Students from Jamesville-Dewitt Middle School communicated by email with Professor Kieber as he pursued his research aboard the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer in Antarctica's Ross Sea. The seventh graders in Class 1 Science submitted questions that were forwarded to Dr. Kieber aboard ship. Questions and answers are posted below.
Questions for Professor Kieber
Click on the images to see full-sized versions
From Sarah: How high are the icebergs actually?
November 18 -- That's a fun question to answer. Ice bergs come in lots of sizes and shapes as shown in one of the images that I attached in my email. They are really quite magnificent, and their shape depends on how they break off from the glacier and how they "age" in the seawater as they melt and the waves crash against them. For almost all icebergs, most of the ice is below the surface of the water, as indicated by the ratio of the average height (height of the ice above water) to draft (approximated by the depth the ice penetrates below the sea surface). The height of the ice berg can be as small as the height of an average person (growler) to as high as a sky scrapper (very large ice berg). There is a "blocky" ice berg in the Ross Sea now that at one time was larger than Rhode Island.
From Mike B.: Have you seen any emperor penguins?
November 18 -- Yes! We've seen lots of emperor penguins, especially when we were waiting in the ice for the helicopter. Emperors are very curious about everything that is going on in the vicinity of the ship, and they are not at all afraid of humans. This is why we were able to get so many close up photos of them. In addition to the emperor penguins, we have also seen numerous adelie penguins, which are much smaller than the emperor penguins and very skittish--they're like little spastic puppy dogs. Emperor penguins are approximately 3-4 ft in height, while adelie penguins are approximately 1 ft tall. See attached photo.
From Evan: Have you any problems (gotten stuck) from icebergs?
November 18 -- No. We steer clear of icebergs at all times, especially the large ones, because they can become unstable and flip over, and in the process they could possibly ram into the ship and cause serious damage. Remember that, in general, most of the iceberg is underwater.
From Connor: What kinds of clothes do you have to wear?
November 18 -- Most of the time while we're inside the ship we wear normal work clothes such as blue jeans, tee-shirts, sneakers or work boots, etc. When we're outside, especially for extended periods of time, we wear lots of clothes by layering--long, thermal underware, fleece jacket, wool socks, heavy insulated boots, fleece pullover, fleece neck gaiter, full-face ski mask (balaclava), wool gloves under rubber waterproof gloves, UV-protecting sun glasses, a winter coat (float coat) or a survival, mustang suit. This is the full-body orange suit that I wore in the photo that I sent to you a few days ago. In this photo, I was outside in front of the incubators and it was -40 oC. Even though it was quite cold, I was very warm in the mustang suit for more than 2 hours while I was outside. Luckily, it was not nearly as cold outside when we had our ice party and played soccer and Frisbee.
From Gagan: What dangers are there in the Arctic?
November 18 -- Freezing, because it's cold down here! Seriously though there are some dangers that we always need to be aware of when conducting research on an oceanographic vessel. First, we always need to be careful when conducting work outside on the ship's deck, particularly in bad weather. The main concern is falling and getting badly injured on the all-metal deck. Another danger is that something may fall during crane operations or that a high tension cable may snap. Very heavy, multi-ton objects are routinely on loaded and off loaded during a cruise (e.g., a research van), and it is essential that everyone pays attention to what's happening above them or what's going on in the water (deploying the CTD for example). Obviously, it is also very important to never conduct deck board work alone because of the possibility of falling overboard. If you fell overboard in the icy Antarctic waters while you were working alone, you'd be unconscious in only a few minutes and no one would hear your screams above all the noises the ship makes. Even though there are dangers to be aware of, research vessels are generally very safe. Fire drills are routine, and we are instructed on how to use safety equipment and how to don dry suits (also known as gumby suits). See attached picture of a gumby suit donning.
From Nick: What kind of food do they eat?
November 18 -- We eat all the same food that you eat at home: roast beef, hamburgers, fish, pork, salads, soups, spaghetti, eggs, cereal, milk orange juice, desserts, etc. The food is prepared in the galley for us, and meals are at set times during the day--7:30-8:30 breakfast, 11:30-12:30 lunch, and dinner 1730-1830. Snacks, juice fruit, water, coffee, tea, etc are available throughout the day.
From Jamie: Did they discover any new info?
November 18 -- No. We have made no new discoveries yet other than finding out that emperor penguins have no fear of humans--probably because they have no predators on land. We are still in the early stages of our cruise (it took us almost 2 weeks to get here), but over the next two weeks we expect to make some very interesting observations regarding sulfur transformations in Antarctic waters. However, it will take awhile to evaluate most of our results because the analyses that we perform are very time consuming and there are a lot of data to compile and evaluate. In fact it may take up to a year to complete our data analyses.
From Evan (again): Do you have enough food to last?
November 18 -- Evan, we have enough food to last months! There is a huge food storage locker and freezer, so there's no worries in going hungry even for the fifty-five crew and science personnel on board the Palmer during our research cruise.
So far, have you seen any big differences from last time? (sent 10/27)
07:33 local time (New Zealand) 10/31/05 - Answer: Yes. Last year we left New Zealand for Antarctica in December. This is the summer in the southern hemisphere. As you might expect, it was a lot warmer then and it never really got dark-- the sun never set. The seawater was bursting with life, just like the plants and animals in Syracuse during our summer. This year we are going to Antarctica in the spring-early summer. This is a time when the plankton are waking up. It is much colder, and the sun is not as high above the horizon as it is in the summer. There are also low ozone concentrations in the atmosphere (in the layer called the stratosphere) resulting in an "ozone hole." This ozone hole allows more ultraviolet light or UV to enter into the oceans. The UV is the wavelengths of sun light that you can't see and which can give you a sun burn! The higher the ozone levels are in the atmosphere the more the atmosphere acts as a sunsrceen protecting us from UV sunburn. This UV light also slows down the growth of the plankton. As a result, this year during the spring, the phytoplankton (or algae) are growing very slowly as are the bacteria. The chemical changes in the seawater also happen at a slower speed in the spring, especially those reactions that are started by absorbing sunlight. Our goal this year is to see how the change in seasons from the spring to the summer affect the changes in the chemistry and biology in the seawater, and how these changes affect the amount of biologically-produced organic sulfur into the atmosphere.
Have you seen any penquins? (sent 10/27)
07:33 local time (New Zealand) 10/31/05 - Answer: Not yet, but when we reach the edge of the ice shelf tomorrow we certainly will, and I'll send you some pictures of them. However, we have seen lots and lots of birds that live most of their time at sea. In my email, I have attached pictures of two very common birds that we saw: the black-browed albatross and the Antarctic petrel. The black-browed albatross is a very large bird with a wing span of over 2 meters (approximately 7 feet)--it's wing-span is longer than I am tall! It is a beautiful bird that likes to glide just feet above the ocean waves. Its main food source is the little shrimp in the ocean called krill. In fact this is the main food source for many creatures in Antarctica including most of the birds. In addition to these two birds, we also saw a wandering albatross, which has a wing span of almost 10 feet--that's the height of a basketball net.