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11 May - All change please!

RRS James Clark Ross Diary

Noon Position: 51° 41.4 S, 57° 35.0 W)
Distance Travelled since Grimsby: 35016.5 Nautical Miles
Air temperature @ Noon today: 8.5°C
Sea temperature @ Noon today : 7.5°C
Weather: Good, WNW, 4, 1007.4

All change please!

The last four months have gone in a flash of CTDs, bongos, yellow submarines and buoys, so it is time for another crew change.  Captain Elliott's crew has earned their salt over the last few months of gruelling science and are all ready to depart for the UK summer.  This week was a last minute rush of hand over notes, packing, tying up all the loose ends and finishing off the science cruise.  The Captain, Mate and Chief Engineer almost disappeared in a mass of paperwork, forms and reports, not helped by a small incident with the CTD (see below).  All the crew and scientists flew home on Saturday on either the Tristar or Lan Chile and will hopefully be safely home and enjoying a break by now.

Captain Elliott indulging in his favourite pastime.....paperwork! Click to enlarge
Captain Elliott
Click to enlarge

Eventually everything was prepared for the arrival of Captain Burgan's crew who have arrived in the Falkland Islands to take the JCR home to the UK.  After a brief hand over from the departing team they quickly got stuck into mobilizing the next scientific party who had also just arrived.  It is a shot in the arm to have the relief crew arriving all bouncy and fresh, excited to be taking the ship north.

Falkland Islands Holiday

One lucky individual has the good fortune of staying, limpet like, with the ship.  The honest diary writer has still got time to serve at Her Majesties Pleasure in the South Atlantic and so you are still stuck with my errant ramblings for a few more weeks!  The crew change is a bit of a traumatic time for the Doc onboard as everyone they have got used to departs and the another crew arrive.  The second hand over is not as bad as at least I know the arriving hordes.  With all these comings and going I decided to head for the hills (literally - Ed) and after begging a Land Rover, disappeared off on a solo mission to Port San Carlos, a mere 4 hours after arriving in Stanley.

Discharging my medical care yet again to the doctors in Stanley, I drove the 2 hours across dirt tracks to the small farming community based on the side of San Carlos Water in the NW of East Falkland.  It was slightly surreal bouncing across the barren and misty moorland in a battered old Landie listening to BFBS cranking out some funky tunes on the radio.   The doors or windows didn't close properly in the windy Land Rover and so it was a very cold Doc that arrived on Friday night and set up tent near the farm of Steven and Ella Poole.  It is always nice to get away from the ship for a few days solitude and this was certainly the place to do it.  At night it was completely dark with only the shrieking of the barn owls to keep me awake.  Red backed hawks and crested caracara competed for perches in the few yew trees I was camping in the shelter of.  The wind howled all weekend as I climbed the local hills, found remains of the '82 conflict everywhere and watched Steven and Ella collecting sheep.

Returning to the ship at first light on Monday morning I had a fantastic breakfast at sunrise, standing next to the trustie Land Rover on the main dirt track at 7am with not a commuter for miles.  During my year south I have consistently been overwhelmed by the wonderful people, variety and quantity of wildlife, stunning scenery and restorative powers of the Falkland Islands.  I would recommend it to anyone.

Falkland Islands breakfast - Clicks to enlarge
Falkland Islands breakfast
Click to enlarge

Returning to the ship, it was as if the last 4 months had passed in a dream and I was back in January.  Captain Burgan's crew had seamlessly taken over the helm and it was great to see everyone again.

Thanks to everyone on Captain Elliott's crew for looking after me, keeping my sanity (debatable - Ed) and giving me a fantastic 4 months.  Cheers!


Arriving in Stanley it is great to get any mail that has been sent down for you and members of the crew avidly read and re-read all their letters.  Visits to FIPASS also has another added bonus.........phone boxes.  For all the family and friends who we speak to on the phone from FIPASS, below is a picture of the phone boxes we have to use.  They are very traditional with broken window panes and lights that don't work making dialling international numbers at night a chilly lottery!

Falkland 'phone boxes - Click to enlarge
Falkland 'phone boxes
Click to enlarge

It is with great pleasure that we'll be saying goodbye to them for another few months.

PS  FIPASS is an acronym for Falklands Interim Port And Storage System.  It is a floating harbour and port facility that was put in after the conflict in 1982 as a temporary measure!

Shag Rocks Passage and all that....

The Facts....

  • Shag Rocks Passage is a 150km wide gouge through the North Scotia Ridge
  • It is over 3000m deep compared to the flanking ridge that is a mere 1000m in depth
  • The water flowing through the passage is moving relatively fast for an ocean current (approx 1m/s on the surface and 20cm/s at the sea bed)
  • The current is the part of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) that is called the Polar Front
  • The current is directed partly by the seabed contours and by other factors such as wind

The Questions....

  • Why is the Polar Front where it is?
  • Why does is move from place to place?

To answer these questions we have completed a transect from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia of CTD measurements.  A CTD has been completed when the seabed has changed in altitude by either 500m or the JCR had moved 40km down the transect line.  The data gathered with hopefully fill in the final side of a box of transect lines that will reveal the amount of water passing into and out of the Scotia Sea and Falkland Islands Plateau.

The second approach is directed at the Shag Rocks Passage and involved dropping at total of 6 moorings across the passage.  Moorings are instruments for measuring depth or current attached to weights.  They sink to the bottom and gather information from the depths over a period of time (approx. 1-2 years) and are then recovered by being released from their weights and floating back up for collection on the surface.  The data is then downloaded and analysed.  Two moorings, placed on the 1500m contour, either side of the passage measure the depth of water.  Four moorings spread across the passage measure the current either using a propeller to measure or using the Doppler effect (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)).  Data from these instruments should help to resolve what role the Shag Rocks Passage plays in the position and flow of the Polar Front.

A propeller current meter with acoutic release above. Click to enlarge
A propeller current meter with acoutic release
Click to enlarge

While the JCR was sailing along the transect line an ADCP onboard was measuring the current beneath the ship.  The data produced the plot that can be seen below.  The length of the pink lines indicates both the strength and direction of the current.  It can been seen that the northerly water flow is greatest in Shag Rocks Passage.

Map of transect with currents - Click to enlarge
Map of transect with currents
Click to enlarge

The JCR will probably be back in 18 months to pick up the buoys and reveal the mysteries of the Shag Rocks Passage.........watch this space!

CTD trauma

On wednesday night as the CTD was being prepared for the last station, near-disaster struck.  As the CTD rig was a couple of feet above the deck, the supporting wire was parted and the CTD dropped onto the deck.  Fortunately no one was hurt but the CTD frame was slightly damaged and the bottles displaced. A full investigation was carried out as to why it happened and action identified to stop it happening again.  Below are pictures of the frame immediately after the fall on deck, with Johnny Edmonston looking slightly warped (the frame not Johnny - Ed) and with Pat Cooper mending the wire the following day.  The CTD rig is at the time of copy repaired and fully operational again on the AMT12  JR90 cruise.

Shaken but not stirred - Click to enlarge Bent CTD frame - Click to enlarge Pat doing some work - Click to enlarge

Goodbye from Dave Stevens, Karen Heywood, Mike Meredith and all their team.

The science team on the aft deck - Click to enlarge
The science team
Click to enlarge

Thankyou this week: to Emma Jones and Steven and Ella Poole for maintaining my sanity.  A sad farewell to everyone on Captain Elliott's crew.

Coming up next week: 'Home James and don't spare the horses'.....

Alex Ramsden
Ships Doctor