Updates from the Ross Sea

Dr. David Kieber aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer

students working

Dr. Kieber's Log
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December 10

Captain Mike at the helm
Captain Mike at the helm. Click to see full size image.

Hae-Chol and Dave in berth.
Hae-Chol and Dave in berth. Click to see full size image.

 Phaeo montage.
Phaeo montage. Click to see full size image.

Sheldon on science mast
Sheldon on science mast Click to see full size image.

December 10, 2005 2107 local time (NZ) latitude 45o 10.887' south longitude 173o 42.324' east

Hi everyone,

Well, our adventure is almost over. Last night was the first time that we encountered clear skies since we crossed over into evening darkness over a month ago. We could easily see the southern cross constellation from the bridge, as well as Orion and his belt upside down. It was a beautiful evening and a wonderful way to end a long cruise. As of this evening, we're only 120 miles from Lyttleton and will arrive tomorrow morning at approximately 0900. A pilot will escort us to the dock where the New Zealand customs will board the vessel and inspect the ship and look over the paperwork (passports, etc) for our entry into New Zealand.

One of the tasks of the Raytheon personnel is to keep the meteorological instrumentation that is onboard calibrated and in working order. This requires personnel to periodically climb the meteorological tower (also known as the science mast), which is aft of the bridge and towers high above it. The science mast is over 100 ft from sea level and more than 40 ft above the bridge. In rough weather, the roll from port to starboard that you experience on the top of the mast is amplified many-fold over the roll that you experience on the main deck. Attached is a photo of one of the techs on board on top of the mast repairing the anemometer early this afternoon.

I attached a photo of my roommate Dr. Hae-Chol Kim (Smithsonian Environmental Research Center) and I in our berth as well as a photo of the captain, Mike Watson, on watch in the bridge. The captain and crew played a very important role in supporting our science during the cruise, as is the case in all oceanographic cruises, by providing critical logistical support, and providing meals and a safe working environment. Also attached is a montage of some of the plankton that we encountered during our cruise including the dominant algal species that we observed in the Ross Sea, phaeocystis (in the center). This photo montage, designed by Dawn Moran and Julie Rose, will serve as the cover photo for our data distribution DVD. Finally, I've included one last photo of those amazing Emperor penguins (and one lone Adelie penguin) doing what they do best!

That's all until my next oceanographic adventure. I hope that you all enjoyed my correspondence as much as I enjoyed writing it.

December 7

Cruise track.
Cruise track. Click to see full size image.

December 7, 2005 23:44 local time (NZ) latitude 56o 41.990' south longitude 177o 37.279' east

Hi everyone,

Well, there have been some rough seas today--10-15 foot seas, but we're still proceeding steadily at 10 knots towards Lyttleton. We spent most of the day packing, preparing packing lists and cleaning out the labs. I have the honor of having some of the last samples to analyze, which I'll finish tomorrow. Most of the science party has taken it somewhat easy in the late afternoon and evening due to the rough weather. I attached a current cruise track to give you a better sense for where we've been up until now. We should arrive in Lyttleton in a little over two days, baring some really bad weather.

December 6

Cups in the Baltic Room
Cups in the Baltic Room. Click to see full size image.

Cups entering water.
Cups entering water. Click to see full size image.

Crab eater seals.
Crab eater seals. Click to see full size image.

Group getting cups ready for deployment.
Group getting cups ready for deployment. Click to see full size image.

 Small cups after compression.
Small cups after compression. Click to see full size image.

December 6, 2005 21:31 local time (NZ) latitude 59o 51.085' south longitude 178o 54.222' east

Hi everyone,

Our trip home is going very smoothly. Nice weather and fair winds again, much the same as we had going south to the Ross Sea. We packed up a lot of the lab, and are analyzing some of the last samples before we pack up the gas chromatographs for shipping. When we were near the ice edge, before heading into open water, we did a 3000 meter deep CTD cast to shrink the cups that you gave to me before I left for Antarctica (for the young ones, how deep is 3000 m in miles? What is the pressure on the cups at this depth?). I attached a group photo of us creating cup designs in the main lab before the cups were shrunk. I also attached a photo of the cups in mesh bags being attached to the CTD and going over the starboard into the water; and a photo of two shrunk cups along side a small, unshrunk cup (smaller than the one I gave you in class). I'll bring the cups to class soon after I return to Syracuse.

We passed the Polar Front early today and are now in much warmer water (3.5 oC) compared to the chillier Antarctic waters in the Ross Sea (ca. -1.8 oC). It's also getting dark again; I haven't seen the sun set in a few weeks! There are lots of pelagic birds soaring around the ship again--mainly petrels and albatrosses. While we were still cruising through the ice, we saw a pair of Crabeater seals for the last time (see attached photo). Going through the ice was a lot easier this time. We probably averaged 6-7 knots and it only took a little over four days to traverse the ice pack northbound compared to more than seven days in the beginning of the cruise--the warmer temperatures and long days have really broken up the ice quickly. Speaking of less ice, it seems like a long time ago that we struggled with freezing incubators; now they're no problem at all and free of ice.

For fun, I attached a little fact sheet-quiz highlighting some of the similarities and differences between the Arctic and Antarctic. I also attached our science report for week five of our cruise, which was our final week on station. Sorry for some of the jargon in the report. These reports are sent to the program managers at the National Science Foundation. Feel free to ask me questions if you'd like regarding some of the technical details contained in this report. Hopefully, from reading the report you can appreciate the depth and detail of the research that we conducted during our cruise. All the science groups did a tremendous amount of work during the last week at station three trying to accomplish their respective research goals. It will probably take us over a year to completely analyze all the data that we collected and get a good picture of what we observed in the Ross Sea and how our results fit into the big picture of the global sulfur cycle.

December 2

 Big plankton net
Big plankton net. Click to see full size image.

Filter Flasks
Filter flasks. Click to see full size image.

group photo
Group photo. Click to see full size image.

Rena filtering
Rena filtering. Click to see full size image.

Ross Ice Shelf
Ross Ice Shelf. Click to see full size image.

December 2, 2005 22:42 local time (NZ) latitude 71o 18.474' south longitude 178o 47.628' west

Hi everyone,

It's been a hectic few days finishing up all our deployments and experiments at the last station. We tried to jam a lot of science in over the last few days and none of us got much sleep--4-5 hr was typical. It was really a crazy few days with sampling artifacts to contend with, a surprising unknown that surfaced during our analyses, drifter deployments, CTD casts, PRR deployments to determine underwater visible light penetration, UV experiments, and lots and lots of samples to analyze. We made it through okay though and are now well rested. We still have a lot to do before we arrive in Lyttleton on the 12th of December, but we can work at a steady, normal pace now. Notice how far we've come north already (see above header).

One right of passage of sorts for most oceanographers is filtering seawater samples to separate the dissolved components from the particulate components. It is essential for much of our work, especially for the biologists and chemists. We do this for a multitude of reasons. For example, the microbiologists have probably filtered thousands of liters of seawater during our cruise to collect enough DNA in the particulate samples to assess UV damage to the bacterial DNA. We filter samples to look at photochemical processes in the absence of competing biological signals (present in the particulate fraction). The biologists who are studying the protists in Antarctica filter seawater to analyze the RNA and DNA in the particulate fraction and to concentrate the protists from seawater. A chemist on board, Dr. Brook Nunn, from New Zealand has filtered thousands of liters of seawater to study iron chemistry. The only scientists on board that have not filtered any seawater during the cruise are the physical oceanographers. I attached three photos to give you a sense of the magnitude of filtering that some oceanographers do: one photo is of a plankton net being deployed over the starboard side A-frame winch; the second is a photo of a rack of filter holders with inverted 1 liter bottles on top of them; and the third photo is of a microbiology graduate student, Rena Croker, filtering samples for DNA--notice the very large carboys on the floor.

We're on our way home now, but before we left we steamed a little south (77o 52.360') to the Ross Ice Shelf, which extends along the coastline for hundreds of miles. The ice shelf is over two hundred feet high in some places where it meets the Ross Sea (see attached photo)--not a coastline that you will see most anywhere else--no rocks, no sand, no gentle slopes just shear cliffs of ancient ice. While we were near the ice shelf, the captain took a group photo from the bridge of most of the science party and Raytheon science support personnel standing on the bow of the Palmer (I'm in the middle, see attached photo).

In closing, I attached the science report for week four of our cruise.

November 28

Thanksgiving Whiteboard
Thanksgiving whiteboard. Click to see full size image.

Phaeodarian. Click to see full size image.

Monday November 28, 2005 23:01 local time (NZ) Latitude 77o 40.224' south longitude 178o 41.373' west

Hi everyone,

I hope everyone had a peaceful Thanksgiving at home! We had quite a busy day on Thanksgiving (which was a day earlier than you), but we managed a very nice meal during lunch and the galley remained open for the rest of the day so that we could have turkey sandwiches, etc at our leisure. I attached a photo of the marker board that the science party uses each evening to organize the next day's events with regards to deployments. The marker board for Thanksgiving had lots of deployments indicated--light meter (PUV), towed high frequency sonar (HTI, to get mixing, internal waves), yo yo CTD (the CTD goes up and down in the water column several times), zodiac deployments (get water away from the ship), and FRRF (Fast Repetition rate Fluorometer, get health-related information about the algae). CTDs that Ron Kiene and I were involved in are simply labeled K2. We also had a little fun at this meeting--notice the spam comments.

Towards the end of Thanksgiving we transited to out third and final station, during which time we crossed the international date line (notice that the longitude is now west instead of east). Our new station is located in open water (the polynya), but the chlorophyll levels are still quite high, the water is green in color, and the bloom is still dominated by phaeocystis. The first two days on station were quite windy, with average winds over 20 knots. However, the weather really calmed down late yesterday afternoon and it is bright and sunny today. The seawater temperature is warmer now too---1.4 oC instead of the -1.8 oC (which was the temperature of the water earlier in the cruise). The bloom is really starting to take off. Interestingly, though, the bacteria are still very sluggish such that the main source of DMS in the water is phaeocystis and the main loss is through sunlight-driven photolysis. There are not a lot of grazers in the water either (these are the plankton that eat the algae, bacteria, etc). As a result, there is very little UV absorbing organic matter dissolved in the water--this is very unusual. Generally, when you have a bloom you have a lot of UV-absorbing, dissolved organic matter. The absorption of the dissolved organic matter in the UV at our study site is similar to what you would get in a very low productivity location such as the Sargasso Sea south of Bermuda! The water in the Sargasso is a beautiful, pristine blue. The water here looks very green because these a lot of biomass--phaeocystis, yet there's very little dissolved organic matter that's absorbing the UV.

Even though phaeocystis is the dominant plankton species in the upper water column, there are other plankton present. To give you a sense of scales of the plankton in the water, I attached a photo of a three phaeodarian. Each phaeodarian is about 0.5 mm in diameter and has an exoskeleton composed of silica. This photo was taken by Dr. Rebecca Gast from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Notice the spherical, open structure of this species. It is much larger than the phaeocystic colonies, which look like tiny green specs in this photo. Phaeodarian is interesting because of its ameoba-like characteristics. It captures its prey (other algae for example) by enveloping it--it does NOT like to eat phaeocystis.

At present, there are not many species of plankton in the water column that will eat phaeocystis. It has been proposed that the main loss of phaeocystis early in the season (now) is by sinking out of the water column uneaten. This is not the normal way it works in the ocean. Most of the time, the bacteria and other heterotrophs (like phaeodarian) utilize the organic matter that the algae produce very efficiently such that very little of the organic matter escapes the upper ocean--most of it is recycled.

In closing, I attached the cruise report that the chief scientists submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) on the behalf of the science party on the cruise.

November 22

Floats in Ice
Floats in ice. Click to see full size image.

Rob in the gallery
Rob in the galley. Click to see full size image.

Team effort
Team effort. Click to see full size image.

November 22, 2005 20:45 local time (NZ) latitude 77o 20.260' south longitude 177o 24.000' east

Hi everyone,

It's been a chilly few days on station. With the high winds that we've been experiencing(20-30 knots), it's been quite cold outside -33-38 oC. Dr. Joaquim Goes from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine deployed a drifter the other day to which he attached Teflon bottles at different depths from 1 to 20 meters; Joaquim also had a sediment trap attached to the drifter at 40 m to collect fast sinking particles that originated from the surface of the ocean. We had samples attached at several depths to look at the effect of varying light levels of sulfur transformations The drifter was deployed in the morning and allowed to drift for 24 hours. When it was time to retrieve the drifter, the floats that were used to suspend the bottles at specific depths were frozen in ice that had formed quickly during the evening (see attached "floats in ice"). It was so cold outside that when we retrieved the drifter some of the seawater samples froze in the air as we collected them. I attached photo of us hauling the drifter in. I am the second one from the left in the photo (I have a blue hard hat on). We have so much clothing on that all you can see are our eyes and brows (mine was frozen). A couple of our hard hats blew off during the drifter retrieval, which made for some exciting chases on the aft deck.

As hard as some of the field work has been on this cruise, especially with incubators and samples freezing, we are now in the midst of a full scale bloom of phaeocystis! I attached a bright light microscopy image of phaeocystis antarctica that was taken by Peter Countway, a Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California. Phaeocycsiis can form huge spherical colonies that look like a soccer balls, and there can be hundreds of cells in a colony. These colonies are fragile so it's very difficult to conduct experiments with them and get reproducible results--you have to work very hard to sort out artifacts due to handling. None-the-less, it is worthwhile to go through the trouble to study sulfur cycling with in seawater dominated by this species because phaeocystis produces huge quantities of sulfur, and once it gets going its bloom is quite extensive on an areal basis. As I mentioned in a previous email, there is so much sulfur in the water now that every room on the ship smells in addition to the ship's water. As fast as the bloom has developed, we have some evidence now that the growth of the bloom may be slowing down due to nutrients limiting their growth, particularly iron which is known to be a limiting nutrient in Antarctic waters.

Some of you have asked for photos inside the ship. Here's one: a photo of the chief Seward, Robert (Rob) VanVoorhis in the galley during dinner.

November 18

 Helicopter, penguin and R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer.
Helicopter, penguin and R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer. Click to see full size image.

 ESF students Jordan Brinkley and John Bisgrove
ESF students Jordan Brinkley and John Bisgrove. Click to see full size image.

Ice collecting
Collecting ice. Click to see full size image.

November 18, 2005 0009 local time (NZ) latitude 77o 39.120' south longitude 178o 38.939' east

Hi everyone,

I thought that I'd send off a quick email before I went to bed. As I mentioned in my previous email, we left the ice station after the helicopter transfer was complete (see attached photo of the Palmer, helicopter and curious Emperor penguin). We arrived at our second major hydrographic station early yesterday morning using our underway fluorescence detector to guide us. We found a very large polynya containing a lot of biomass in the upper water column, almost entirely composed of one algal species--large colonies of phaeocystis (200 um in size or larger)--which is exactly what we are looking for. This algal species produces a lot of organic sulfur, and in particular the volatile compound dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Phaeocystis produces enough of this compound in the water that we can smell it in the drinking water on the ship, since the ship's desalination system does not efficiently remove it from seawater.

Once we arrived on station, we had a full day of science operations including CTD casts to collect water and characterize the physical, chemical and biological properties of the water. We also deployed underwater light meters to determine how deep the ultraviolet (UV) and visible light penetrated in the water column. I attached some photos showing the science party at work. The first photo is of my students Jordan Brinkley (left) and John Bisgrove (right) in the main dry lab in front of the instruments (gas chromatographs) that they use to quantify sulfur concentrations. Also shown is a photo of the molecular biology group collecting overturned ice, which is loaded with plankton. They are suspended over the loose ice pack in a large "life ring" that is attached to a heavy wire on the starboard A-frame winch. One of the molecular biologists is also shown collecting a seawater sample from a one meter deep hole in the ice--this sampling was done two days ago while we were in the ice waiting for the helicopter. The bottom of the ice core was teeming with life so much so that it looked brown in color, while the overlying ice was very clean (clear to bluish in color). One of the objectives of the molecular biology group on this cruise is to characterize the genetic diversity of the protists in Antarctic waters--how are they the same and different from protists in warmer climates. Protists are simply single-celled organisms that have a nucleus and a cell membrane; they do not include bacteria or viruses.

November 16

Minke whale
Minke whale. Click to see full size image.

Frisbee. Click to see full size image.

Hauling the ship through the ice.
Hauling the ship through the ice. Click to see full size image.

The team
The team. Click to see full size image.

Emperor penguins
Emperor penguins. Click to see full size image.

November 16, 2005 11:39 pm local time (NZ) latitude 76o 54.847' south longitude 168o 52.190' east

Hi everyone,

It's late in the evening and we're headed to our second major research station, hopefully in the Ross Sea polynya. We've been sitting in the ice for the past two days waiting for scientific supplies to arrive by helicopter from the US McMurdo Station, which is south of our current position. McMurdo Station is located along the Ross Ice Shelf just behind Ross Island at Cape Armitage in McMurdo Sound at approximately 78o 10' south and 165o 15' east. It's one of the three US Antarctic stations; the two other stations are South Pole and Palmer, the latter which is located along the Antarctic Peninsula on Anvers Island. We had a party on the ice yesterday evening from about 7 pm until after midnight--of course the sun did not set. It was a beautiful evening, with very little wind and only a few clouds. We played soccer and Frisbee, and enjoyed the company of some very curious Emperor penguins that interrupted our soccer game on numerous occasions (see attached soccer penguins shot!). I've also included a beautiful photo of a Weddell seal.

I attached a copy of our research team in front of the bow of the RV Nathaniel B. Palmer. Pictured from left to right are: John Bisgrove, Alison Rellinger, (Ali) Jennifer Meeks (Jenn), Dr. Dierdre Toole (DeDe), Daniela del Valle, me (David Kieber), Dr. Doris Slezak and Jordan Brinkley. John, Jordan and DeDe are part of my research team, while Ali, Jenn, Daniela and Doris are part of Ron's (Kiene) research team. DeDe was a former post doc working in my lab. She is now an Assistant Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. John is and undergraduate and Jordan is a masters student in our Chemistry Department at SUNY-ESF. Doris is a post doc in Ron's lab, Jennifer is a lab technician, and Ali is a masters student at the University of South Alabama.

I attached two fun photos showing DeDe and me pulling our research vessel, the Palmer (we didn't get very far), and a shot of me throwing the Frisbee on the ice. I was a little sad though because my colleague and friend, Ron, was not able to be there with us on this cruise. He and I had always wanted to have a catch on the ice, since we both love baseball. We intended to do this in 2003 but never made it due to engine problems, and last year I didn't go because of health concerns. Maybe next time!

All the photos that I have attached in my emails were taken by numerous scientists on the cruise (e.g., Dr. Wade Jeffrey took our group photo, Doris took the photo of the seal, John Bisgrove and Wade took the shots of the jelly fish).

Enjoy. I'm off to bed, with the image of the Emperor penguin and Franklin Island (attached photo taken by Daniela).

November 15

Minke whale
Minke whale. Click to see full size image.

Jellyfish. Click to see full size image.

Jellyfish. Click to see full size image.

November 15, 2005 9:10 am local time (NZ) 76o 50.177' south 167o 39.881' east

Hi everyone,

It's a beautiful Monday morning. We've really had some wonderful weather--lots of sunny days with light winds. If it were just a bit warmer so those algae would start to really kick in a grow fast! I have attached three outstanding images of sea life that were taken by some of the scientists on board the Palmer. The first image, labeled "big jelly", was quite impressive. This jellyfish was approximately 1 meter in diameter. Based on a description of this image, it was tentatively identified by Luciano Chiaverano ( a Ph.D. student at the University of South Alabama) as desmonema glaciale, which grows to almost 2 meters in diameter. The second image shows a much smaller, unidentified jelly fish, approximately 0.3 m in diameter. Also attached is a beautiful image of a Minke whale that surfaced near the ship approximately 30 m from starboard side. We have also seen lots of Emperor and Adelie penguins. I'll post some nice images of these in a few days.

November 14

CTD being lowered
CTD being lowered. Click to see full size image.

CTD. Click to see full size image.

November 14, 2005 8:05 pm local time (NZ) latitude 76o 03.192' south longitude 170o 15.104' east

Hi everyone,

Life on board the Palmer has been quite hectic the past few days. We left the large polynya and proceeded northward to a station in a small lead in the ice with significantly higher biological activity, as indicated by the ship's underway fluorescence sensor. Since we arrived at our second station four days ago, we've been very busy characterizing the physical, chemical and biological properties of the water column, and conducting experiments to determine the role of sunlight in regulating the biological and chemical transformations of sulfur in the water column. As an example of our activities, the physical oceanographers on board the Palmer have been conducting around-the-clock deployments of a rosette ( a 2 m high, 1.5 m diameter aluminum frame), which has attached to it temperature, conductivity and pressure sensors. By lowing the CTD rosette (simply called the CTD) in the water again and again, the physical oceanographers can characterize changes in temperature and salinity in the water column over time. With this information, they can characterize the water column mixing. Characterizing the mixing is quite important because the plankton in the ocean are exposed to variable light fields not only due to changes in the amount of cloud cover and changes in the sun angle but also due to mixing--the more mixing there is the less time the algae spend near the surface where the light levels are higher. The winds provide the energy to drive a lot of the mixing, which acts as a conveyor belt moving the plankton up and down in the water column. Therefore, in order to understand the effect of light on biological and chemical processes in the water, one needs to also understand the mixing.

I have attached two pictures of the CTD. The first picture shows the CTD above the water suspended from a 1/4" diameter steel wire cable attached to a steel boom that is extended outward from the starboard baltic room. The CTD sensors (not in view) are secured to the bottom of the rosette. The second photo shows a close up of the CTD being lowered into the water. There is a small white sphere attached to the top of the rosette, which is barely noticeable in the picture. This is a visible light (PAR--photosynthetically active radiation) sensor, which basically tells you where there's enough light in the water for the algae to grow. Generally, PAR is attenuated exponentially with increasing depth in the water. Also note the twelve 30 liter Niskin sampling bottles attached to the rosette, with the tops (and bottoms) cocked open. This is how we collect water for our chemical analyses and experiments. As the rosette is lowered in the water, a record of the temperature, conductivity and depth are transmitted to a computer in the lab. Based on this information, along with information from attached fluorescence and particle sensors, the sampling bottles are triggered closed at specific depths by an electrical signal that is transmitted through the wire from a laptop in the computer lab. When the CTD rosette is brought back on board, we collect samples from the Niskin bottles in the baltic room.

November 9

On deck with seawater incubators
On deck with seawater incubators. Click to see full size image.

November 9, 2005 9:39 pm local time (NZ) Latitude 76o 37.744' South Longitude 170o 21.657' West

Hi everyone,

The last two days have been a challenge. We arrived at the polynya, near Ross Island. We could see the peaks of Mount Erebus and Mount Terror on Ross Island above the line of clouds in the background, and a glacier-covered coastline with towering white cliffs in the foreground. However, the water in the polynya was a little too cold (-1.9 oC). Consequently, the chlorophyll concentrations were the lowest we've seen yet--much lower than then a day ago when we were in the ice pack. Chlorophyll is an indicator of how much algae is in the water, so very low concentrations means very little algal biomass. The polynya also contained extremely low levels of the sulfur compounds that we're studying. The concentrations were too low to measure rates of chemical and biological transformations of the sulfur, and that's why we're here! The seawater needs to only warm up another 0.5-1.0 oC for the algae to really start to grow quickly to form and extensive bloom. In the meantime, we decided that it's best to head north to a smaller body of open water in the ice that is likely to contain more biological activity, as indicated by chlorophyll levels that are determined from the ship's underway chlorophyll (fluorescence) detector.

We had another challenge last night. It was quite windy (30-40 knot winds), which caused the outside temperature to go down to approximately -40 oC. Because it was so cold the scientists and some of the crew had to take shifts at night to make sure that there was flow in and out of all ten of the seawater incubators. This was quite an undertaking. I was on the 12 midnight to 2 am shift, and this was after I had run 3 miles on the treadmill earlier in the evening. I was very tired in the morning when I got up (7 am) to collect and process water samples only to find out there was not much biological activity with respect to the sulfur compounds that we're interested in.

What a difference a day makes. I was on the 10:00-12:00 midnight watch tonight and we had no problems with the incubators. It was a beautiful evening. We could see the midnight sun poking through the clouds now and then and the winds died down; and since we were in the ice again going to our new station, we saw lots of penguins. I attached a picture showing me by the incubators. Pictured are: post doctoral researcher, Dr. Doris Slezak on the left, myself in the middle, and a graduate student, Alison Rellinge on the left. Both Doris and Ali work for my collaborator Dr. Ronald Kiene at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in South Alabama.

The incubator problems and the low chlorophyll that we encountered at our first station in the Polynya highlight one of the facts of life when conducting field work, especially in a harsh environment like Antarctica, and that is that sometimes things don't turn out the way you planned but it is important to persevere and enjoy the challenge in order to be successful in your research.8:45 pm local time (NZ) latitude 74o 35.045' S longitude 178o 48.210' E

November 7

Corethron. Click to see full size image.

Diatom. Click to see full size image.

Hi everyone,

It is a cloudy evening with light winds ( average 3 knots). We saw a pod of orcas off the ship's bow and some Emperor penguins on the ice, which were magnificent. Some of the biologists on board the Palmer have stopped to collect ice samples to see what plankton are living in the ice. That's right there's a whole community of organisms that live in the ice. How can they live in the ice? All the plankton in Antarctica have antifreezes that allow them to live in the subzero seawater without freezing.

I attached two pictures of two phytoplankton that were collected from the sunlit waters of Antarctica using a net towed by the ship. The two pictures that I attached are examples of diatoms, which are phytoplankton that have an exoskeletons made of silica oxide (which is essentially sand). The photograph of the chaetoceros, a chain-forming diatom composed of many individual cells attached to one another, was given to me by Julie Rose whose is a Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California. The photograph of the corethron was taken by Dawn Moran, who is a technician working for Dr. Rebecca Gast at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In both photographs, notice the beautiful spines that protrude from the diatoms. This is a very common feature that one sees in diatoms. The spines are thought to provide buoyancy for the diatoms in the water and protection against getting eaten by predators. Both Dawn and Julie will take hundred of photographs (using the microscope) during the cruise to document the diversity of the plankton in the ice and waters of the Ross Sea.

Chief Scientist Synopsis - Cruise NBP05-08

November 6

09:26 local time (NZ) latitude 73o 56.770' South longitude 179o 08.058' West surface seawater temperature (-1.80 oC)

Hi everyone,

It's a cloudy day today, and it's -9.7 oC outside with winds averaging 25 knots. I've attached a cruise track that shows you where we've gone so far. Notice that we crossed the international date line on November 1 (NZ), and we'll cross it again today as we proceed to a very large open area of water within the extensive ice pack, the polynya, where we will occupy or first six-day station. We should arrive on station sometime tomorrow, depending on the ice conditions ahead of us. It taken awhile to go through the ice pack because it has been very thick in spots--over 2 meters thick in some spots as I mentioned in a previous email.

Two days ago we had a ceremony to celebrate the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle for about ten personnel from the science party--the polywogs. The shell backs (personnel that have crossed before) officiated the ceremony. I was dressed up as Queen Neptune and one of my students was King Neptune. We were joined by the rest of the royal court of shell backs to hear the charges against the polywogs. Each polywog had to address the court to hear the made-up, funny charges that were brought up against them. We then decide whether they were innocent or guilty--we of course decided that they were all guilty. Their sentence consisted of putting together a very funny skit for the royal court, followed by going through a goofy obstacle course that included a shampooing and dentistry work. The crossing ceremony started in the late morning and lasted until the late afternoon. In the early evening, we made different kinds of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) with liquid nitrogen as the cooling agent, after which we presented the newly appointed shell backs with very nice certificates, signed by the captain, to commemorate their crossing. This was the first day that we did very little work. Most of the time the science party is working from 5-7 am and continuing on throughout most of the day--sometimes until late in the evening. Luckily, we do not have to prepare meals. Food is prepared by the galley. Last night the galley prepared homemade pizza, with salad, fruit and dessert. There are usually lots of choices--too many sometimes. There is also a small gym on board the Palmer--it's the size of a 10' by 10' room. I use the rowing machine a lot, but others use the tread mill, bicycle or weights.

November 4

 Sea ice with bergs popping out.
Sea ice with bergs popping out. Click to see full size image.

12:53 local time (NZ) Latitude: 69o 06.595' South Longitude 178o 31.542' West surface seawater temperature -1.82 oC


It's another beautiful, sunny day. We're still in the thick of the ice. We're going quite slowly at times. If you look at yesterday's correspondence, you'll noticed that we haven't traveled very far. The ice is now over 6 meters thick in some places, mixed in with thinner ice and open leads (ice-free areas). I've attached one ice shot that shows you the sea of ice as far as you can see interdispersed with a few ice bergs popping out here and there. When looking at the ice, you can really imagine yourself on another planet. The sea life that we've seen is associated with the open leads. We saw an elusive minke whale the other day and our first penguins--adelie and emperor. There were a few crab-eater seals lounging at the ice's edge in the lead. There is a tremendous diversity of small plankton in the water as well, with names that are hard to pronounce and spell. I'll send a picture or two of some micron-size plankton in a future correspondence.

November 3

Iceberg from bow
Iceberg from bow. Click to see full size image.

11/3/05 1:03 local time (NZ) Latitude 67o 16.252' South Longitude 178o 51.583' West Surface seawater temperature -1.84 oC

Hi everyone,

It's a beautiful day outside, sunny and windy. The winds are averaging about 20 knots. However, it's nice and calm because we're in the ice, which dampens the waves. We're trudging through the ice much more slowly now because it's continuous and much thicker--over 1 meter thick in some places. Our average speed now is only about 5 knots. Sometimes we have to stop, backup and change direction to get through. I've attached an image from the bow of the ship showing a large iceberg off in the distance and a continuous sheet of ice ahead of us. Last night was an exciting time because we crossed the Antarctic Circle (at 66o 33' S) and are now officially in the Antarctic. Ask your students why the Antarctic Circle (or the Arctic Circle) is located at this latitude--it's not by chance. The outside air temperature is -28 oC with the wind chill--this is why we keep having problems with our large incubators that are located outside on the Helo deck. More later.

I'd love to hear from the students with any questions that they may have!!

November 2

Stern of NBP and ice.
Stern of NBP and ice. Click to see full size image.

 NBP in Lyttleton
NBP in Lyttleton. Click to see full size image.

11/2/05 12:40 local time (New Zealand) Latitude 65o 05.767' South, Longitude 178o 45.432' West


Did you know that some parts of Antarctic continent are a desert. These are some of the driest places on earth. Of course that's not the case out here in the Southern Ocean. It's a beautiful, nearly windless day outside. It's snowing and the decks of the ship are partially covered with snow and ice. It's mid day Wednesday and we've been crunching our way through the ice for almost a day now. I attached a file showing a view from the stern of the ship of the the trail we leave in the ice as we slowly go forward. Notice the pancake shape of the loose pack ice that we were going through yesterday. This is a very common ice formation that you'll see in Antarctica. Today the ice (and snow that's covering it) is a solid sheet as far as you can see.

Another interesting thing to note is that the water temperature is a lot colder now compared to what it was only two days ago before we crossed the polar front and the Antarctic circumpolar current. The water temperature is now a balmy -1.7 oC. For the students, especially the 7th graders from Ms. Chetwin's class, perhaps you could do an experiment to find out why the seawater is not all solid ice at -1.7 oC?

One of the difficulties in doing research in the Antarctic is that the equipment that we use has a tough time holding up in the extreme conditions outside. For example, some of the incubators that the ship's crew built on board the ship, which are essentially big plastic tanks that hold seawater, are leaking and the seawater hoses that feed the incubator tanks are freezing. So we have to figure out how to fix them. One thing that is true though is that people that go out to sea are good at getting things to work, so I'm very confident that they'll fix this problem. More later, I want to send this email in the 1300 mailing.

November 1

The edge of the ice
The edge of the ice. Click to see full size image.

12:57 local time (Newe Zealand) November 1, 2005 latitude 62o 47.755' S longitude 178o 31.317'W

Everyone on board is really excited because we've finally made it to the ice edge where you can see lots of loose pack ice intermingled with open water and small piece of ice bergs. Of course it's also nice to be in the ice because the ice dampens the waves and it's calm. However, there's a tradeoff because it gets noisier as the ice hits against the hull of our ship. I have attached a photo for your enjoyment.

October 31

A wave breaks over the deck
A wave breaks over the deck. Click to see full size image.

10:42 pm New Zealand local time


Since my last email, the winds have picked up quite a bit. It is now blowing at 35-40 knots with 15-20 foot seas! However, it will calm down by tomorrow because we will be at the ice edge. The ice dampens the waves a lot. I attached a picture showing a wave breaking over the starboard side of the ship. One of the students took the picture from inside the ship through a port hole (a window).

October 28

 Dr. Kieber and Dr. Ronald Kiene (Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama)
Dr. Kieber and Dr. Ronald Kiene (Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama). Click to see full size images.

Orcas off the stern
Orcas off the stern. Click to see full size images.

To all,

My graduate students and I made it to New Zealand safe and sound last Friday morning after a long twelve hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. We crossed the International Date Line, and as such, we are a day later than everyone in Syracuse (for example, I'm sending you this message at 21:43 ((9:43 pm) on Thursday, October 27th--at the same time it is 4:43 am on October 26th in Syracuse). After loading a lot of scientific gear and supplies onto the ship, and setting up our lab over the past few days, we set sail last night at approximately 23:00 (11:00 pm) in fair seas and on a cloudless evening, with the southern cross constellation above the horizon. We've had a number of logistical meetings today with the ship's crew regarding survival at sea, the ship's communications systems (including email access), and ship and lab safety. We even boarded a 70-person survival vessel that is unsinkable, and which is used in an emergency in the very unlikely event that our research vessel, the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP) started to sink. Tomorrow, we will continue to set up our lab and start a sampling transect from the waters off New Zealand to our destination, the Ross Sea. During our transect, we will collect samples from the surface of the ocean at approximately every 0.5 degree change in latitude to look at the changes in sulfur concentrations as we proceed south towards the ice edge and colder waters of the Antarctic. You can chart our progress: currently we are at 47o 2.38' S and 173o 43.654' W. The temperature of the surface seawater is 9.58 oC.

Looking forward to all of your questions!

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