Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Whales, Ice, Penguins, Albatrosses - just the usual

We're well in to the science now and have completed the first set of CTDs - measuring temperature, salinity and oxygen down to just (10m) above the sea floor and collecting water on the way up (if the bottles seal, which they haven't been doing as well as they should) for carbon dioxide and trace gas measurements. The trace gases, especially CFC's, are a good tracer of recently formed bottom water that is sinking to the bottom of the ocean, taking some (about 40%) of our carbon dioxide emissions with it, as well as carbon that is part of the natural cycle. As there were no CFC's before we started making them about 50 years ago, if we find high concentrations at depth, then the water must have sunk recently. The water sinks due to getting very cold and also through increased salinity in the water left behind as sea ice forms - the ice itself is mostly fresh water. The average residence time of bottom water is about 1500 years so the water that is rising to replace the sinking water has carbon levels typical of 500AD, plus all the organic material that has decomposed into it, but that is more closely balanced by what is sinking now. We're currently having a break from CTDs to map a deep passage that we think most of the water is going through.

Swath screen giving the depth of the seabed - the beams extend about 55 degrees each side of the ship.

Anyway, enough science and on with the photos.

Me releasing a Kerguelen Petrel that had come onto the bridge wing overnight. Photo courtesy of Jo the doc.

Some preliminary entries into the unofficial airborne penguin photo competition - OK but to be improved on. Chinstrap Penguins often come and hang around the ship when we stop.

Grey-headed Albatross - beautiful bird but still trying for a good photo

Male Wandering Albatross

Nortern Giant Petrel playing in the ship's updrafts
White morph Southern Giant Petrel
Some icebergs

And the whales. Fin Whales put on an excellent show yesterday, relieving some of the tedium of the swath survey. A conservative estimate is that there were 50 in the two hour period, some coming close in towards the boat. The large swept back fin is the key identication feature. The right lower jaw is also pale (not sure why they have asymettric markings). There have also been a couple of Southern Right Whales but no photos yet.

They were regularly lunging feeding at the surface. One actually breached, which is very unusual for a Fin Whale.
One of several continuous shooting sequences:

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Setting off from Montevideo

We joined the ship in Montevideo as three containers - one with kit and two with built in labs inside - had to be shipped from Lisbon after another ship finished a research cruise there last month. They eventually arrived, with some bits missing, and we were able to leave.

Long-liner in the docks

Just-in-time-delivery: some replacements for the missing kit arrive as the mooring ropes are being untied. An engineer on board made a replacement for another piece and another was borrowed off another scientist who had a spare. Still a couple of bits missing but not a bad effort.

Leaving the port

There were lots of birds over the Argentinian shelf, many familiar from around the UK: Great (and Sooty) Shearwaters and Wilson's Petrels breed in the South Atlantic and 'winter' in the North Atlantic during our summer while other birds that breed in the UK were down here - probably young non-breeders as breeding birds should be making their way north again by now.

Great Shearwater in heavy moult - it is autumn down here so birds are going through their post-breeding moult

Sooty Shearwater

Wilson's Petrel

Black-browed Albatross

South American Sea Lions

Magellanic Penguin - all the people new to going South were happy to see their first penguins early

Northern Royal Albatross - a New Zealand breeder that spends non-breeding time largely over the South American shelf - they breed every two years.

Feeding mass of seabirds - Sea Lions and diving birds (mostly Penguins but Shearwaters are surprisingly good underwater) push food up to the surface where other birds can reach it.

Sei Whales off the Falklands

A quick call into the Falklands to pick someone up gave an opportunity for some whale and dolphin watching. Sei Whales are regular in March close to shore - there were at least 10 but none close. Peale's Dolphins also came to play on the way in and out.

Cape Pembroke lighthouse, a popular walking destination when we have time in Stanley

Cruise ship moored off the Narrows. Running excursions for cruise ship passengers is big business in the Falklands - the farm to the north has Rockhopper and Gentoo Penguin colonies and makes far more money from them than their sheep.

Now heading across Drake Passage to the start of our transect, should be there late tomorrow but the wind has unexpectedly increased so we'll have to see. We're also monitoring the satellite sea ice images to see if we can get to all our stations (well, the ship can, just slowly and we don't have much time)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A day along the Peninsula

Catch up from 27th November. Quite a long day, with lots of photos and some hard work.

4.30am After an earlier check on the scenery it was clearly worth getting up early as we went along Gerlache Strait:

Not posed, honest. On through Neumayer Channel, 7am:

The characteristic skyline at Port Lockroy - time for breakfast and to get ready for the day's work
10.30 and the first deliveries to Port Lockroy are off the cargo tender. We were delivering the components of a Nissen hut to expand the accommodation here. The building is from the WWII Operation Tamarin base and is now run as a museum by the Antarctic Heritage Trust. the Nissen Hut will replace one that existed before, so is true to the history of the site. There were some slightly confused penguins and some very confused American tourists.

What passed for a landing site

The Gentoos

More materials carried up the snow slope to where the hut will be built (or has been now - after the penguins have finished breeding)

One of two containers we emptied

Some time off waiting to be collected at the end of the work (16.45)
And after dinner we reached Lemaire Channel (20.00)

Possibly setting the record for the number of people on the monkey island - the ship was very full. Some people were badly sunburnt after the day outside. The ozone hole means UV levels are very high and skin burns very quickly. The cold temperatures mean you don't notice it happening until it's too late. Still, a lesson for those spending a season (or more) at Rothera.

After a torrid crossing of the Drake Passage, largely held as a hostage, Winnie the Pooh makes an appearance21.00, time for beer

One of several Minke Whales seen during the day

The soft light between 9 and 10pm, together with the calm seas and smooth (capsized) bergs make for a slightly surreal end - it looked computer generated somehow, or maybe I was just a bit over tired.

A special day.