Oct 06 - King Neptune arrives!
Date: Sunday 06th October 2003
Position noon: 7° 55.0'N 025°00.0'W (2063 Nm from Stanley)
Distance travelled since Immingham: 6203 NM
Air temperature: 18.6°C
Sea temperature: 19.3°C
Almost Down South - The Week In Brief
We left you last week as we headed off to attend King Neptune's court and pay witness to the trials and tribulations of those crossing "the line" for the first time. The picture below is from our navigation system and shows us crossing from the North to the South. It's a point that RRS James Clark Ross isn't due to pass again (along with our Doctor Emma) for another eight months.
We shall leave the further details of last Sunday to our court reporter later on. Now as we write, a week further south, the weather is noticeably cooled with the sea water temperature having dropped from a high of nearly 30°C to a balmy 21°C yesterday. The science continues in its usual routine that everyone is familiar with now and as the miles tick by the talk from the science party turns towards the end of science and home. The science programme is expected to finish next Saturday before making our final dash to Stanley in order to arrive on the following Tuesday. As for the ship's company, mentions of visits to regular haunts in Stanley and the base reliefs to come start to be heard.
Science Bit In The Middle - Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT13)
Hopefully we can bring you here some of the activities being studied by the scientific party onboard and give you a flavour of science at sea. Which, you never know, might tempt you to find out more.
The AMT cruises are examining the ecosystems in the areas of the ocean that we pass through. Their studies aren't just concerned with the water beneath us, but also look at the air passing over it. This is because everything has an impact on everything else in our world. The most common example of this being when we talk about human impact on the environment through our production of greenhouse gases. So the more we understand about the cycles that make up our planet, be they water, carbon or whatever, the better understanding we shall have of our world today to help us predict the future. Hence, we are out here in the middle of the ocean on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
So what are we doing here? This cruise is looking at the smallest organisms that inhabit our oceans, be they Bacteria, Phytoplankton (plants) or Zooplankton (animals). Many of the organisms only consist of one cell measuring from as little as 5 µm, that's 0.005 mm, all the way up to animals measuring tens of millimetres. It's not just the organisms themselves that are being studied, but the sea water that they live in. This enables the scientists to examine their habitat to see what there is for them to feed on and how their being there effects the environment in that part of the ocean.
The map below shows the area we are presently in, with Spain shown in the upper right-hand corner and the Falkland Islands in the lower left. It is an image from space averaged over a week to show the Chlorophyll content of the Atlantic ocean. The very dark blue areas show places where there is no, or very little, chlorophyll with the colours varying to bright red showing the areas of the highest concentrations. Click on the image to enlarge and see where the JCR is today. Hopefully the landmasses of Afric and South America are obvious, the other black areas are the result of cloud cover.
So what does the picture show us? Well where large amounts of Chlorophyll are being produced then large communities of Phytoplankton must be present, as they produce it through a process called photosynthesis. Further to this, if there are lots of plants then there will be lots of animals to feed on them as is the nature of the various food chains throughout the world.
As these animals and plants are relatively quite large and could be caught in nets it was thought that they made up the major part of the ocean's populations. However, that was until about twenty years when a technique called Flowcytometry was developed (or put another way measuring cells in a flow) was developed. It uses a laser to illuminate/fluoresce particles in a sample of water taken either from the CTD (below left) or from the pumped underway water supply giving them readings at specific intervals of time. This allows them to count not only the quantity, but size of particles and from this deduce the amounts of each type of bacteria or phytoplankton present. Your could say the phytoplankton are the easy ones to deal with as they contain chlorophyll which naturally fluoresces, this is also called Phosphorescence and can be seen sometimes in the sea around the coast. The bacteria cause a little more work as they have to be treated with markers or dyes, this then allows them to be counted. We have three of these "magic" machines onboard and two of their keepers Glen Tarran and Mike Zubkov can be seen in the picture below right. Their colleague Bernhard Fuchs makes a dubious appearance later on at King Neptune's court.
Night sampling from the CTD. Click to enlarge.
Glen and Mike In the Chemistry lab. Click to enlarge.
At the other end of our organism scale we have the Zooplankton being studied by Eva Lopez, Angelica Granda and Elena San Martin. They are able to collect their samples in a more traditional way with a fine mesh net on the fore deck crane. The picture below left shows Elena collecting her sample jar from the bottom of the net.
Elena with emptying her net. Click to enlarge.
Marc gives us scale in the swamp. Click to enlarge.
A major part of many experiments are the incubation tanks and these come in all shapes and sizes. The picture above right shows Marc Blaby standing in the middle of "Incubator City". Each tank holds many different water filled containers collected from various depths by the CTD, they are then used to conduct experiments into how various parameters change in a given period of time. There are many references to grazing where people are looking at how much the organisms consume (eat) or give off (breathe out) during the experimental period. It all makes it sound just like a farm out there, but thankfully without the smell.
So before I confuse myself and you much more I'll sign off on the science for this week and point the keen ones among you to the diary pages from AMT12 (18th May 2003 onwards) or to AMT's own website at www.amt-uk.org.
On Sunday afternoon, at 16.31 a jolt was felt through the ship, and those on deck swear they saw us sail over a dotted red line stretching across the sea. Unfortunately I missed the event, hidden as I was under a table. The reason for all this was that we had just crossed the equator into the Southern hemisphere. Sea-faring tradition dictates that the court of King Neptune is convened, and all newcomers to the sea are tried and punished if found unworthy.
King Neptune and his Queen Amphitrite, duly appeared and were welcomed aboard by the captain. The court was then convened, and the JCR police dispatched to find the guilty.
Once found, the accused were dragged up, kicking and screaming, before the king, queen and judge. The crimes ranged from stealing the ship's stores, namely paint, and trying to make off with the said item by wearing it, to the playing of loud music which offends the ears of Neptune's other subjects.
Medicine and hair tonic were then meted out by doctor and barber, seen below relishing their roles. Dr. Sam Lavender (top right) enjoyed hers so much she actually asked for more!
A forfeit was then endured by each of the accused. Angelica Granda was given the task of measuring the length of the ship with a sausage, while Senior Lecturer Howard Waldron sings (and dances) in the "rain".
A mysterious event was finally explained. A week ago, at an early morning CTD station, there were various reports of a nun having been sighted on deck. The lateness of the night before, the early start, the poor pre-dawn visibility, all pointed to this being an illusion, until the nun reappeared in broad daylight. She (aka Paul Hampton) had decided there was no need to hide from the police, as the disguise would be enough. Unfortunately she had miscalculated- the JCR police (bottom right) had no mercy.
The day was brought to a close by the presentation of certificates, a BBQ meal eaten on deck and the satisfaction of knowing we are really on our way to the Antarctic now.
A final thought and so Until Next week...
Last Thursday evening we were treated to a beautiful evening, hopefully shown in the picture below. Though we should have known as we went from this glassy calm sea to a lumpy one the following morning. It has now relented to a more usual flat state and having now turned right towards the Falkland Islands we are now on the final stretch for this cruise.