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02 Feb - Scotia sea ecstasy

RRS James Clark Ross Diary

Noon Position: 58° 09.8 S, 35° 46.8 W)
Distance Travelled since Grimsby: 20694.5 Nautical Miles
Air temperature @ Noon today: 3.1°C
Sea temperature @ Noon today : 3.1°C
Weather: Good, Light airs, 992.6 mb

Scotia sea ecstasy

Since leaving Signy last weekend we have been happily sailing up and down in the Scotia Sea continuing the biosciences cruise. Our course can been seen below. To be perfectly honest not a great deal of exciting things have been happening. We haven't seen any land. We have now run out of fresh fruit, salad and most fresh vegetables. We have seen lots of sea and have been lucky with the calm weather. We are accompanied by the regular bird life, see lots of penguins, seals and a few whales. Life has settled down to a nice rhythm and has a slight feel of ground hog day............We've been at sea now for a month with another 3 weeks to go....

Were we have been - Click to enlarge
Our track
Click to enlarge

What scientists do in their spare time No 3.

Table tennis tournaments

With the hold empty and plenty of space, the ships table tennis table has been set up in one corner. The Doc organized a knockout tournament over the last week with 20 of the crew and scientists playing. There was lively debate over tactics, grips, the merits of spin and how to use the roll of the ship to your advantage. With some very competitive games (especially between the deck and engineering departments - Ed) all the ties were played and two finalists eventually won through. Andy 'the ping pong wizard' Hirst and Alex 'take your medicine' Ramsden battled it out on Sunday afternoon. Centre court was gripped by a tense and thrilling battle (if not quite Olympic standard). The championship favourite, Andy Hirst won convincingly 21/19, 23/21, 21/12 to take the glory and be crowned JCR JR82 table tennis champion. Thanks to everyone who took part.

No flash photography please.....Click to enlarge Andy Hirst (left) Doc (right) - Click to enlarge

Above: The final in progress (L). Andy Hirst and Alex Ramsden (R). Click the images to enlarge them.

For a full listing of the games click here. (pdf file).

Schools Corner

Hi to all the children back home who are following progress of the James Clark Ross this season. We are lucky to have two people onboard at the moment with special links to schools.

'Salty' Sally Thorpe has brought a teddy called Barnaby down to the Antarctic. Barnaby is a bear from Class 1 at Rathmell Primary School in North Yorkshire and has made friends with Paul Clarke's panda. Both can be seen below sitting on an iceberg and saying hello to everyone in Class 1. Can you see the penguins?

Hello Class 1! Click to enlarge
Hello Class 1!!
Click to enlarge

Nathan 'monkey man' Cunningham is keeping in touch with year 8 pupils at Sawston Village College near Cambridge. He gave a talk at the school on Antarctica before coming south. The children have been reading the BAS webpages and doing library research on Antarctica with their teacher, Mrs Moore. They have been trying to imagine what life in Antarctica on the James Clark Ross is like and have been writing down their thoughts. We have been reading them on the ship and are amazed and impressed by how accurate they are. The children have certainly empathized with us and have produced some stunning work. Thanks to all the kids for all the effort and we loved reading them all. We have also received lots of interesting questions about exactly what life is like down here and the science we are doing. Below are a couple of short examples written by 12 year olds on what they think it would be like to live and work in Antarctica. We would love to have put all the stories on but there just isn't enough space, sorry. I hope you like the two below that are a flavour of what we received and makes my ramblings look very inarticulate!!

Clara Woolford - Home and Away

Funny, when we left the docks on that cold frosty morning in early January, I had no thought for what I was leaving behind. All I could think about was science, to complete my life work and to see all the amazing wildlife. Let alone the icebergs of which some were big enough to sink a ship! But now all I can think about is my family and friends. The Friday nights I spent in clubs and bars when I wasnít working and Saturday evenings in front of the telly. Of all of homeís comforts I miss my warm, non-moving bed. Weíve been at sea for four weeks and I still canít get used to the movement of the ship and the weather.

Take last night for example. Iíd just come off duty when a sudden shout called me back up to the deck with the computers. I then realised what the shout was for. The ship was rolling at a 40° angle at least. I was standing opposite the window and I peered. All I could see was the white froth of the waves battering against the porthole, framed in dark blue swirls. I must admit that petrified me. I went numb and flattened myself against the wall. But soon others joined me and my fear soon was lost in the need to protect equipment. Together we clung on to the apparatus, which had come unhooked from the wall. Thankfully the storm had died down by the morning and not much was damaged.

So now itís 6pm local time and here I am feeling sorry for myself. Look at me, sitting in a far off ocean unspoiled by man, surrounded by outstanding natural beauty and all I can do is dream of boring rainy old England. Maybe itís just being at sea for so long without sight of land. We are supposed to be reaching the mainland soon, which may stop me going insane and biting everyoneís heads off. The sea no longer seems to be a great vast adventurous space full of everything exciting. Rather a huge mass of boring washed out blue.

Oh wow!!! Woah!!! I take that last paragraph back. Something incredible has just happened. I decided to have a break from diary writing and go up on deck. While I was comfortably standing listening to the shouts of the crew, a huge glistening floating mountain appeared over the horizon. A shout from one of the watchers was given as we drew nearer to the mound of ice. The first iceberg of the voyage. It was an unearthly experience, almost spiritual, and I discovered a whole flurry of new feelings. Amazing how a lump of frozen water could provoke so much emotion. But it was much more than ice. It sparkled dazzlingly. Light bounced off its frosty blue surface, reflecting diamonds of light. It was a purely bizarre and wonderful thing and made my whole body tingle. Words have no chance of explaining it. Perhaps being here is better than England in some ways. Though my acute longing for home may not subside. But I know that this is my dream and I need to fulfil it.

Joanna Byers - Interior Monologue Ė Atlantic Experience

I went out this evening on iceberg watch. Itís very cold, but itís my favourite job. It gives you a chance to get away from everyone and enter into a tranquil world of your own. Everything is so peaceful. In the distance I see a humpback whale slip easily past. I envy her. She slides under the water, leaving only a surface of waves and ripples to mark where she had been. I wonder where sheís going. Maybe to see her family.

I wish I was a whale.

Better focus on other things. I love the work. Really something to get your teeth into. My lifeís work has gone towards this. I canít wait to see the results. Itís nearly time for someone elseís watch. I wish it wasnít, I could stay out here all night. You donít get much time to yourself onboard. Overhead, a great albatross glides on the wind, stretching its wings. I envy it. Onboard you feel cramped after a while. It doesnít fear anything, itís master of the ocean, while weíre at the mercy of the sea, like a cat with a mouse.

I wish I was a bird.

Krill food: the view from space and from ships

The microscopic plants in the ocean are known as phytoplankton and are a source of food to krill and other important Southern Ocean zooplankton such as copepods. Remarkably, these tiny plants (much less than 1 mm in size) can be seen from space using satellites, which orbit the earth and view every square km of the ocean every 48 hours or less. Ocean observations by the SeaWiFS (Sea-viewing Wide-Field of view Sensor) satellite have allowed us to ďseeĒ the amount, as well as the distribution, of krill food over the whole of the Scotia Sea that we are surveying on JR82 (see image). Ships, on the other hand, only allow us to observe the phytoplankton in the immediate area of the ship.

Satellite data - Click to enlarge
"View" from the satellite
Click to enlarge

While the satellite data will tell us where the phytoplankton is and how much is there, it won't tell us what is controlling the phytoplankton stocks and this is where ship-based studies are important. Phytoplankton, like all plants, need light and nutrients to grow. On this BAS science cruise we will look at information on macronutrient data (e.g. nitrate, phosphate and silicate) and physical oceanography (light and mixing depths) to establish the environmental controls on phytoplankton. In addition, we will measure primary production (or the rate at which phytoplankton can grow) using well-established methods (radioisotopes) and novel technology with the Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer (FRRF). The data we are collecting will also be useful to the zooplankton group who will be interested in the amount and type of food available to krill or copepods being transported through the Scotia Sea.

So far, the satellite has shown that there is not a lot of phytoplankton over most of our study area! Not surprisingly, primary production rates have also remained low (i.e. the phytoplankton are not growing too quickly) and macronutrient concentrations have largely remained high. These results may be due to a limitation of iron (which is an essential micronutrient for phytoplankton growth) as found by other Southern Ocean workers but needs further investigation. A massive amount of phytoplankton occurring around the island of South Georgia (the more red the image appears, means there is more phytoplankton in the water), will be investigated later on in this cruise and it is predicted that this abundant food source will support large numbers of copepods and possibly krill.

Mick Whitehouse circa 1992 - Click to enlarge Mick Whitehouse circa 2003 - Click to enlarge
Becky and radioactive carbon experiments - Click to enlarge Renuka and her magic filters - Click to enlarge

Above: Clockwise from top left: Mick Whitehouse in 1992, Mick Whitehouse in 2003, Renuka with her "magic" filters and Becky with radioactive carbon experiments. Click the images to enlarge them.

Size means everything

If biomass means anything then copepods rule. They have been estimated to have the greatest mass of any many celled organism in the world's oceans. Not that they are big by themselves as they may only reach 1 cm but if you take them together stocks are huge and have a large effect on krill.

As well as eating phytoplankton, krill eat copepods that live in the surface layers of the ocean. Copepods themselves feed off phytoplankton (see above) or each other and form a very diverse group of crustaceans. They play an important role in re-cycling nutrients by eating plankton and then returning the nutrients to the water. An example of a copepod (Calanus propinquus) can be seen below.

Alien? Click to enlarge Me play da bongos - Click to enlarge

Above: Calanus propinquus (L) and a bongo net. Click the images to enlarge them.

How do you study a population of Copepods?

Copepods are caught using a 'bongo net' as shown above. This net is dropped to 400 m then brought back up catching all the crustaceans above it. Species are identified and counted to give an indication of the number in the water. Certain species are removed from the nets and incubated over 24 hours before the number of eggs released during that period is counted. The Longhurst Hardy Plankton Recorder (LHPR) is a clever piece of kit that is pulled along behind the JCR and catches copepods at depths down to 1000 m right up to the surface. The copepods are caught on a long roll of gauze that resolves the depth at which different copepods live. It can bee seen below being deployed from the aft deck and the results being examined.

LHPR being deployed - Click to enlarge Whats this on my hankerchief? - Click to enlarge

If you have managed to read all of the above you hopefully will realize that nutrients, phytoplankton, copepods and krill are all intimately related and dependant on each other. All have a critical role in the survival of krill and that is why they are vital to understanding the movement of krill in the Scotia Sea.

Chemical spill off South Africa!!!

Most weeks we have practice drill to simulate some sort of disaster onboard, so this week we were pretending to not be in Antarctica but to be enjoying some fine weather sailing to Cape Town when we were in a collision with a 20,000 ton tanker called 'Polluter of the Sea'. The inconsiderate ship hit us on the forward starboard side and holed us above and below the waterline in the area of No 2 hold. The collision also caused a oil and chemical spill in the hold. Unfortunately one of the crew was caught in this area and suffered severe chemical and inhalational burns. Since we are all highly trained to deal with such a scenario the ships crew swung into emergency mode to deal with the problem. Chemical spills require the rescue party to dress up as spacemen while they extracted the casualty from the hold....

We come in peace....Click to enlarge Does my bum look big in this? Click to enlarge The real face of Mr Blobby - Click to enlarge

The casualty was moved to the hospital for treatment by the medical team before being taken by helicopter to a hospital in Cape Town. All the relevant authorities were informed and the ship made safe. All in all, quite a morning for the JCR.........

All of the above was dreamed up by the '8 to12 -Mike and Dolly show' and was great drill. Cheers!

Help!! This week in the news a British man said he was going to be the first man to walk to the Magnetic North Pole, Geographic North Pole, Geomagnetic North Pole and the Arctic Pole. Does any one know what and where the Arctic Pole and the Geomagnetic Poles are? Answers on a post card or e-mail please.

Thankyou this week: to all the children back home who sent us so many great stories to read. Thanks also to Renuka for cooking such a delicious curry!

Coming up next week: Whales and krill predictably, but no land.

Alex Ramsden
Ships Doctor