Friday, 22 February 2008

South Georgia and Falklands

Have made it back to the UK now so will try to summarise the end of the cruise. We did some work in an area downstream of South Georgia with very high concentrations of phytoplankton and then headed north, chasing penguins.
Two Humpbacks that came close a few times
King Penguins were being satellite tracked, thanks to two guys living in a tent in Hound Bay, South Georgia. They swim for several days, through the area of high productivity until it gets a bit warmer, then they start diving more and travelling less. Question is, why swim so far? We got to the area a penguin had been feeding in a few days previously and could see signs of fish on the acoustics shallow enough for diving King Penguins to reach (<250m)>

After that we were basically hove to for a couple of days, though we made some progress southwards. We got over the South Georgia shelf and did some work. Was good to get some data from there, but it annoyed those who wanted to still be at the Polar Front getting the fishing done properly. Next on the agenda was picking up the guys from Bird Island - Helen and Claire had been there a few months while Robin had been there for 2.5 years. Only the doctor and the guy in charge of the base got ashore (the base is just a few scientists going out doing the work in the field, generally as instructed by others, there is no base commander or chef).

Bird Island
One of the locals coming to investigate (Pale-faced Sheathbill)
Cargo tranfer from a Humber

Another view of Bird Island. The brown marks along the coastline are where the Fur Seals have trashed the tussock grass - a growing issue due to the rapid increase in Fur Seal numbers.

Next stop was Stromness, which is a very sheltered bay. We needed to dangle some brass balls under the ship to calibrate the acoustics (so they can work out actual rather than relative densities of krill and fish). Gave everyone else some time off so there was the first end-of-cruise party in the bar.

The old whaling station at Stromness. Now derelict and out of bounds, one of the other scientists stayed there some time ago, to do work in the bay. Apparently they spent a long time clearing the floor in the hall for somewhere to do circuit training and play badminton, but then the roof blew off. For the calibration we needed the ship to be as quiet as possible. That and the calm conditions meant that the main sound was the lamb-like calls of baby fur seals echoing around the valley.

After that we had some time spare so we tried to do a quick CTD transect to measure the flow along the edge of the South Georgia shelf, for a number of reasons. We steamed out to the end of the transect (which I decided on when we got there) and did the first CTD. Then approaching the second one of the propellor motors broke. Given that these are what actually turn the propellor and therefore make us go forward, this wasn't good news. We did the second CTD while they investigated but then we had to break off and head back to South Georgia. We still had work to do there and it would give the engineers a more stable ship to work on.

First job back at South Georgia was collect the gear from Hound Bay - the guys had got back to King Edward Point but had had to leave the cargo for us. Meant I got to have a play in a humber (RIB) but didn't get ashore. Wind got up while we were out so it got quite tough to just get the job done - no time for walks or photos (the boats were filling up with the spray so cameras would have got wrecked; I had to bail ours out with the cadet's hard hat).

Then round to King Edward Point, the 'capital' of South Georgia to collect people. Due to the broken motor we got a day ashore so went for a walk. That would have been special enough after a month on the ship, but it is a spectacular place.

Old whaling ships at Grytviken

South Georgian Pintails. They were feeding normally for ducks while we were there, but they will scavange off seal carcasses.

The JCR and King Edward Point. That's pretty much all the buildings there - is the administrative centre for South Georgia, and also has some good science facilities and a post office.
One of the locals, to be avoided

On the walk out to Penguin River
Looking down on the work to put a hydroelectric power scheme in.

The local vegetation

Our picnic spot

Penguin River, not much more to say!

Leaving for home
Ernest Shackleton's grave

Fur Seals playing, just need to make sure they don't think you're a playmate
Elephant Seal, somewhat more docile

Grytviken Whaling station, cruise ship and lee-wave clouds (the flying saucer ones, that don't move despite it being quite windy)

Blue-eyed Shag

Finally got back to Falklands, running the remaining motor at full power (normally both run at half power) so didn't lose any more time. Had a day packing all our gear into a few containers and then an afternoon free, so another walk out to Gypsy Cove.

Moulting penguins, one King Penguin and lots of Macaroni

Red Backed Hawk
Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron
Upland Geese - very characteristic of Falklands and a fitting end

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Sediment trap update

Having mentioned that we were about to recover the second sediment trap, here it is:

Very unfortunately and annoyingly though, it didn't work. There are a set of bottles at the bottom that are meant to rotate round and catch sediemnt every 3 weeks or so. They didn't move. We've put it back in so hopefully we'll get samples next year.

Also, have sorted the formatting on the last post as some text (each side of green albatross quote) was black on black!

Still a force 9 here and the sea is quite confused so we are rolling quite a bit. Still managed to get some decent sleep though.

A day in the life of me (ship version)

I mean ship version of 'day' but it's probably fair to say there is also a ship version of 'me'.

The alarm goes off at 3.30am local time, about half the time I'm already awake. I get dressed in the dark (two others in the cabin) and get out of the cabin as quietly as possible. It is about 30 metres to the lab, so there's not much time spent commuting. Also no time spent shopping, cooking or washing up - 24 hours is a bit longer on a ship than at home.

My watch starts at 4am but I go through the lab to check on how things are going. First is the window overlooking the winch, which gives a clue as to what we are up to and what the weather is doing.
Calm, Bongo net in.
Not calm, will be hove to.

The whiteboard is used as the current log of events planned or just happened and for any messages, such as wake-up calls - the timings change frequently so this is a better arrangement than alarm clocks for some people. The smiles on the stick men indicate what proportion of the Krill that they wanted they actually got (Angus is also very tall).

Mags works 4pm-4am so the next stop is to talk to her about the previous 12 hours - what she's done, what work we are doing and any changes to plans/news about how well kit is working. The conditions out here are tough at times and the kit is pushed to its limits so it regularly has to get fixed - Jim and Peter do an excellent job at this and keep all the science going.

What 6 tons does to a shackle, we really wanted to fish last night!

Once I know what is going on I quickly go down to the duty mess for a bowl of cereal - food is always available here (cereal, milk, bread, cheese, cold meat) and it is where you eat if you are otherwise working.

One of the screens we have in the UIC (Underway Instrumentation Control - our dry or computer lab) is a repeat of the navigation screen from the bridge. This is very useful for working out where we are, and probably more importantly, how long until we are somewhere else (a specified somewhere else generally, unless we're having a really bad day...). In this photo of it the mate on the bridge is setting out a 24 hour survey of the area around a station - in the middle of rotating it to account for a shift in the winds, it's not meant to be skewy.

Another source of information is the underway data - real time sea temperature, salinity, fluorescence (a measure of how much phytoplankton there is, sort of), air temperature, pressure etc. It's our job to process this data (copy it from where it is stored on the ship and clean data spikes from it). This is used after the cruise by most of the scientists, either as something that is needed for to their work (e.g. calculating underway CO2 concentrations) or as context for the conditions during the work (e.g. a net tow). Unfortunately the temperature sensor isn't very good, so we have to calibrate it, and work out how bad it is. Hopefully we can get it changed.

We also have a readout of the wind speed. We don't think 'help' is part of the scale. It's currently quite windy.

Some mornings we do a CTD cast just after 4am so I have to go straight into that. Mags might have set it up at the end of her watch (she gets easily bored and reacts by getting things sorted, which is great) or I might have to set it up downstairs, which takes about 10 minutes. The LADCP also needs switching on and disconnecting (records the water flow at depth, the CTD measures proporties like temperature and oxygen concentration). A full depth CTD takes about 3 hours (when the depth is about 4000m). The way down takes an hour and it's possible to do some other things, so long as you keep an eye on the data (we have a repeater screen round the corner) and set an alarm to make sure you're back well before it reaches the bottom!

The CTD desk, data from the cast gets plotted real-time on the middle two screens. The time is in GMT (we live by local time, but record data by GMT)

One option while waiting for the CTD to get to the bottom is to stare out of the window. This can be very productive for wildlife sightings but doesn't get other things done. It was though how I spotted the ringed Wandering Albatross. We now have the details back from Bird Island:

" Your wandering albatross (WALB 5109000/WP54) is a female of unkown age. She was first recorded breeding at Bird Island, South Georgia in 1982 paired with a male (5109005/WP59) on the ridge. This pair successfully raised 7 chicks up to 1997 after which she paired with another male (5184987/WB15 (5109005/WP59 was last seen in 1999 - died of a broken heart ... or perhaps on a longline!). 5184987/WB15 was first seen in 1999 when breeding with 5109000/WP54 and they have gone on to successfully rear 4 chicks. Perhaps not surprisingly, 5109000/WP54 is back at Bird Island this season breeding with 5184987/WB15 (with a 525g egg), again on the ridge.5109000/WP54 has 17 grand-chicks, and 3 great grand-chicks on the island, so quite a successful old bird! Andy. "

Another ringed bird turned out to be younger and less successful. It was on its year off so interesting that it was close to the colony, but non-breeding birds often turn up briefly in the colony during the season. We are also dealing with a bird that will fly to Brazil and back within the week, so it could be just passing through briefly before heading off somewhere else. Another species of Albatross was satellite tracked doing a lap of Antarctica in 46 days. This wide ranging feeding means that the albatrosses encounter a range of different fisheries and the bycatch (aka drowning) from long-liners targetting Toothfish is threatening many species with extinction, see The fishery around South Georgia now has virtually no bycatch so this is a problem with a solution, but the solution needs implementing everywhere.

Another option for the time is to download satellite data. This is an image of how much chlorophyll is in the water, measured from space. Red is very high, blue is low, the Black outline is South Georgia, the thin black lines are contours of dynamic height (like isobars, the ocean flows along them). The chlorophyll data is delayed 2 days, dynamic height 7 days. It takes 10-30 minutes to download the data (1mb files - we may have the internet, but it's a bit slow!). This data is used to predict what conditions we will encounter further into the cruise and also for deciding on the locations of some stations.

Our desk and LADCP computer. Laptop is on non-slip matting, and tied down with string.

On the way up bottles need to be fired at particular depths, so it takes longer and you have to be there almost all the time. Other people also need to be found and told when it will be on deck. Once the CTD is up we need to get water samples from it and also download and process the data. Other people need the data for their work, so we try to have it available within an hour or two.

If I'm not doing a CTD then I'll have a second breakfast at 7.30am (If I am, then I'll go back to the duty mess quickly and grab some bread). More cereal is available and also a cooked breakfast. The saloon is quite formal - food is brought to the table (mostly because it is too small and the chairs too big for everyone to be getting up all the time). You can't be in deck clothes and for dinner you need to be fairly smart - collared shirt, they have just relaxed it so you don't need a tie!

The rest of the day continues in a similar vein, with more data processing and possibly more CTDs. I occasionally go out on deck to help pull nets in and often stick around to see what has been caught, sometimes being helpful. Lunch is at 12 and consists of soup, a main course (or cold meat) and a dessert. We need to check at least hourly that all the instruments are working fine. Much the same after that until 3.30pm when I need to make sure Mags can find me so I can hand over to her at 4pm.

I am then off-duty, though there are plenty of times during watch when there is little to do, and occasions off-watch when there are. My main activity when not working is going up to the bridge with binoculars (especially if we are steaming as then we see more birds and whales) or out on deck with the camera (especially if we are on station as then the birds come closer).

Robert, the chief officer, concentrating on the fairly big, and fairly confused seas. It is normally much more relaxed. 15 Pilot Whales had just swum past.

View backwards from the bridge. Would normally look forwards.

The conference room. Used for meetings but also as work space. I'm sometimes in there talking to Dirk about birds or debugging Libby's code.

Another thing to try to fit in between 4pm and dinner is a trip to the gym. Life on a ship can be fairly sedentary (our world is only 100m by 18m remember) so it's important to get some exercise. there is also a bike there and a small multi-gym.

After dinner at 6.30 there is time for a quick trip to the bar, or some reading before turning in at 7.30-8pm. [This photo is actually taken at 4.30am, as the night shift finish].

Finally, there are often very special sights around and one of the joys of being out here is not knowing what the next one might be

Skyscape and iceberg, for a change from whales.