. But even if I/we
see something interesting, it's not likely that we'll be able to do a
tremendous amount with it until we all get back and our schedules
return to normal. It's unlikely too that the data will be
particularly relevant to my long-term goals, and may be a diversion.
But I've put so much into collecting it, I don't really care -- I'd
like to be in charge of it.

I'm beginning to get a sense for how issues develop between
collectors of data and users of it. I know there are rules, waiting
periods for availability of data, etc, and I suppose I could read up
on policies and standards, but without this cruise, I wouldn't have
understood the nature of observationalists' attachment to their
data. In part it's so they can publish results, but I bet it's
mostly a sense that they truly understand the numbers. And that's
not just because they know how freaking cold the water really is --
when you put in 14 hours days taking water from the rosette, running
a cantankerous machine on a moving ship, and staring at a
spreadsheet, you do know it best.


My sister is teaching at a elementary school in Philly this semester. I volunteered to answer some questions about Antarctica for my sister's group of 7 and 8 year olds.  The transcript is posted below:

1) Hans asks: Are you going to see B-15? (n.b. a very large iceberg)
3) Alex asks: Have you seen any icebergs?
5) Tr. Debby asks: Does your ship have safety measures for when you encounter icebergs? How do you safely cruise in the water with all that ice?


We've been around a big portion of the coast of Antarctica (almost halfway around the world, which is smaller near the south pole than it is around the equator) and there are very few days when we haven't seen icebergs.  They are amazing and come in all shapes and sizes and colors.  Although we break through sea ice up to 10 feet thick, we stay away from icebergs, which can be over 1000 feet thick (most of which is underwater). We are very careful not to hit them -- we steer around them during the day and have special radar that detects them at night.  Also the crew run on shifts like the scientists...there is always someone awake watching where we're going, usually two people.

It sounds like Hans may know more about B-15 than I do. But here's what I know.  The iceberg broke off of the Ross Ice Shelf a few years ago. We were near that ice shelf for almost 1 week.  It then went out to near Cape Adare (the northwesternmost point of the Ross Sea) of where it got grounded (stuck on the bottom) and broke up into B-15A, B, C, etc.  We went to Cape Adare at the very beginning of the cruise (when we got stuck in a big storm) and may have seen some remnants of B-15 (small pieces of bergs are called bergy bits or growlers).  There is a place near there called the "iceberg graveyard" where a lot of "bergs" get stuck on the bottom.  But I think most of it is now either melted or somewhere in the Southern Ocean. PS there is a website called that tracks ice shelves and icebergs...

2) Hans also wants to know: Did you see any other stations (besides McMurdo) on your cruise?

I didn't get to see any other stations on Antarctica, but I do get to see puerto arenas (in Chile) and christchurch in NZ which a lot of people leave from.  Maybe when I go back I'll get to go somewhere esle.  PS the US has 3 bases on Antarctica -- McMurdo, South Pole, and Palmer.  Many other countries have bases too, but McMurdo is the largest.

4) Robbie wants to know: With all that snow, do you ski or snowboard? :)

I do! But there's no downhill skiing on the ship or on land.  There are a lot of cross country skiing trails around Mc Murdo, and some adventurers have skiied across the entire continent. You need to be very careful because the ice is filled with crevasses (big holes in the ice!

6) Nola asks: How do you eat anything in all that cold? Where does your food come from? (the class is convinced that you are eating ice fish, since I told them that there aren't any grocery stores in Antarctica)

It takes a lot of people and coordination to keep people in antarctica happy and well-fed.  On the ship, they do an enormous shopping trip (three months worth) before the cruise leaves port.  On Antarctica, everytime they fly down they bring food and "freshies" (fresh veggies and fruit) .  Also, they have a greenhouse in McMurdo and at the South Pole (!) where they can grow fresh vegetables and fruit. We are definitely running low on fresh food because once we leave port, we only have what's on the ship.  Most of the stuff we are eating has been frozen or is non-perishable, but still yummy.  especially the desserts!

7) Anna wants to know how long do penguins live?
I had to do some research on this one!  I looked in three books on the ship and none of them said how long they live for.  Then I asked most of the people on the ship.  Most people thought 8-12 years but I honestly have no idea.  Maybe one of the kids can do some research on the one??

Sorry Anna!

back in the ice

just a quick note tonight to let you know that my request to return
one more time to the ice has been answered...

we're nearing the eastern end of our shelf break transect (~100W).
lots of adelies welcomed us back to the ice throughout the day.

rumors are now flying about the ship as to where and what we do with
the next (and final) week. the most likely plan is to recover a
mooring which we unable to make leave the ocean floor about 5 degrees
ago, working our way back inside the ice and on the continental side
of the shelf break. but the schedule has been known to change, so
I'm anxiously awaiting what the decision is tomorrow.

i'm still spending quality time learning the complete capabilities of
the ken burns effect (ask me for a slideshow when i return), but i
recovered the motivation to perform an epic run of samples through
the Lachat today (no bubbles, no crises!), and the cruise report is
no longer looking quite as imposing. plus i received an email from
both(!) my siblings today. motivation slowly returning...

now if only the sun would come out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

quick update

I think my last update of position was at least 3 days ago, when we
were embarking on a shelf transect across ~30 degrees of longitude
(which are shorter down here but still not negligible). For the
first few days we were making very tedious progress through thick
ice, doubling back and missing one station because we couldn't make
it through. Since then though, the winds have been steady out of the
east and we've been in open water and bagging stations in quick
succession. We're now at 71S, 105E with only a few left to go. It now
looks like we may have some time for a little extra work in the
Amundsen before we have to turn left towards PA (punta arenas).

Though it's great that we've left the ice as far as productivity is
concerned, I'm missing it. No matter how grey the weather is or how
devoid of wildlife, there is really never an unexciting view when
you're breaking through ice. There are so many varieties of color,
form, thickness, etc, that it never gets boring. Plus it's never
rough, and it's really very rarely devoid of wildlife.

Regardless of how rough the transit home is, I'm incredibly spoiled
to have gone on a cruise like this, around a huge section of
coastline in this foreign place. There are a lot worse oceanographic
cruises I could have ended up on. I'd like to think I had the
foresight to know this when I chose this area for research, but I'll
take good luck.

mac makeover

Sorry for the slow pace of updating these days; I think there are
probably two distinct reasons behind the slowness. First we have
reentered the last zone on earth where the email has to be sent by
the "iridium" satellite instead of the "inmarsat". Not that the
inmarsat is hugely fast, but apparently the iridium is extremely slow
(effectively 1.9k/s) and needs constant monitoring because it cuts
out. We actually were in this zone for a while in Pine Island Bay a
few weeks ago, and that happened to be timed with the day my partner-
in-crime Brice had to send of a very important paper, which he had to
shrink with all methods available and then send in six parts. 4
hours later, the paper was sent (we think).

The second is that I've been battling with a little bit of burnout,
especially towards the end of the day, when I'd been writing my
commentary. It's actually a weird mix of burnout and stir-craziness
-- most times I feel like running around the ship or playing some
soccer out on the ice. The work schedule, even though it's 12-13
hours/day and no weekends, isn't all that hectic, and some of the
time if there's a lot of time between stations, you can play pingpong
on your watch. But I'm finding it hard to sit down and work on the
final cruise report and/or extra work and/or preparation for my
reentry into a normal work schedule/environment.

I'm spending a lot of time -- mostly before I go to sleep after
dinner -- taking advantage of my new mac. As some of you know, I've
recently switched from stodgy pc guy into cool and laid-back mac
dude. Up until this point I've justified it based on the behind-the-
scenes UNIX platform, speed, and other solid practical reasons. I'm
not spending a lot of time working on "garage band".

But now that I've been a mac dude for at least 3 months (and I've got
multimedia to work with given all the cruise pics and my addiction to
itunes), I am not worried that no one will take me seriously because
I'm using imovie and iphoto to create slideshows and movies with the
"ken burns effect", music, and sweet effects. I think it's a
temporary cure for burnout -- it makes you remember the craziness of
what you've seen and done -- but it does feel a little weird to be
documenting before the trip is over, kind of like you're living in
the past. I can come up with a practical reason -- that it might
never get done if I put it off till I get back. I can't quite shake
that need to justify creativity.

Oh well, I guess we're all a little PC.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

sunday morning philosphizing

My vision for modeling the Amundsen is to use ocean models to examine
the sensitivity of melting ice shelves to oceanic heat sources. My
main personal goal for this trip is learning -- about the process,
execution, scope, and difficulties in making observations of the
Antarctic oceans. I want to use that information to help guide the
efforts which I undertake in the next few years (also beyond, but I'm
primarily thinking about finishing the Ph.D). Having given my talk
about issues surrounding the modeling of ice shelves, with particular
emphasis on the Amundsen Sea, and having received some input (both
direct and indirect) I think that I have narrowed down the areas
where I can make a contribution.

The way that I'm starting to look at the modeling world is like a
scatter plot (a slighly nerdy way to do it, OK). The axes are level
of idealization and the scale. The scale (at least of my interest)
varies from the individual ice shelf scale to the the southern ocean.
The level of idealization is trickier to quantify because it can be
due to the number of physical processes included, or time or spatial
variability, and maybe other factors as well. The type of experiments
which are needed vary across both of these criteria so I am not at a
loss for opportunities. But I also need to include the level of
interest of the community, and not unimportantly, my own interest and
personal satisfaction (thanks amy for reminding me of that last

There are likely too many unknowns to attack this problem in a way
that would satisfy both my desire for comprehensiveness and
confidence in the end result, especially in the next few years. I
think I can get a better answer to questions in the Amundsen, given
uncertainties in modeling and data, by looking at two specific
regions in isolation -- under the ice shelf and at the continental
shelf break. The other axis -- idealization -- is tougher to figure
out. I have some ideas, but I need more time to think about it. Six
days across the Drake Passage may help that.

If you have any ideas, your input is welcome.


*Personal Rambling follows (optional).... scientists have a difficult
task in justifying their research at the larger scale (which means
they're looking to solve a "big" problem) and being required to have
a single minded focus on proving something (which is only possible
when the problem is tractable). I think good (and how you evaluate
good is a whole 'nother matter -- best funded, most respected,
published, etc?) scientists have to learn to do both. My personal
analysis is that I'm a little unique (as a graduate student) in that
I tend to set large, maybe a little vague, goals, justifying the work
first, and working backwards from there to the source of uncertainty
in the problem. My natural tendency then is to try to include
everything to answer the bigger picture problem, when I think science
only really works in small steps. So either I have to learn to do
both of these, or find some field/job where I don't have to do both.

Friday, March 9, 2007

sense of something

Hi everyone, sorry for the late update. I was working on my "science
talk", which finally happened today after several reschedulings. I
wish it had happened earlier in the cruise, as there was some
interesting discussion post-talk that I hope we can keep up. It's
funny the way some talks, though the content is not especially
stimulating and/or new (and this one certainly wasn't to those
familiar with the subject), can at least set the stage for
brainstorming. You get so into the normal cruise schedule and
discussions of ctds/meals/ice condition/etc, that it's hard to break
out of the routine. A talk (and we've had two over the past two
days) seems to reinject a sense of purpose. Definitely to the one
giving it.

Anyway the sense of purpose is not the only thing that I'm getting a
sense of lately. There is a general vibe that this continental shelf-
break transect is the final leg on this adventure. For one,
everything is too easy -- waking up at 3 is not a problem (most of
the time), l haven't broken the lachat lately, sampling functions
like a smoothly honed machine, I'm used to the meal schedule, etc.
We've gotten memos about the packaging and shipping requirements for
our samples from the MST's, we have to arrange our accomodations and
flights for Chile, and last but not least, the pingpong tourney is
getting into the final rounds.

I'm staying up late tonight for a match in which all 4 players are on
a different shift schedule. I'm optimistic but tired. Just in case
you're interested, my game has been uneven in tournament play, but I
have an ongoing afternoon game with the best player I've ever seen,
Ali. I elevate my play to a higher level during these games but I
still get crushed. My goal is to reach double digits against her
before the end of the cruise. I'm hoping the notoriously rough seas
of the Drake Passage may even (uneven?) the playing field.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

other people's opinions

It is always a good thing to consult a variety of different resources when you're conducting research.  I'd be skeptical of one person's opinion.  But I'm also a little selfish and want people to read what I write.  So I've had a little bit of an ongoing moral dilemma about advertising the fact that there are other accounts of this trip circulating around this thing they call the "internet".  I think I've kept you in the dark long enough though.

Several other people have blogs of one form or another going -- some with definite "outreach" purposes, others (like me) just for fun.  SO if you're looking for more information, a different source, insight into the different types of work on the ship, or are bored with this collection, here are some other links.

Rich is an atmospheric scientist who's very interested in sea ice and works at Lamont (Columbia). He and I found out within a day or so of Christchurch that he was writing about the trip on  Funny, huh?  I know he has some pictures from Christchurch, and I think he's just doing this for fun.  It's not far away, so pay him a visit.

Rachael is a graduate student at Oregon State and has worked on some small scale oceanic processes likely to occur under and near ice shelves.  She's now looking at joining the modeling community, using an Antarctic tidal model.  SHe's is doing this as a formal outreach project and has put a lot of time (and bandwidth) into it.  I think she has pictures of the trip and a map up. Here's the address:

Rose is an undergraduate at Colorado College in geology and is working primarily on the bathymetric data collection on the ship, although she has helped Brice and I sample nuts, which is a huge help for us as we're wielding power tools around the rosette.  I don't have her address, but will send it when she wakes up.

There may be others floating around out there too, try searching for nbp 0702 with other combinations of spaces and hyphens, maybe you'll find something I don't know about.

In the meantime, thanks for spending time reading this one!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

penguin experience

The antarctic treaty, an international agreement that gives the
ground rules for what you can and can't do on and around antarctica,
states that you are not allowed to disturb any wildlife south of a
certain line of latitude. the guideline itself is interesting --
there's no specified "safe" distance -- instead you have to base your
judgement upon whether the animal is reacting to your presence. the
first moral dilemma I've experienced with respect to this rule is
that most of the time we are plowing through the ice -- it seems to
be like the penguins/seals that we do see are moving rapidly out of
the way, and I imagine those underwater are doing the same. but it
would be tough to get any work done if we couldn't break ice, which
inevitably has wildlife in it. as far as I can tell, there's been no
exploration of this issue.

the second is what to do if the animal reacts to your presence and
wants to learn more. this one has been explored a little more
deeply. the consensus is that you are allowed to stay in the same
place if the animal approaches you. which, fortunately, happens a lot
with penguins.

on our second ice buoy/ice coring mission yesterday, we had a real
penguin experience. two Adelies came over to us out of nowhere on an
ice floe. they very calmly walked/slid up to us until they were
about 30-40 feet away and just hung out as we were digging (OK mostly
we were watching them and taking pictures). once in a while they
would flop onto their bellies. One turned its back to us but was
totally comfortable sitting there facing the other way.

on the ship there is a distance (and four large engines) that make
you a spectator to the animals -- which is cool, don't get me wrong.
but even if they wanted to make friends, it would be tough to form a
bond over the bow. but on the ice you're so much closer it's a
different experience. and gratifying to see the total lack of fear
and curiosity in the wildlife.

Monday, March 5, 2007

there and back again

I intentionally haven't been religious of updating our position and
our day-to-day progress with this blog, which I think may have been a
little repetitive, but I feel like I haven't given an update on our
general direction recently. So here's a brief summary of where we
are in the cruise.

After the Ross Ice Shelf transect, we moved into the Amundsen and
have continued on a roughly west to east path. Our main goal was/is
to look at the pathways and characteristics of a type of water which
drives the melting of glacial ice in the Amundsen Sea -- circumpolar
deep water (CDW). There are two important barriers for the CDW --
the continental shelf break, where the continental shelf slopes
steeply into the deep ocean, and the ice shelf front, where the ice
shelf front forms a vertical barrier for the inflow. This divides
the analysis into 3 parts -- the deep ocean, the continental shelf,
and the sub-ice shelf cavity. Although we have surveyed and sampled
some of the continental shelf, most of the work we've done has been
close to the ice shelves, which allows us to characterize both the
heat available to melt glaciers near the ice shelf, and find evidence
of meltwater in the physical and chemical characteristics of the
water column. Unfortunately, we can't get beneath the ice shelves
themselves (that's why we need models and modelers!).

On our way to Pine Island Bay, we've spent time near the East and
central getz, dotson, crosson, thwaites, and pine island glaciers/ice
shelves. After moving as far east as possible along the coast, we
turned around and filled in some gaps on our way to the western getz
ice shelves, where we are now. After 6 or so more CTD casts around
here, we're reversing directions once more, heading northeast along
the continental shelf break, which is currently looking icy...

The remainder of the cruise will be focused on trying to get an idea
of where the warm water enters the continental shelf to help
understand what might be driving it's transport and variability. So
now we'll be moving offshore from the ice shelves (and N/S gradients
in meltwater) to the shelf break (and E/W gradients in bathymetry and

The trip odometer, by my count, is right around 6500 km. I don't
know how far it is to Punta Arenas, but we are currently at 74.5S,
133.8W. I bet we'll be safely over 10000 km by the end of the trip.

ps I'm in the ping-pong semifinals!


Being new to the world of pneumatic impact wrenches, it seems I've made an error.  See below.

Dear Editor -


In your Wednesday, February 28th journal entry entitled: "bubbles, part 2," you make a reference to an impact wrench traditionally being used to put on hubcaps, when in reality, the pressure of an impact wrench would more than likely crush the plastic caps.  The wrenches are actually used to take on and off the wheels themselves (like on Indy Cars, which don't have hubcaps) , but rarely the caps themselves. 


Please let me know if it happens again!

oops --

antarctic news/shameless IPY plug

Hey all,

Lots in the news lately about Antarctica (even I know about some of this stuff and my only access is an 8 page NYT digest and any email I receive).  From new species to international intrigue on the high seas, Antarctica is hot!  Hope that you are keeping tabs on all of the events.  

One ongoing sciencey event for the next year or so is the International Polar Year, a coordinated effort to learn, among other things, more about the rapid changes occurring near the poles.  Many of the scientists on this cruise are involved in extensive cross-discipine research funded and organized under IPY.  Also, IPY has a link to this blog on their site.  So I think it's correct blog etiquette to get the word out.

Anyway, I have not visited the site, but it is likely worth a visit just to see some of the other types of projects which are ongoing, not only at sea, but "on the ice", and on the other side of the planet.

More later...

Saturday, March 3, 2007

what's on tonight?

Hi everyone, whoever you are...

I've made numerous sly references to the TV so far. The NBP has a
variety of programming on 24/7 and there are tv's everywhere so you
never miss it.

Here are the listings:

Channel 37: aft starboard cam. good view of the winch control room.

Channel 39: a coil of cable for the winch

Channel 41: another coil of cable for another winch

Channel 43: another view of the starboard side where they launch the
sediment grabber from. Nothing happening right now.

Channel 45: Excitement! the Baltic Room! where the CTD and rosette
is brought in. Currently some sampling going on. More fun in person
than on tv.

Channel 47: The back deck cam. Nice view of the getz ice shelf and
our wake.

Channel 49: The top of the world facing backwards cam. Darker.

Channel 51: starboard cam (higher up). nice view of the emergency
craft and the "Cajun Crusher", a mini icebreaker hanging from the
side of the NBP.

Channel 53: the perpetual sunset cam. I don't know what they've
done, but the sky is always a rosy hue. Our fist view of where we're

Channel 55: Looks like a tracking problem of a camera near the bridge.

Channel 57: a movie channel -- if you want you can put a dvd in the
dry lab DVD player and watch it with the whole ship.

Channel 59: our first info channel. speed, bearing, waypoint (i.e.
next station) information, track, and lat/lon (currently -73.8S,

Channel 61: mega info channel -- here are some excepts. Weather info
(current and last 24 hours) -- notable, were at .6 celsius -- first
day above freezing since a few weeks ago, two types of depth
measurements, PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation -- good for
biologists and suntanning). Also sound relays of the ship radio --
just heard the cap'n announce two orcas off port side.

Channel 63: surface ocean information -- temp, salinity, fluorometer
-- chlorophyll, CO2 concentration, and record of bathymetry

Channel 65: I don't know what this is. it's a plot of something and
it's moving.

Channel 67. The last ctd bottom tracking thing.

Channel 69: The winch information channel. Kind of like the preview
channel for all the winch cams.

Channel 71: a track of the bathymetry with ship position and previous
bathymetric data from other tracks.

Channel 73: a history of the surface ocean measurements.

Channel 75: the CTD channel. very exciting usually but currently
just a computer screen.

Channel 77: the last CTD cast information.

Channel 81: I don't know.

Channel 83: the weather for February 17th, as shown on the intranet
on February 17th. An oldie but a goodie.

I didn't realize this was going to be so long, but I wanted to share
it all with you. In all seriousness, it's extremely useful, but
taking a step back, it's pretty funny too.

Friday, March 2, 2007

groundhog day

you get into funny habits on cruises. some are required (i.e. early
morning rising, dinner at 5:30, midrats, pneumatic impact wrenches)
and some just evolve. one that has evolved for me is that I wake up
to a movie every morning. desperate for an alarm clock in the first
few days on the ship, having already damaged my sleeping schedule
from travelling through at least 30 time zones, some repeatedly, I
realized the cabin TV has an alarm feature -- you can wake to either
a movie or tv. since winch tv only has sound when there's people
talking on the ship radio, it's too unpredictable, so I raided the
lounge. i have a tough time in video stores picking out a movie. no
exception in the lounge. it was february 3rd so i picked groundhog
day. since then, I've watched groundhog day about 3 times in full,
and after realizing i could switch it up, watched american graffiti.
recently my roommate had been watching the deer hunter, so I've seen
a few parts of that. strikes me as a tough movie to 1. wake up to
and 2. watch in discrete parts.

anyway the reason i bring groundhog day is that we're about to live
the same day twice. i had thought we were on pacific time for the
past few days, but it turns out we were on the same hour, just a
different day (one ahead, like when we left NZ). I thought the date
line was in control, but it turns out on a ship, the captain is.
some payroll issue made it easier to repeat march 3 than some day in
february. What power!

this leaves a lot of room for thoughts about the arbitrariness of time.

p.s. i just realized i kind of repeated myself abut the helium
channel process when checking to see if i'd talked about my alarm
clock yet. i've intentionally been sending these emails without
looking back, but i guess i have to since i'm forgetting what I've
talked about. don't worry I've got some new ideas -- it probably
won't happen again!

We'll see what tomorrow (today) brings!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

bubbles, part 3

Happy March everyone! It's coming in leonine fashion here, with
stronger winds than we've seen in a few days. Of course what happens
in march probably means something different in the southern hemisphere.

Since I promised to finish the collection techniques review today
(and I know you're waiting anxiously) I'll do that. But going back
to a post from a few days ago, I mentioned I was feeling like I
haven't had enough time to talk about the data and digest it. I had
a talk with at least 5 or 6 other people today because we had some
time to catch our breath -- and it turns out everyone was having the
same problem I am. So no need to worry, I guess this is something
normal on a cruise. Still, having a captive audience of people who
are willing to, and can help, your research, is something we all want
to take advantage of. The "science" talks are ok for this, but we're
hoping to maintain an informal, but scheduled discussion to mix up
ideas...we'll see if it happens.

Anyway, the second collection technique I'm responsible for on my
round around the rosette is not as fun, as it involves fewer power
tools, less hammering, and more immersion in water. We're looking to
capture CFC's and SF6 concentrations in water. The alert among you
will recognize CFC's as ozone-destroying molecules. Well they are
also great for determining how long it's been since water has been
"ventilated", i.e. at the surface of the ocean long enough to
exchange gas with the atmosphere. SF6, likewise, is an "age"
tracer. It's used, I think, in transformers as an insulator --
these compounds were developed for their stability, which is a good
thing as long as they don't do any harm while their floating around
the atmosphere or ocean.

Unfortunately for me, these gases are not very soluble in water,
meaning they're very hard to keep the gas in, and very susceptible to
contamination by ambient air. So here's the technique, which we are
praying is enough to keep the gas in place on its long journey from
the rosette to the refrigerator to Punta Arenas to New York. First,
I attach a plastic tube to the rosette and fill up a flask with
water. The flask is inside a plastic mayo-sized jar, which is inside
a milk-jug sized plastic cylinder. When the flask is full and
overflowing, I cap the flask (with no air inside), remove the flask,
turn in over, and place it upside down inside the mayo jar. Then
holding the flask upside down, I get the mayo cap, hold that
underwater (making sure the tube is still flowing and in the milk
jug) until the mayo jar is full and overflowing into the milk jug. I
turn the cap around until the air leaves the cap, then place the cap
on the mayo jar, and (this is the hardest part), screw it on, making
sure it's aligned and airtight in the tight confines of the plastic
cylinder. Did I mention the water here is in a tight range between
-2 and 1 degrees? Then I remove the mayo jar, with flask inside,
turn it over, and see if there are any air bubbles. If there are, I
dump it and do it again. If not, I move on the next bottle.

Like I said, I hope this works.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

bubbles, part 2

Yesterday I wrote a little about why we're collecting water samples
(for dissolved gases) and I promised to tell more about the sampling
techniques. They are a weird blend of extreme delicacy and brute
force. As a "modeler" I have a tendency to gloss over the detailed
methods used to obtain oceanographic data -- there is a measure of
trust that the techniques work and that the data is accurate. After
all, these are "observations" of the real ocean, rather than output
from a computer. On top of this, the details of the sampling
techniques -- I mean the nitty gritty -- are not necessarily relayed
in papers.

The concentrations of the gases we are looking at are extremely
small, which has two effects. First, the sensitive equipment
required to analyze the samples is not practical to have on board --
so we have to collect water and send it back to the lab (hence the
water-catcher moniker). Second, we have to be extremely careful not
to compromise or change the sample, or contaminate it with gases that
were not in the water when it arrived on board. So knowing that,
here are the two techniques which I have spent considerable time
perfecting over the past month, in two installments.

For "noble gases" -- including two isotopes of helium, and neon -- we
use helium channels, which I discussed earlier, because we assembled
a few hundred in the first few days on board. Anyway, these consists
of a hollow aluminum rectangular "channel", about three feet long,
with steel clamps on each end, and a copper tube in the middle with
its ends sticking out between the clamps. When the CTD (and attached
rosette of 24 10 liter bottles) arrives, I attach plastic tubing to
both ends of the copper tube, find the bottles which I'm sampling
(each of which has been triggered at a specific depth) and attach one
end of the tubing to the valve at the base of each bottle. I test
the bottle to make sure it doesn't leak, then open the vent at the
top of the bottle. Pushing in the valve again starts the flow of
water. At this point I let water run through the tubing, the copper
tube, and out onto the floor through the plastic tube on the other
side, keeping the channel tipped up away from the bottle so air in
the tubing and channel can escape. Then I flip the channel over (so
copper tube and clamps are facing away from me), place the channel on
my thigh, and bang the channel for about 20 seconds with a mallet to
knock the bubbles out (which stick to the copper). Then I flip the
channel back over (keeping it upright), grab a pneumatic impact
wrench, center the copper tube in the channel, and drill the two
bolts on each clamp down so the clamps stop the flow of water in a
hurry (For those of you, who, like me a month ago, did not know whan
a pneumatic impact wrench is, it's what the use in auto repair shops
to bolt on hubcaps). It's like an indy-car pit stop. And it makes a
complete racket. And I get to do it 5 or 6 times at every station
(we've done close to 100 so far). How this method was developed, I
have no idea. But many people have thought about this and on a ship
in the middle of the Antarctic this is the best way to seal in the
few parts per billion that are the difference between water types.