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Mar 28 - Hump Day

RRS James Clark Ross


Update (28th March 2004)

Noon Position : lat 53 22.4 S long 38 42.9 W (44 nm from Bird Island

Distance Travelled since Immingham : 24553 Nautical Miles

Air temperature @ Noon today : 6.5 degrees C

Sea temperature @ Noon today : 3.8 degrees C

The JCR this Week.

This week radio officer Mike Gloistein has done most of the hard work for the diary, having written about his work and about the history of South Georgia. We also have a contribution from the plankton-spotting team, and some great photographs of the creatures they work with.

We said good-bye on Thursday to Rob Smith, our stowaway, who is joining the team at King Edward Point as a GA. However, once his plankton-sorting, seal-counting and fish-dissecting skills are discovered at KEP there is no doubt he will be put straight to work in the labs.

Rob Smith, Polar hero. Click to enlarge.

Rob Smith in his "day" job, as a field GA. Click to enlarge.

We jealously wished Rob good-bye and good luck, all wishing we too could find an excuse to go ashore on this most beautiful island. We spend a lot of our time in the South Georgia area, but seldom get a chance to go ashore. However, this week our wishes were granted when we called at the old whaling station of Stromness, where Sir Ernest Shackleton famously came down from the mountains after his traverse of the island. The manager's house, where he found help, still stands, although it and most of the other buildings are now derelict and suffering from the unrelenting South Georgia weather. The station is now overrun with wildlife, and is guarded by squadrons of juvenile fur seals, who see us not as intruders, but as playmates, and show absolutely no fear in approaching us. I for one, however, don't like sharp teeth and prefer to give them a wide berth! The penguins are more my style: the gentoos who comically waddle up the beach and past the playful seals as quickly as possible, and the regal kings who stand stock still and practise looking gorgeous.

'Anyone seen Santa?' by Johnnie Edmonston. Click to enlarge. King penguin by Martin Collins. Click to enlarge. Furry bouncers by Johnnie Edmonston. Click to enlarge.
Reindeer, brought to South Georgia by the whalers.
Click to enlarge
.King penguin and fur seals on the beach at Stromness.
Click to enlarge.
Fur seals guarding the whaling station.
Click to enlarge.

Today is "Hump day"- the middle point of the trip for Captain Burgan's crew, and three quarters of the way through for me. I have now been at sea for 6 3/4 months, and have just over 2 months to go. It is yet too early to be thinking of home, it seems so far away and there is much work to be done before then. We are entering into the winter months down here and no doubt there will be some real Southern Ocean storms to look forward to.

There is no-one on board who doesn't miss home in some way. For me, it's not only my family, my nephew, my friends, but also freedom, space, solitude and nice, frothy coffee...... However, to compensate for the lack of these things, we have whales, seals, South Georgia and a 360 degree panorama of the mighty and seemingly endless Southern Ocean. So we enjoy what we have now and look forward to the other things in 2 1/4 months.

News from the radio room.... and how we communicate with the rest of the world.

Mike Gloistein is the ships' Radio Officer, and he is responsible for the many different means of communications that are available to all onboard.

Mike has been with the BAS since 1990, starting out on the RRS Bransfield, and then during the 1990's working on both the James Clark Ross and the Bransfield. When the Bransfield was replaced by the RRS Ernest Shackleton in 1999, Mike was based there until May of 2003 when he transferred back to the James Clark Ross.

Mike Gloistein. Click to enlarge.

Mike in his "office". Click to enlarge.

In 1990, on the Bransfield, all Mike had to hand was a typewriter, a fax machine for sending daily messages to the office, a telex system for sending the six hourly weather reports and a Morse Key for working distress traffic. Telephone calls via satellite were very expensive, at about £6 per minute, and BAS personnel were allowed one fax per month of about 500 words to their loved ones. If they were really lucky, a 500 word fax would come back with news from home in the same month!

During the next few years and with the advent of the PC, BAS started to use e-mail for the first time. The system was basic, but served the needs of all onboard, and the volume of traffic between the ship and Cambridge increased.

By the late 1990's the Antarctic Message System had been developed and this allowed all onboard, and at the BAS bases, to send a much greater volume of information. The joy of being able to send a message one day and get a reply the next was superb.

All staff onboard the ships and at the bases are now allowed to send and receive a total of 1Mb per month, which means that not only plain text messages are passed, but images can also be sent and this has been a great boost to morale for all. With the increase in the volume of personal messages so too has the level of 'Official' work mail increased. Gone are the days when the ships traffic would cover about half a page of A4 paper a day! We can now receive weather charts and navigational information on a regular basis, and plan forthcoming events, such as cruises and refit work in minute detail, complete with drawings or spread-sheets.

How is this all possible?

The data for all of this traffic has to pass from the ship to Cambridge via the Inmarsat system, and the vessel is fitted with a Sat-B terminal (this being digital, the older 'A' series terminals were analogue and much slower) and so we have a 64kb link to the outside world. Mail is queued at both the ship end and the Cambridge end, and when the link is opened it flows in both directions.

Radio communications have not died a death though, as part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) which came into being in the mid 1990's, the vessel is fitted with two HF radios capable of transmitting at about 800 Watts. This combined with a Digital Selective Calling system means that vessels in distress can easily send out a call to all ships, almost anywhere in the world, and then action can be taken by the appropriate authorities. Not all ships carry Radio Officers as the system is much simplified and Morse Code is no longer used commercially.

Mike's other duties include maintaining the complex array of navigational equipment, from the radar sets to the navigation lights. He also makes a mean cup of coffee at smoko! Morse Code has not completely died out in the world and it is still used on the amateur radio frequencies and Mike can often be seen with his headphones on talking to others all over the world in his spare time. Using about 100 Watts of power he is in regular contact with friends back in Scotland, and meets new people on the airwaves daily.

Science Bit In The Middle: Dinner by lantern- light

from the Bongo Boys (Geraint Tarling, Andrew Hirst, Dave Pond)

The planktonians. Click to enlarge. Chief planktonian. Click to enlarge. Portrait of a biochemist by Martin Collins. Click to enlarge.
Chuck "the Crustacean" Cook and Bongo boy Andy Hirst.
Click to enlarge.
Great Chieftain of the Plankton Clan, Geraint Tarling.
Click to enlarge.
The name's Pond, Dave Pond.
Click to enlarge.

The main aim of this biosciences cruise (JR100) is to study of ecology of lantern fish (myctophids). As their name suggests, these fish have organs all over their body that give an amazing display of bioluminescence. Myctophids are one of the favourite foods of seals and penguins and are an important part of the Southern Ocean foodweb. They live deep down during the daytime, to minimise their chances of being detected by the voracious predators that prowl higher up. However, under the cover of darkness, they race to the surface to feast on the abundance of zooplankton that live there. That's where we come in.

One of our jobs is to find out where the zooplankton are and which ones, in particular, make good eating for a hungry myctophid. Nets of various shapes and sizes are our main tools for the job. A bongo net is so named because it looks like a large bongo drum.

Bongos away chaps! Click to enlarge.

Bongo net. Click to enlarge.

Putting two nets side-by-side makes the device more stable when being deployed and allows the use of two different mesh sizes, capable of capturing different size ranges of zooplankton. We normally deploy this vertically, that means it goes directly down to desired depth (usually 200 m) and brought straight back up again, the ship being stationary throughout. It is a gentle net and brings zooplankton aboard in good condition. However, it doesn't tell us the exact depth they came from. For that task, we use a Longhurst-Hardy Plankton Recorder (an LHPR).

Oooerrr, I saaaaay. Click to enlarge.

Andy, Geraint and the LHPR. Click to enlarge.

This net (which looks more like a space-rocket) has an ingenious spooling device which winds on every minute or so, trapping anything around onto a large reel. It is deployed whilst the ship is travelling at 3 knots; wire is paid out until the net reaches the desired depth and then brought back in again. When aboard, we unroll this reel and put on our detective hats to work out which plankton were captured where. But which type of zooplankton are the juiciest? Just like a children's tea-party, the treats on offer for a foraging myctophid come in all shapes and sizes. Copepods are equivalent to the rice-crispies that are often clustered into cakes: small and packed with calories.

Copepods are full of energy rich oils but their small size would make it hard work for a myctophid to live off these alone. The jelly and blancmange courses come in the form of large medusae and salps. They are very abundant but the fact that over 95% of their body is water makes them nutritionally poor. Amphipods, small crustaceans that are cousins to wood-lice, are equivalent to monkey nuts: they are often too fiddly to bother with but are OK when there is not much left. For a hungry myctophid, the cake with the candles on top would be finding a swarm of krill. Krill (which can grow as large as any self-respecting prawn for the "barbie") often occur in swarms as large as town-centres, and myctophids lucky enough to locate them have a feast.

Calanus popinqus by David Pond. Click to enlarge. Captain Krillman. Click to enlarge.
Copepod with large oil vacuole, storing energy for the winter months.
Click to enlarge.
Krill - chocolate cake for fish.
Click to enlarge.

However, not all parties can go on forever. The JR100 cruise was timed to look at how the situation changes going into winter. In the plankton, we have seen that preparations are already being made for the barren winter months. Many krill start to load up with fat and oil, swelling to great proportions.

Euphausia superba by David Pond. Click to enlarge.

Euphausia "7-bellies" superba. Click to enlarge.

Some copepods descend to great depths (more than 3000 m) where they will stay until spring next year. Others leave resting eggs that hatch when favourable conditions return. Overall, things gradually disappear as autumn progresses and myctophids have a much harder time making ends meet.

In the coming years, the pelagic biosciences team at BAS will be making further investigations into the life-cycles of the major players in the Southern Ocean foodweb. We hope to deploy an echosounder deep-down that can find the myctophids and copepods that occur there. We also will be making computer simulations to understand the dilemmas that fish and zooplankton face at different times of their lives. Ultimately, we want to predict how life-cycles of these creatures may change as the climate alters. But for now, we will continue to enjoy all the weird and wonderful delights to be had at the Southern Ocean food-web party.

A brief potted history of South Georgia

by Mike Gloistein.

South Georgia lies at approximately 54° South and is about 170 km long and ranges in width between 2 and 30 km. The island is spectacular in that it consists of a large number of snow-capped mountains and has been described as 'the Alps in mid-ocean' and is in fact the summit of a partly drowned mountain range.

There are two principal mountain ranges, the Allardyce and Salvesen. The highest peak is that of Mount Paget at 2934 m and there are twelve further peaks of more than 2000m.

Mount Paget. Click to enlarge.

Mighty Mount Paget and its glaciers. Click to enlarge.

South Georgia was probably discovered by Antoine de la Roché who sighted it in 1675 whilst on passage from South America to France. The next recorded sighting was in 1756 by Gregorio Jerez on board the León. It was in 1775 that Captain James Cook arrived and on 14th January one of his midshipmen, Thomas Willis, saw land which was eventually named after him (The Willis Islands at the western end of South Georgia) and named the land in honour of His Majesty King George as Isle of Georgia. He went on to name Bird Island, due to its large flocks of birds. As part of his report on the island, Captain Cook made mention of the large numbers of elephant and fur seals and this soon came to the attention of the sealing industry and so started what was to become a somewhat bloody period in the history of South Georgia.

Bird Island. Click to enlarge.

Bird Island, named for the incredible bird-life there. Click to enlarge.

Due to the very secretive nature of sealers, many records of the earliest activities are not known, however there are some references that date back to 1786. One vessel, the Aspasia, collected some 57 000 fur seal skins in 1800/01 and whilst this was a large number for a single ship it does give some idea of the slaughter that took place on the island. Sealing would continue, in several waves, for the next 100 years and in 1881 there were regulations put into place to control and protect the seals by giving a closed season between 1st October and 1st April.

The first whaling station was established in King Edward Cove in 1904 and between then and 1965 South Georgia was one of the most important places in the world for the whaling industry. There were whaling stations in seven harbours on the island and during the period some thirteen floating factories were also used. In 1965 the whaling stations were abandoned and whilst at Grytviken a caretaker was employed until 1971, the stations were never reopened and have now become derelict reminders to the past.

During the period 1904 to 1965 a total of 175 200 whales were taken at South Georgia compared with 1 432 862 recorded as being taken from Antarctica between 1904 and 1978.

Grytvikken whaling station. Click to enlarge. King Edward Point. Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
The base at King Edward Point.
Click to enlarge.

The British Antarctic Survey began continuous research on South Georgia in 1967/8 following a decision by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Government to lease the settlement and equipment at King Edward point to the Survey for a scientific station and in return the Survey would perform the administrative functions for visiting ships etc.

In 1970 the first of an ever growing number of tourist ships, the Lindblad Explorer, visited the island. The Survey moved out of King Edward Point in 1982 following the Falkland Islands conflict and the British Army maintained a small garrison there until March 2001 when the South Georgia Government opened their research station, operated by the BAS, and the army moved out.

Further reading:

Antarctic Oasis, Under the Spell of South Georgia, by Tim and Pauline Carr. Published by W.W.Thornton & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-393-04605-2 This book offers some of the best photographs of South Georgia, taken at all times of the year, and has an excellent narrative of the Carr's stay on the island for the six years they spent on their yacht Curlew.

The Island of South Georgia, by Robert Headland, published by the Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-25274-1 (hardback) and 0-521-42474-7 (paperback). This book, which I think may be out of print, is well worth a read as it outlines in great detail the history, geography and other aspects of South Georgia.

A final thought ...

We have had too many beautiful sunrises and sunsets to choose one, so instead we'll leave you with an image of our favourite fish so far.... Algie, the Angler.

Deep sea monsters inc. Click to enlarge.

Catch of the week- Algie the deep sea angler fish. Click to enlarge.

Many thanks this week to everyone else for their hard work, and to Martin, Dave and Johnnie for most of the photos.

Next week.......the boys and their buoys

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