Saturday, December 9

Dec. 8: Headed home

Bill reports that the team arrived safely in Chile. He's flying out to Santiago today to meet up with his daughter for a few days vacation, and expects to return home to Oregon by Dec. 13 and wrap up this blog with additional words and photos.

In the meantime, if you have questions for him, feel free to leave them as comments to any entry here.

Friday, December 8

December 5: Mission accomplished

departing the shipTeam departs the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya for the Chilean base

December 5, 2006
King George Island, Antarctica
Chilean Base

The weather cooperated with our plans to depart the R.V. Yuzhmorgeologiya in order to catch our scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas. Rising early, the team loaded their gear into in bulk bags for a crane transfer into the awaiting Zodiac. We then donned Mustang suits for an exciting boat ride to shore.

chapelRussian chapel

The weather has improved, providing us with an opportunity to survey the nearby rocky shores of King George Island. We visited an authentic Russian chapel gracing one of the highest promenades in the area.

elephant sealsImmature male and female Southern Elephant seals

I was delighted to discover a pair of Southern Elephant seals lounging on a rock beach just out of sight of the bay. These were the largest pinnipeds that I’ve encountered while here and suitably demonstrate the biological productivity of the marine environment found in the Southern Ocean. Dr. Stafford suggested that the larger of the two was a 5 or 6-year-old male who was attracted to the female. Elephant seal typically breed with harems, but this was a young male that hadn’t yet developed his characteristic large proboscis.

boarding the C-130Boarding Chilean Air Force C-130 for the mainland

Leaving the island via C-130 is an efficient means back to the mainland, when weather permits. However, poor conditions can result in major delays and, very often, cancellations. Because of the infrequency of flights out of the Antarctic Peninsula, a missed flight can mean many days of waiting in less than comfortable accommodations. Not only was the group overjoyed to hear the arriving flight first pass and, then, land safely despite some limited visibility, but smiles went around as we left the hanger and proceeded to the plane. Loud engine noise and cold atmosphere inside was dimmed by the relief of just getting out, and a subtler, more profound, experience of mission success.

December 4: Rough seas and high winds

December 4, 2006
On board the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya
Offshore of King George Island, Antarctica

Boredom has set in and the team is anxious to get to the Chilean base in order to connect with the C-130. We sat in the same location all day, drifting slowing in circles. The Russian captain wouldn’t consider entering Marion Bay because of rough sea conditions and the accompanying high winds. Ten meters per second is considered the critical wind velocity. Higher wind speeds are too dangerous for launching the Zodiac. As the weather conditions improved in the evening, the Yuzhmorgeologiya was able to move into the mouth of Marion Bay and take advantage of the leeward side of the island.

Dr. Minkyu Park, the scientist in charge of this leg of the research, remained in continual radio contact with the Korean Base. Their Zodiac operators are very well trained and can cope with high winds and rough seas. As evening approached, the low front moved through our area, and they were able to bring on the second contingent of Korean researchers. Their Zodiac was loaded on the deck and they joined us for a night aboard the R.V. Yuzhmorgeologiya.

December 3: Wrapping up the research

December 3, 2006
On board the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya
Port Foster, Deception Island

The weather hasn’t improved. It’s difficult to estimate the actual temperature, but because the wind chill factor I’m wearing three layers of clothing. Today, we returned to Port Foster, the sunken caldera of Deception Island, but it is too rough and the wind velocity is too high for the Zodiac to come from shore. Once again we cast the Niskin bottle rosette off the stern of the Yuzhmorgeologiya, hoping to capture water samples bearing telltale elements of helium and metals. This location is much deeper. We took eight samples down to 160 meters.

Our final research objective was to obtain a high-resolution map of the bathymetry of Port Foster. The RV Yuzhmorgeologiya is equipped with single beam SONAR capacity. Moving in increasing diameter spirals, the Yuzhmorgeologiya obtained accurate maps of the changing depths of Port Foster. We then reluctantly departed Deception Island amid rough seas and high winds.

After eight hours of steaming at ~ 10 knots, we arrived at King George Island, just off of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Tuesday, December 5

December 1-2: Deception Island

Porpoising penguinsChinstrap penguins "porpoise" through the water in the research vessel's wake

December 1-2, 2006
On board the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya
Port Foster, Deception Island

What a glorious day this has been! The weather was as close to perfect as I could imagine. Blue skies and calm, turquoise seas greeted us when we awoke this morning. The craggy peaks of Deception Island lay off the starboard bow. Porpoising chinstrap penguins accompanied us as we made our transit into its sunken caldera.

Andrew and Bill with water sampleAndrew and Bill with water sample extracted from Niskin bottle.

Deception Island is one of the few active volcanoes breaking the surface of the Southern Ocean. We are attempting to locate and sample hydrothermal vents that may be lurking beneath the waters of its caldera, Port Foster. Once again we cast the Niskin bottle rosette off the stern of the Yuzhmorgeologiya, hoping to capture water samples bearing telltale elements of helium and metals. But a more direct technique would be to actually see the shimmering hot seawater as it exits the vent.

preparing to deployBob and Minkyu preparing to deploy the ROV.

We began our search in a section of Port Foster aptly named Fumarole Bay. From the ship we could see white, wispy vapors rising from its shoreline. A full crew loaded into the Korean zodiac with all of the ROV equipment. Each of us had a specific role. Bob was at the ROV control box, manipulating switches and a joystick to direct the ROV’s thrusters and camera. Joe was positioned in front of the flat screen monitor and instrument panel, providing the essential feedback to Bob of the ROV’s current orientation. Haru was both the engineer and data recorder. Dr. Minkyu Park, with the assistance of two Korean technicians, was responsible for the Zodiac’s operation and deployment of the ROV’s cable. I was fortunate enough to be included in order to record the entire operation on digital video.

brittle star and sea urchinBrittle star and sea urchin image captured by ROV at 20-meter depth

As we approached the shoreline of Fumarole Bay, we were greeted by the strong “rotten egg” odor of hydrogen sulfide. The team conducted six deployments of the ROV along transect lines from 10 to 50 meters in depth. Though we were unsuccessful in locating any apparent hydrothermal vent systems, we were delighted to see a menagerie of underwater creatures. Brittle stars and sea urchins were everywhere. The ROV’s camera captured images of other marine invertebrates that we have tentatively identified as soft corals, amphipods, krill, sea stars, ctenophores, tunicates, sea anemones and sponges. Upon our return to the U.S.A., these will be posted on Oregon Sea Grant’s and NOAA’s Ocean Exploration websites.

Joe, Minku, Bob and Haru with the Spanish Antarctic base commander

We had been invited to visit the Spanish base located nearby on the shores of Port Foster. The Spanish maintain seasonal bases both here and on Livingston Island. The gracious base commander, a major in the Spanish army, greeted us. A delightful tea, and an offer to assist us tomorrow with a Zodiac and Spanish crew capped the tour he provided.

Joe Haxel and Bob DziakJoe Haxel, Bob and the Korean pilot controlling the submerged ROV

On the morning of Saturday, December 2nd, the ROV group (with Bob, Del, and Joe) prepared to venture again into Fumarole Bay in order to collect more underwater images and, perhaps, find an active thermal vent. This would be the ROV’s seventh dive in the caldera of Deception Island. Simultaneously, Kate and Andrew, with the assistance of a Zodiac inflatable boat and two members of the Spanish Antarctic Base, wanted to sample real-time underwater sounds using a hand-held portable hydrophone. The data from this recording would supplement other records from the area that indicate the presence of leopard seals, which are known to prey on the local penguin colonies.

Andrew listens to hydrophoneAndrew, in his Mustang suit, listens to sounds collected by the hydrophone.

During these recordings, it is important to minimize introduced sounds such as boat motors or clumsy handling of the instrument. Our Spanish hosts were generous enough to travel some distance away from our ROV comrades and the Yuzhmorgeologiya, and cut the boat engine entirely. Now drifting, and listening in with headphones and a digital data recorder, the hydrophone was lowered to a depth about 5 meters. Unavoidably, the idling Yuzhmorgeologiya made its presence heard, but on other frequencies analyzed later in the lab, mammal sounds can be discovered in the record. Unfortunately for our effort, an incoming low-pressure system reversed our good weather from the previous day, and snow and high winds forced an early return to the ship. Still, data was found, and the trip afforded another friendly interaction with our Spanish colleagues.

The weather deteriorated further, resulting in snow flurries, high wind and whitecaps. Undaunted, we deployed the ROV off the starboard side of the Yuzhmorgeologiya to a 115 meter depth. Though we still didn’t see a hydrothermal vent, our efforts were rewarded by our first fleeting view of an unidentified fish. Because of poor weather conditions, further explorations were cut short, and we left Deception Island to spend night at sea.

School science project ; more photos.

Before the cruise, Mr. Nishimura’s 4th grade class at Ulloa School in San Francisco colored Styrofoam cups as part of a unit on the oceans. Dr. Kate Stafford volunteered to bring them along the cruise. They were attached to one of the box cores taken in Drake Passage to demonstrate the effects of depth (pressure). The standard 4.5-inch cups were reduced to just over an inch in size. The box core was taken at 59 S and 63W and went down 3800 m.

Here's how the cups looked after their dive:

A few more photos:
Collecting water samples
Joe and Bill collect water samples using channel locks and copper tubing

Marine mammal sightings
Map of opportunistic marine mammal sightings from the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya

November 29-30: Water sampling, ice bergs and ocean pressure

Zodiac and icebergLoaded into the Zodiac, the team transports the ROV past an iceberg in Marion Cove for its final test.

November 29-30, 2006
On board the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya
Marion Cove, King George Island, Antarctica

We have been extremely busy during these last two days. After recovering and deploying the final hydrophone, we steamed to Hook Ridge at the eastern end of the Bransfield Strait. There we conducted deepwater sampling until 3:am on the 29th. This consisted of four casts of a reconstructed CTD at different locations, the deepest down to 1300 meters. A plume signature was detected here in 1999, and we are trying to resolve its exact location.

Casting off Niskin bottlesCasting a rosette of Niskin bottles off the stern of the Yuzhmorgeologiya

This CTD rosette consists of eleven Niskin bottles that are closed to capture water at different depths. Each cast required 2-3 hours. Once on deck, two water samples are carefully removed from each bottle. The first set of samples will be analyzed back at HMSC for dissolved helium gas. Helium gas is the most reliable indicator of an active hydrothermal system. The second sample will be analyzed for total dissolved metals often found in a hydrothermal plume.

After just a few hours of sleep, we roused briefly to experience our closest approach to the mainland of Antarctica. Dozens of icebergs were obscured by low-lying clouds, but were revealed by the Yuzhmorgeologiy’s radar. From the deck the occasional ‘berg would make a brief appearance, only to be masked by flurries of falling snow. Before the ship turned back towards King George Island, our team met on the afterdeck for a ritual offering to Pele.

Bottom view of icebergBottom view of an ice berg captured by ROV video camera

The next day dawned brightly, and we were at anchor in Marion Bay, in front of the Korean base, King Sejong Station. Along with Del and Andrew, I returned to the base to take advantage of their Internet connection. The rest of the team loaded the ROV into a Zodiac and conducted final tests of our equipment. They were successful at launching and navigating the ROV down to the bottom of Marion Cove, to a depth of ~130 feet. The remainder of the day was spent processing research data, some of which I can share with you here. They obtained stunning underwater videos as well. These will be posted on web sites, upon our return.

InvertebratesInvertebrate fauna in Marion Cove at 130-foot depth, viewed via ROV

Tonight we are steaming towards an active volcano, Deception Island. I am excited to see what awaits us in its sunken caldera.

Friday, December 1

November 30: More photos from Antarctica

Closeups of a Weddell seal on King George Island, Antarctica:

Weddell seal

Weddell seal

research team

The team at midnight Nov. 29, waiting to recover water samples. It was very cold!