Thursday, November 05, 2009

Iceberg Chasing 101

For more info on this project, please visit my blogs from the sea at the Desert Research Institute's Iceberg III web site. MANY THANKS to Dr. Alison Murray for sharing all of her photos!

The Antarctic has been a place of peace for me, its cool blue waters a respite from the churning engine of the R/V Lawrence M. Gould that sails us from Chile through the Straits of Magellen, and across the Drake Passage to Antarctica's Weddell Sea, nesting us in its swaying belly. It had been 7 years since my last voyage. At times those seven years seemed an eternity, at others a mere instant, the ice still cool and dry to the touch in my imagination.

I knew this trip would be nothing like the others. Six weeks at sea, more days in the desert than Christ spent wandering the Fertile Crescent, though he spent his journey alone and fasting. I'd not spent that much time at sea since my first post-college job, on the Tropical Oceans & Global Atmospheres (TOGA) cruise in 1990, and when I disembarked from the Xiangyianghong 14 after months at sea, I was a permanently changed person. Time at sea can be thrilling, suffocating, exhilarating, toxic, depressing, invigorating. It builds deep friendships and destroys others. One is completely alone at sea, yet always surrounded by others. You are remote as you can imagine, degrees of latitude and longitude away from terra firma, yet you are trapped.

Our project was titled "Free-drifting icebergs as proliferating dispersion sites of iron
enrichment, organic carbon production and export in
the Southern Ocean," but we knew it as "Iceberg III," the third in a series of science and engineering research cruises to explore how carbon in the sea might change when icebergs the size of small cities broke free from the Antarctic continent to wander the open blue waters outside the continental shelf.

It turns out that it's not so easy to find these mammoths, even with the aid of our team at Brigham Young University and the Scatterometer Climate Record Pathfinder, the remote sensing imagery system that would track our icebergs. Consider this: we were looking for a piece of ice 6-km long by 36-km wide...yet the sea is vast and constantly in motion. Wind, tidal effects, and the chance that it may crack into smaller fragments combine to give these floating worlds stealth powers of evasion.

We did finally come across our quarry, yet challenges persisted. The beauty and frustration of basic science is that you are exploring the unknown, trying to predict the natural world, to anticipate its outcome based solely on existing knowledge and the world of imagination. Due to the limited bandwidth available to us at sea, and limits on transmitting imagery, I kept my blogs to the scientific aspects of this trip, which you can read at the DRI Iceberg III Blog. You'll find lots of photos as well as introductory science and a little background on what we aimed to accomplish.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peering across the Equator

Special thanks to Alison Murray and Joey Grzymski for their diligent photo-doc!

In USAP parlance, it's PQd, as in, the United States Antarctic Program says that i am now physically qualified, and thus can deploy, as planned, from Punta Arenas, Chile on March 6, 2009. This trip feels - and will be - very different. Most obvious is the change in crew. The infamous derelict, coffee connoisseur to the point of absurdity, cosmobiologist and protein-folding specialist, Dr. Joey Grzymski (with me in the first photo) will not be joining us, and his absence is already palpable. Dan, Tuna, and Stephanie, our beloved compadres from the krill lab, are also not part of this journey, though we're all captured together (2nd photo: me, Tuna, Joey, Alison, Dan) from our last trip at Palmer Station, and in the third photo (Dan, Joey, Tuna, Steph, me), attending a "lab meeting" at our field office. Finally, we won't be at Palmer Station at all. We'll be sailing aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, Antarctica Research Vessel, ice-breaker, and iceberg chaser, as we hunt the riches in the mini-worlds that exist below the bergs. So no Palmer Station, no glacier hikes, no frisbee games, and, oh my, no PUB! It's true... the ship is alcohol-free.

Those of you who've followed our past adventures know that the illustrious, intrepid, tireless, relentless, and energetic microbial genomicist, Dr. Alison Murray (not to be confused with me) has tucked me under the wing of the Murray Field Team for two prior trips to Palmer Station and one sailing cruise on the Extreme 2004 Hydrothermal Vent Cruise, 300 miles from Costa Rica above the East PAcific Rise. I act as resident barrista, microbe culturer, bacterial DNA and RNA harvester, and any other task that is within my level of expertise. With Joey's fresh-roasted coffee beans and Chilean milk, I can whip up quite the mean cappuccino which, on our schedule, is a required nutrient in nearly hourly aliquots. So, I'm practising my Spanish and getting extra sleep, knowing full-well that the unspoken Murray Field Team motto, Numquam Dormiemus, will come soon. I'm envisioning my sea legs, humming the tune of the ship's engines, curling up into the amniotic slosh of the Antarctic's frigid -1.8C waters, and getting ready to learn. The crew, the destination, the means, and the mission may change, but one constant remains - the opportunity to learn. Check back in, as I'll be posting from our vessel as our mission progresses. But I'll leave you with some of the stunning scenery from our last trip to Arthur Harbor, home of Palmer Station.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Alpenglow on Grewingk Glacier

The view from the front deck never disappoints.....