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09 Mar - Go west!

Update Week 24  (9 March 2003)

Noon Position :  70051"3'S, 101059"7'W

Distance Travelled since Grimsby :25840.5 Nautical Miles

Air temperature @ Noon today : -3.80C

Sea temperature @ Noon today : -0.40C

Weather : Light airs, 996.8

Go west!

Your mission:    To boldly go where no man (or submarine) has gone March Pine Island Glacier.

Current intelligence:    Limited and highly classified.  Previous operatives have only come close to this fast moving, highly dangerous area.  Current satellite imaging shows significant activity going on in this remote part of Antarctica.  Normally shrouded in mist this secretive area is unclaimed by any nation and is one of the remotest areas of the world.

Your objective:    Proceed to the area with team of agents, reconnoitre, test your equipment, and await further instructions.............................

So the JCR set sails towards an area that it has never previously visited, Pine Island Bay, a remote area to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula.  For a chart of where we are going click on the images below.  This area is rarely visited and is part of Antarctica where there are no territorial claims by any nation.  There are no bases here and it is generally unstudied.  The first image below shows where in Antarctica Pine Island Bay is and the route the JCR is taking to get there.  The second image is a recent satellite photograph of the area, again showing the JCR route.  The photo shows a large area of pack ice immediately below the JCR that we entered this week for scientific purposes (More below).  Pine Island Bay is clear of pack ice in the photo, but several large megabergs can be seen in the vicinity close to the land.  At the bottom of the photo is Pine Island Glacier, the reason we are going there, which is a fast moving glacier entering the sea.  The plan is to use an unmanned submarine, Autosub, to penetrate underneath the glacier to study the area (More next week).

Where we are going Satellite picture of Pine Island

Whilst travelling towards Pine Island Bay we enjoyed a couple of days in the Gerlache Strait where Autosub needed to be calibrated and tested in sheltered water.  The Strait is on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula and is just to the north of Port Lockroy.  It is a spectacular area, surrounded by glaciated mountains rising 10,000ft straight out of the sea.  It is also a chance to see some other ships as the area is frequented by tourist ships, cargo ships and fishing vessels.  These ships, dwarfed by the scenery, give a sense of scale to the panorama that is difficult to perceive without some sort of reference point.  We saw an odd looking orange ship on the horizon which turned out to be the American research icebreaker, Gould, heading from the American base at Palmer to Deception Island.  There were so many ships it was just like being in the English Channel again (with icebergs and mountains - Ed) and it makes a change to be avoiding other ships rather than icebergs.  While the Autosub team worked between missions it was a good chance to do some survey work of this popular area.  We spent a night happily cruising up and down, swathing the seabed.  This bottom profiler produces accurate 3D maps of the seabed that can be used in charts.  Below are a couple of charts.  The first demonstrates the Admiralty chart we normally use to navigate.  It is the electronic version and shows several important points.  Firstly, the green straight lines are the projected route the second mate has plotted for the JCR to follow.  The thin pink line is the actual route that the JCR follows and one can see many lines going up and down the straight (top right of chart) from the evening of swath.  Multiple passes are made by the ship to slowly build up the many strips into a picture of the whole of the sea bed.  At the lower left of the chart Port Lockroy can be seen marked, next to the dramatic Neumeyer channel.  We sailed down the channel and passed Port Lockroy one evening on the way south but they were tucked up in bed and had turned their generator off so there were no lights to be seen in the gloom.  The second image has a typical swath image overlaid (green area top right) and represents the contours on the seabed of the Gerlache Strait.

image here Chart with swath
The Gerlache Strait was full of humpback whales.  They were observed virtually continuously and were seen breaching.  A southern right whale and several killer whales were also seen.  Two days in a row, while the ship was stationary, groups of curious humpbacks came over to investigate.  They came within several meters of the ship and circled it for over an hour.  To see such huge animals so close is quite an experience and everyone rushes out to watch.  Fortunately these whales came during 'smoko' so even the engineers could come up from their murky depths to watch these graceful leviathans put on a show of spying hopping and fluking.
image here Videoclip image here Videoclip
Unfortunately these pictures can only convey a minuscule amount of the whole experience of seeing the whales.  It is an assault of all of your senses to see these animals so close.  The sight is vivid and memorable and conveys the sheer size when seen next to the ship.  The sound of the whale gently breaking the surface, the long soft blow, the noise of water dripping off the gigantic flukes before they almost silently renter the water are unique.  Each whale's blow that drifted over the ship coated your face in fine vapour and had the exquisite perfume of the sea, fish with maybe a hint of krill.  The cold air on you face warmed by the sun only added to the experience.  We were very lucky to behold such a scene and even the long serving crew onboard were impressed!

Autosub in love!

With all the curious whales around the ship it was just a question of time before one had look at Autosub.  At the end of one particular mission, Autosub rose to the surface and waited to be recovered back on to the ship.  Whilst it was waiting a friendly whale left the ship and went over for a closer inspection.  Autosub is big and floats below the surface as it is just buoyant.  It also communicates with the ship via pings, audible to whales, made in the water and picked up by a receiver on the side of the JCR.  To the whale this must have presented an attractive proposition........A sleek streamlined animal all dressed up in a bright yellow party frock, lying daintily below the surface and making interesting noises after just coming up from a deep dive.  Wow, the whale couldn't believe his luck.  So after a few nervous glances the whale finally plucked up courage and went up to the sub and started being quite intimate.  It was spy hopping right next to it to get a good look, swimming upside down underneath to impress it and even started gently pushing water over it with it's fins and flukes.  This 40 ton, 15m long animal was very close, at times around 1m, but as far we could tell never touched it (there were 10 very nervous scientists watching every move, jealously! - Ed).  Even trying to warn the whale off by bringing the JCR closer failed to work.  Below is a picture of the humpback spying hopping (lifting it's head and eyes out of the water for a better look) next to Autosub!
This whale clearly likes Autosub
After an hour of close scrutiny by the amorous whale we finally recovered Autosub onto the ship but the whale stayed with it until it finally came out of the water.  The emotionally distraught whale came within feet of the ship as Autosub was being lifted out and then slowly swam off looking very sad for itself and for something else to play with.  It was later heard to say 'I just wanted to be friends!'
Autosub leaves the water

Onto the ice.

As the JCR chugs through the ice floes I often wonder what it would be like to stand on one, how deep is the snow on top, what does the JCR look like from a seals view point.  This week some of us were lucky enough to find out including Sarah Hardy......
onto the ice Sarah Hardy image here
"During our first excursion, I was so busy concentrating on holding onto the cargo net during transit; making sure once landed that I stepped onto the ice before the net relaxed and I fell forward onto the equipment pile, and how to complete the task we had been set once on the ice, that I didn't really appreciate exactly where I was and what I was doing.  It wasn't until day two, when I considered myself an old hand at being craned onto a moving ice floe in the middle of the Antarctic, that I actually took time to look around.

As we were lifted into the air, I was able to take in just how big the JCR actually is and yet at the same time, how small she seemed in relation to the vast sheets of sea ice which stretched as far as the eye could see.   Once safely landed, I was immediately able to feel as well as see, the effect of the gentle swell on the movement of the ice beneath me and fully appreciate both how amazingly beautiful and yet so alien, was the frozen sea that I was so fortunate to be able to walk upon."

Cheers Sarah

My what long shadows you have... JCR in at home in the ice. Drilling teeth is easier

Please scroll across

Sunsets and Sunrises.

One thing that you get to be a bit blasé about, in Antarctica is the clarity of the air.  The levels of pollution and dust in the air are extremely low and so one can further and in much more detail than dirty Old Blighty.  We have also been lucky to have some 'dingle days' of calm weather and blue skies to appreciate the views.  Various optical phenomena have been seen this week including green flashes in morning and evening (see previous diary for explanation), halos around the sun and some stunning sunsets.  As we are currently so far south (700) then the sunsets very slowly indeed leading to some very cold people standing on the monkey island by the time it finally disappears!  The sunset pictured below was taken whilst we were in the ice with a little sea smoke forming over the floes and bergs in the background adding to the dramatic effect.  Sea smoke is formed when the air temperature is at least 90C colder than the sea temperature and is due to the cold air rapidly becoming saturated by the water evaporating from the relatively warm sea (warm! - the sea was at least -0.50C - Ed).  Various colour phenomena were also seen including a primary twilight arch which is a segment of intense reddish light resting on the western horizon that persisted for several hours after the sun had set.  A counterglow on the eastern horizon was also visible rising fairly quickly to the zenith followed by the earth-shadow.  Great fun to watch but very very cold!
image here image here

Sharp eyed lookout, Lester, managed to spot a single emperor penguin, standing sentinel on a small floe.  Hopefully more next week.

Thankyou this week to Mark Brandon for a great place to do science and everyone who contributed a photo or video clip.  Cheers

Coming up next week......Pine Island Bay proper.