Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 29th/30th: Cruise Ship and Camping

Our local iceberg and frequent REMUS navigation hazard.
The Crystal Symphony cruise ship came to visit us today. Since there are about 1,000 people on board, there was no way we could bring that many people to the station. So we had a sign up list for 15 scientists to go on board the vessel and do a presentation for the ship. Mark, Matt and I signed up along with several other scientists and people from the station. We took two zodiacs out to the ship which was actually a mile off shore. As we approached, the passengers and crew were out on the upper decks waiving and cheering as we climbed aboard using a small ladder. The zodiacs went back to station and we got a small tour of the ship and got to go up to the bridge and meet the captain. The ship was beautiful! 

As we walked around everyone was waving to us and taking pictures. We were celebrities for the next three hours.  We talked to passengers and answered questions, took pictures and even signed autographs. The station manager and lab manager of Palmer Station gave a 15 minutes presentation in the auditorium and then the rest of us got up on stage and introduced ourselves and then answered questions from the crowd for the next half an hour. There were about 500 people in the crowd and they also had 3 other sitting areas where they were broadcasting the show in real time. After the question and answer session we talked to passengers and looked around the ship.  Mark was approached to do an interview for the ship’s morning show so he left for a while and answered questions that will be broadcast on the ship this morning. 

We were then escorted to the ship's dining room, where we had a wonderful lunch with appetizers and dessert with a full staff of waiters and assistant waiters to make sure we had a everything we needed.  We have had great food at Palmer Station, but we ran out of fresh fruits and vegetables two weeks ago so everyone ordered salads and something with fruit in it. So if any of you are having fresh vegetables or fruit today make sure and enjoy it for us please.  Afterward, we were picked up by the boats and taken back to station. Everyone aboard was very excited to be able to meet some of the people and scientists who are living in Antarctica. It was very special for us to be able to share our experiences and scientific observations with the public in a direct way. 

I slept in a tent last night near the glacier. It was an amazing experience to be able to listen to the glacier cracking and moving and ice falling into the bay.  I also had to listen to the 25 knot winds blowing on my tent, but I wasn’t going to have another chance to be able to do this again so it didn’t really matter. I walked back to Palmer Station this morning and started to prepare for one our last REMUS runs. Hard to believe that it is almost time to pack up and come home.  


Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28th: Penguin Day

Mark holding Adelie penguin before removing tracking tag.
Ian returning Gentoo penguin to nest.
Today was going to be a pretty boring day in terms of a normal day down here.  The weather didn’t look very good so we decided not to deploy the REMUS since we have already had a great trip and we don’t need to risk losing the thing at this point. I was planning on taking care of all our shipping lists and hazardous requirements when Mark came and asked me if I wanted to go out with the birders again. Mark and Matt were supposed to go out, but Matt forgot he had a video conference with his daughter’s class so he wasn’t able to go. I rushed up and ate a quick lunch and got dressed. Fifteen minutes later we were riding out to go find a couple of tags and then redeploy them. 

It took us about 15 minutes to get there and then we looked around for one penguin who had a tag that we needed to remove. 

In the area where we were visiting, there was not a single Gentoo breeding pair in 1993. Most of the breeding pairs were Adelie’s then. Now there are only a couple Adelie pairs and almost 2,000 Gentoo breeding pairs. This is part of the shift that we are trying to understand and document during our stay down here. 

Mark ended up finding the penguin and got to hold it while they removed the tag. They downloaded the data and then we moved to the next island and looked for a Gentoo penguin to put the tag on. The birders are going to start putting the tags on Gentoos instead of Adelies, since the Adelies are nearly done raising their young and will be leaving the area soon along with any tags that are on them. Once they picked out a penguin, I got to hold it while they taped the tag to the penguins back and then we let it go back to its nest. It is pretty amazing how strong these birds are and how they can survive in this environment down here.

Once we finished up we headed back to station and ran into some very strong winds. It was fun, but pretty bumpy. Everyone at the station was a little worried, but we never in any danger. It seems like the wind may stick around for a couple of days so it will be interesting to see if we can get any more REMUS deployments before we have to pick up.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Good night,


Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27th: Forgotten Story and Science Talk

Punta Arenas (Where we sailed from) at night.
I am going to skip around little bit, since I forgot a couple of things that have happened recently.  A couple of days ago Mark and Matt went hiking on the glacier behind Palmer Station. I needed to do some work so I stayed in the lab, which may have been my smartest move so far. Remember that I talked about being careful not to fall in a crevasse (I figured out the spelling) when we went up on the glacier?  Well, Mark found and fell partially into a 1-2 foot wide crevasse at the top of the glacier that was covered with snow and not there days earlier. 

Fortunately he did not fall all the way in and was able to get out. When I say 1-2 feet it is not very impressive, but Mark has a video of him dropping a snow ball down it and not hearing it hit bottom for a couple of seconds. When you figure that our bodies are less than the width of the crevasse it is possible to do some serious damage. So now Mark has a crevasse named “Mark’s crack” up on the glacier.  Needless to say, the glacier search and rescue team went up the glacier the next day and moved the safety flags around to make sure that no one else falls in.

Today started out windy, but turned into a beautiful day. We were able to launch the vehicle and get another productive run in. We were even brave enough to drive it up right next to the pier at Palmer Station when it returned from its run. Most of the data has been processed at the basic level and is ready for viewing. I will probably post a couple of graphs for you to look at tomorrow or the next day.

To finish up the night tonight, we had one of the visiting professors, Rick Lee, talk about his research on Antarctic insects. Although our cold right now is not that impressive compared to winters back in the states or the winter here, the insects they are studying are amazing.  There is only one kind of free living (meaning it doesn’t need another organism to get its food from) insect in Antarctica that they have found at this point. There are also a couple of tick and mite species down here that live on the birds. 

An elementary school teacher traveling with Rick’s group also showed a movie she has put together for her school back home, which was a beautiful piece of work and a great learning tool for students. 

See more at for her blog and for Rick’s website and some fun educational games.

As you can tell, it is very important to share our experiences and what we learn down here because what we do means nothing if we can’t share it with others. That may sound a little whimsical, but it is very important in the scientific world and in this particular case it is a great chance to share a couple of people’s trip to Antarctica with a larger group.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26th: Cold and Blustery Day

Penguin sugar cookies for lunch
Today was a cold and blustery day here on station.  The temperature got back down to 32 degrees and the wind was blowing 20 knots today so the temperature was close to in the teens.  This meant that no one could go out on the boats today so everyone worked inside on data they had already gathered or were planning on gathering later in the week. 
Since not much happened here today other than sitting in front of three computers I am going to point you to a posting that Dr. Matt Oliver put up about his recent penguin tagging adventure.  Matt is also the one who has a glider out in the ocean right now and is working with us.  There are some great pictures and videos. 

I will have some more news tomorrow.

Good night.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25th: Not so perfect REMUS retrieval

Moonrise over the glacier
We made the front page of today thanks to Teresa Hendrix back on campus.  She set up the blog from my emails and then passed it off to me and now she is trying to spread the word for us.  Funny how a little idea to let friends and family share my trip to Antarctica has turned into a great outreach experience for everyone.  Thanks Teresa.

Well we just got back from a REMUS retrieval that seemed like we were picking it up for the first time.  The mission was pretty long today and we were running right on the edge of having the batteries run out, which makes it go directly to the end point.  Down here this means that it will run directly into 5 or 6 islands.  The wind and waves along with a decent swell made the waters a little rough, which felt like driving a car over coffee table size boulders.  We put ourselves between the vehicle and the rocks to make sure it wasn’t going to make a crash landing and then continued to drive in circles trying to figure out which way it was going.  Fortunately, the vehicle was still on its path and we figured out what was going on and picked it up.  Not our most professional attempt, but we got it back and are now downloading the data.

One of the penguins that had a tag on it went out really far off shore last night so we are waiting to see if the penguins are starting to transition from their inshore foraging to offshore foraging.  The glider has been flying offshore also and collecting some great data, which has been helpful in understanding how the water column is changing.  I am also getting through the data that we have been collecting, which is nice to finally see the results of what the vehicle has been doing over the past couple of weeks.

Well, the birders just brought a fresh batch of penguin stomach contents into the lab so I am going to sign off get out of this smelly lab.  

Good night. 


Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24th: Days Off and Stormy Weather

Adelie Penguin feeding its chick.

REMUS in front of Palmer Station after today's mission
January 24th, 2011

Today we started our last week of sampling in the far south.  We had some bad weather drop in on Saturday with 40 mile per hour winds and some light snow so we took the weekend off and gave the REMUS a break.  I guess we didn’t really take the weekend off because we did work on data for most of the weekend.  It was a nice break not having to worry about when or where the vehicle was at during the day though. 

On Friday night the whole station gathered up in the lounge for a talk by one of scientists who studies bacteria and what their role in the ocean is.  His project down here, along with a graduate student, is to look at what role light in plays in the bacteria’s lives.  We know how light affects the plants and trees on land along with life forms in the ocean, but until recently no one knew that bacteria use light to make energy.  It is interesting to think about organisms that utilize light down here because of the fact that half the year there is none.

Saturday was fun watching the storm come through because there really hasn’t been any weather since we have been here.  It was cold when we first showed up, but there hasn’t been any wind.  It gets a little bit cold when the wind blows here considering that it is already 35 degrees without the wind.  The ocean got very bumpy and everyone stayed inside for the most part.  Of course no boats went out so everyone had to find other fun stuff to do in the afternoon off.  We also had our normal cleaning day after a half day of work. 

Sunday was mostly a lazy day in front of the computer.  I did get a chance to go out to one of the islands to put a tag on an Adelie penguin, but after we made it half way there the wind had really picked up and made the ocean rough so we had to turn around.  Since this is the busy time of the year for the birds and birders there is always something to do, even if one job gets shut down.  So on the way back we stopped off at an island called Christine Island where there are a couple of indicator colonies of penguins and cormorants.  We counted how many adults and young birds were in the colony, which helps them keep track of what the population is doing as a whole.  Of course there were little chicks huddled around and I even got to see a cormorant feeding its chick which involves sticking its head halfway down the parent’s neck so it looks like it is being swallowed itself.  Then we moved onto another island and did the same thing, but we also had to measure and weigh a Skua chick, which looks a lot like a baby duck or chicken.  The parents were really unhappy (understandably) and tried landing on our backs and pecking us.  They even took one the scientist hats, but we got it back.  Afterward we headed back to the station and they dropped me off and then went out to a couple more islands to do the same thing.  We were lucky enough to get to watch the football games last night also, which was a special treat.

Today was back to work for us and the REMUS.  We looked to see where the penguins had been foraging over the weekend, which was really close to the station.  The distance the penguins travel all depends on the where the food sources are.  Sometimes the penguins will travel up to a hundred miles or more to get food, but they have been staying within a 5 mile radius lately.  This is good for us because we can cover more area and don’t have to worry about going outside of the boating limits.  We went out to drop the vehicle off and then came back and worked on data while we watched the vehicle fly around over the satellite phone.  Everything went very smoothly and we picked it up after dinner time.

We have been having some big waves here from the storm this weekend and they have been breaking apart the icebergs and moving them around quite a bit.  There has also been some amazing calving on the glacier.  I haven’t really seen any, but I always hear about them from other people. 

Well it is off to work on the computer and talk to the family.  Hope everyone had a good weekend.

Another good blog to look at from our collaborators:

Good night.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 21: Good data and bad news

                                                  Crabeater Seals in front of Palmer Station
January 21, 2011

Today was almost identical to yesterday as the work day goes. We looked at penguin tracks and then figured out where we wanted to send the vehicle to investigate. We launched the vehicle and drove around for little bit making sure that everything was running smoothly.

After plugging in the second vehicle today we could tell it was not happy so we packed it up and are going to have to operate with only one vehicle from now on. 

We got some great data back from the REMUS that went out today and other than our setback from the leaky vehicle we had another great day. We spent a couple of hours on the water today tracking the vehicle, which was really nice to be out and about doing something other than sitting at our desk.   

We saw some crab eater seals hauled out on a piece of ice near the station, which is today's photo. We also saw the normal penguin groups going out to feed. Lots of boats from station have been seeing multiple whales in the area too, so it appears that they are arriving to feed in the local waters on their southern migration routes.  

Good night,  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jan. 20: All About Penguin Food

Today’s picture: Adelie penguins taking a break on a small piece of ice.

Jan. 20, 2011

Now that we have tested and run the vehicles successfully we are trying to concentrate on running missions where the penguins are foraging for food. 

At this point we are working closely with the birders and watching where the tags that they place on the penguins are showing up on the satellite map. 

Our project is specifically looking at the Adelie penguin since their population has declined so rapidly over the past couple of decades. 

Each individual penguin has different foraging habits, so the changes in climate down here can benefit one species and not the other. Since the birders are tagging different species, we need to make sure that we are concentrating on the where the Adelie’s have been foraging and to send our remotes diving to the depths that they are diving. 

Each penguin has a tag on its back that sends a signal to a satellite when the penguin is at the surface taking a breath. As soon as we wake up, we look at the tag locations from the day before and then plan out a mission to go look at the location where the penguins were feeding.  For the most part, they have been foraging locally and in Palmer Canyon, where we ran yesterday and the day the ship came in close. 

I got a question from someone about penguin eggs and chicks that I didn’t really know yesterday so I asked around. The question was “Why do some penguins have multiple eggs as opposed to one.” The short answer is that no one really knows, but emperor penguins incubate their eggs on their feet and under the “stomachs” so it is only possible for them to hold one egg. 

The other species can lie down and incubate two eggs, which increases the chances of one chick surviving. There is a lot more in-depth material here:

Today, we went out and dropped the vehicle in the water and made sure it was running OK.  We went back and ate lunch and then planned a short mission to test out the leaky vehicle -- one  that would also give us a view of what the water column looked like between the local (ocean) sampling stations. 

There are a series of stations in Antarctica that have been set up and studied for years at different locations. Since these stations are repeatedly sampled and studied, there is a good data set that can be referenced to see how things have changed over time. 

The mission we ran today connected the dots between these stations to see how different the water column was between the stations. We were helping other scientists who were taking water samples there this morning. 

Although they have water samples from one station they don’t have a picture of what the surrounding water looks like, which is what were going to provide. These station can change due to local topography, bathymetry, proximity to glaciers and also the open ocean.

We made it about half way through the mission and the vehicle leaked again, so we brought it back and took it apart and tried changing some o-rings on the vehicle. We still had some good data that we will pass on, though. 

We put the vehicle back together to do a run tomorrow.  While we were doing this we were also keeping an eye the other vehicle.  After eight hours in the water, it finished up and we went out to pick it up after dinner. The batteries that we were testing earlier in our visit seem to be doing really well and we haven’t had to worry about them running out during the longer missions.

This blog is now linked from the Cal Poly College of Science and Mathematics Home Page - we're at the top of the college home page, at least this week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jan. 19: Photo Ops

Jan. 14: Launching the REMUS units

January 19, 2011

Just a quick note to go along with two photos. Here's Mark (Moline) Jan. 14 - a monumental research day, as we set out to launch the two REMUS units.

The REMUS units are the black vehicles. The yellow vehicles seen in other photos on this blog are the gliders.

We're sending them out to gather data as part of a research project on the foraging environment of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. Our work is being paid for by a grant from the National Science Foundation secured by Mark (Professor Mark Moline).

You can read more about the grant paying for our work by clicking here to read the Cal Poly News Release about it.

In the photo below, you can see Mark testing the REMUS units on what passes for a balmy summer day in Antarctica.

You can find out more about the REMUS units on the Cal Poly Center for Coastal Marine Sciences by clicking on this text.

Testing the REMUS units