What’s left to eat on Day 59?

We’re rapidly reaching the end of the PIPERS Expedition to the Ross Sea. The cruise was planned for 66 days; in the end it looks like it may be 62 days to account for some fuel calculations and a safety margin for weather.

But that’s not all we’re reaching the end of….. In fact, we have seen the last of many of our favorite foods, which we get plenty of on land, but which don’t always last when you spend two months at sea, without a supermarket in sight.   The first things to go are usually the leafy vegetables, and when they go you think, well I won’t miss you that much, because we don’t always consider salad the “best” part of the meal. That’s usually dessert, right?

Out here, things go completely upside down. It’s not uncommon to hear “what I wouldn’t give for a juicy tomato” as someone stops to pick up a slice of cheesecake in the spot where the salad bar used to be. That’s right, we miss you, salad bar! We would gladly get you back, in exchange for our banana cream pie.

Salad bar, toward the end of the cruise.

Salad bar, toward the end of the cruise.

It’s not that we don’t appreciate the desserts or any of the dishes that we get, but there is a variety that we’re used to on land, which doesn’t hold up out here. And PIPERS was a particularly long cruise, so we have run out of a lot of items in the past two months. Like all humans everywhere, the PIPERS participants like to talk about food, so the disappearance of one item or key ingredient, doesn’t go unnoticed for long. There was the day that we ran out of Ketchup. That caught everyone by surprise, because we were only a few weeks into the cruise.   Fortunately, Chef Nena (check out more on Nena) improvised and whipped up some home made ketchup, which was actually better than the Heinz or whatever brand we had before.   There was the day that Corn Flakes ran out. Actually, all the cereal except Trix ran out over the course of a week. Fortunately, Jeffrey the head Chef filled in the gaps with oatmeal, pancakes and plenty of eggs for breakfast, but no more midnight bowls of cereal. I personally breathed a sigh of lament when the raisins ran out.   There was the week that rumors swirled about the yogurt dwindling to nothing – folks were starting to stockpile in their cabins in preparation for the coming famine. It turns out those were just rumors at the time, but the yogurt did eventually go a few weeks later.

The hot foods offer more variety.

The hot foods offer more variety.

All in all, we still have plenty to eat, and it’s not uncommon to put on a little extra weight when we’re at sea, ahem. They feed us three times a day and we can only go at most 300 feet in any direction, so the exercise routine slips a little. In a way, running out of certain foods just makes the prospect of reaching land that more ‘delicious’. The talk of first meals, first beverages, first activities back on land is mostly how we pass the time in the galley these days.   Won’t be long now!

Three more classrooms!

This is an amendment to the first blog post about classrooms.   Julie Parno from CRREL has been aboard the PIPERS cruise, participating in sea ice research, including LIDAR scans of the ice surface (Check out Julie’s previous post here!). Before the cruise, she visited the second grade class of Regina Markus at Gordon Creek Elementary in Ballston Spa, NY. Julie treated the second graders to a slideshow and Q&A session on Antarctica and polar science. Since then she has written the class a letter, which Ms. Markus read out loud to the class. They got a kick out of imagining the ice thickness as extending from the ends of your toes to the bottom of your armpit (definitely thicker than it gets inside most iceboxes).

Julie Parno, visiting with students at Ms. Markus' 3rd grade class.

Julie Parno, visiting with students at Ms. Markus’ 3rd grade class.

Guy Williams has been keeping in touch with a 3rd grad class at Lenah Valley Primary School, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. The teacher, Mrs Frances Williams had the students work through a lesson on graphing sea ice thickness (see photo) and they have produced some gorgeous graphs, which really illustrate how variable the ice is.

The class has been following the progress of PIPERS through the Situation Reports or “SITREPS” that the Marine Projects Coordinator posts every day to the web.


3rd grade students in Mrs. Williams class in Hobart, Tasmania.

3rd grade students in Mrs. Williams class in Hobart, Tasmania.

Guy has also been in contact with kids from Grade 4/5 at Clarendon Vale Primary School, Hobart. The teacher, Ms. Ellen Bregnanti gathered questions that Guy has responded to over the course of the cruise.

A big shout out to all three classrooms, thanks for keeping track of us these last two months!

Two Crew Members Aboard the NBP

We’ve posted a lot about the cool (pun) science and life as a scientist aboard the NBP, but the science party represents less than half of the crew aboard the NBP (actually, we’re called guests). Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), the owner and operator of the NBP, does the majority of its work in the oil service industry. This means servicing drilling platforms and other infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, and Alaska. In this respect, the NBP and the LMG icebreakers are somewhat unique in the ECO fleet. ECO is based in Louisiana, and a lot of the crew live in states that have a coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. This post is about life afloat on the NBP from two members of the NBP crew – AB Jordy Thomas and Chef Nena Donaldson, told by interview.


Nena Donaldson, is a chef and certified in food service preparation. Nena was born in Jamaica, grew up in New York, but now she lives in Florida. She has 6 kids and 5 grandkids. Nena used to work for the Navy. She has a Bachelor’s in legal assistance and a Masters’ degree in criminal justice, but she says that cooking has always been her calling. She started working for ECO as an AB or “able bodied” sea person, but quickly moved from AB to the galley. This is also Nena’s first trip aboard the NBP and to Antarctica. Normally, she is chef aboard boats that home port in New Orleans, LA.


Nena Donaldson, one of the chefs aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer.

Nena Donaldson, one of the chefs aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer.

B: How did you decide to become a chef?

N: I grew up in a home where lots of people cook. My younger sister owns a restaurant. The whole family cooks. I think we each have a gift and mine is definitely cooking. Most of the time it’s rewarding.

B: It must be hard to come up with new ideas for things to cook every day for 65 days, especially as the ingredients start to dwindle.

N: It’s not that bad, but I definitely think about it all the time. When I lay down at night I’m brainstorming about what I might do the next day. Sometimes I go in the galley thinking I’m going to cook one thing, and then I change my mind at the last minute. I cook a lot of different food. People don’t expect it, but I like to cook latin food, tacos, chicken, taco soup, home made salsa. But you also have to work with what you have, and that’s what we do.

B: What is your daily routine like?

N: My shift begins at mid-day and I start to prepare dinner. I always prepare some of the same basics and then I mix in a few other things. Beans and soup are always on the menu; it could be vegetable or cream of broccoli, black beans, pinto beans. Then I always prepare two kinds of meat because I know that not everyone eats red meat. I also like to cook desserts. I make cheesecake with fruit topping, bread pudding, cookies and other desserts.

B: You take good care of the vegetarians and folks with diet restrictions.

N: Yes, I can understand there’s some stuff that I don’t like, and so I know if you don’t eat meat we need to have something that you can eat and you will like.

B: Do you get seasick? How do you cope?

N: (Laughing ) Yes, very much. Sometimes I ask myself, how did you get here and is this what I really want to continue doing? I look like at it as a tradeoff, do I want to be seasick or have a decent salary. The salary usually wins.

B: What were your impressions of Antarctica?

N: I have never seen an ocean that’s frozen, and I was able to walk on that ocean. That was an amazing experience. I took a lots of pictures, so when I tell people I went to Antarctica, if they say ‘nobody goes there,’ I will have proof that I did!


Jordie Thomas, AB and the youngest person afloat on the PIPERS cruise.

Jordy Thomas, AB and the youngest person afloat on the PIPERS cruise.


Jordy Thomas is 22 years old, which makes him the youngest person on the boat. In fact, he turned 22 at sea.   Jordy works for ECO. This was his first time on the NBP, but he has been working for ECO in the Gulf of Mexico on crew boats, construction boats, tugboats and all over the fleet.   This is definitely Jordy’s first trip to Antarctica. How did he end up here?   He says it all happened in the usual way, but he didn’t realize exactly what he was signing up for. The company coordinator said “Hey, we need you on the Palmer, do you want to go? You’ll be working with scientists”. Next thing he knew, he was below the Antarctic circle and walking on sea ice.


B: Where are you from and how did you get come to work for ECO?

J: I grew up in the Bronx, NY, but I live in Houston, TX now. Almost 80% of my family is merchant mariners. I have a brother who works for ECO. I guess you could call it the family business.


B: Is this the longest time you have been at sea?

J:   Yes, the longest time by far. Maybe it was too long (laughing).


B: What do you miss back on land?

J: Driving, I really miss driving. I miss the sound of birds; I miss fresh air.


B: What are you going to do when we get back to NZ?

J: I’m going to sleep a lot, after I get home. But first I’m visiting Auckland, NZ for two days to look around. It’s a clean city; I like clean cities.


B: What do you do in your free time when you’re not working?

J: I read, watch videos and seminars about business. The books I enjoy most are about business. I consider myself a businessman first and a merchant mariner second. When I’m awake, I’m thinking about business.


Jordy says his dream job is to run a company – maybe a merchant marine company. Currently, he is involved in one or two real estate investments, but he says it’s important to diversify. He recently cooked up a deal with his entire family. Collectively, they save $1000 each month until they have accumulated $24,000. Then they will use that money to pay down and refinance the loans the loans that they carry. He calculates the money that they are saving by refinancing and he says tells his family members that’s like paying yourself the difference. If they want, Jordy will reinvest that money for his family members.


B: Last, what impression did Antarctica leave you with?

J:   It was amazing to walk around on the ice. I couldn’t believe it when we stepped off the boat for the first time (see photo). I thought, was this where they filmed Game of Thrones!?

Taking to the Skies

By Kelly Schick

While PIPERS involves primarily water going vessels, the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) team of PIPERS has four unmanned aircraft taking to the skies above the ice.


When conditions allow (both weather and ice), the UAS team treks out to the designated take-off and landing strip to add depth to the PIPERS measurements. After updating flight plans, performing final equipment checks for safety, the call is made up to Air Boss Steve on the bridge that the UAS team is ready for launch. Once Air Boss Steve is notified that we want to launch, the bridge will do one final check to make sure that there’s no interference in the ships equipment from the UAS operations. With that check done, the Air Boss will give the notification to the other teams on the ice to be aware of the flying object in the air and then we are cleared to launch.


The UAS team (ground control, pilot, radio comms and observers) out on the ice

The UAS team (ground control, pilot, radio comms and observers) out on the ice


Ground control (Kelly Schick, U. Colorado and Lettie Roach, NIWA) working in some pretty chilly conditions

Ground control (Kelly Schick, U. Colorado and Lettie Roach, NIWA) working in some pretty chilly conditions



There are two classes of UAS onboard pipers: fixed wing and quadcopters. The quadcopters are launched from the ground, while the fixed wing aircraft get a little push from the pilot’s hand to gain the initial altitude and speed necessary for flight. While the fixed wings look like toy airplanes, they are powerful instruments of science.


Pilot Guy Williams (UTAS) with a fixed wing aircraft

Pilot Guy Williams (UTAS) with a fixed wing aircraft


Pilot Peter Guest (NPS) flying a quadcopter

Pilot Peter Guest (NPS) flying a quadcopter


Within the classes of UAS, they are furthered divided into either Imagery or Meteorological observers. The Imagery UAS work to give an overview of the ice conditions and allow features that are not easily observed from the ground to be resolved. These measurements are combined with the work done from the LIDAR team on the ground and the AUV team underneath the ice to give a complete picture of the structure of the ice flow. The meteorological observers work to understand how the ice modifies the lowest level of the atmosphere called the boundary layer.


Drone’s eye views of the Nathianel B. Palmer in ice station mode

Drone’s eye views of the Nathianel B. Palmer in ice station mode


Another drone’s eye views of the Nathianel B. Palmer in ice station mode

Another drone’s eye views of the Nathianel B. Palmer in ice station mode


While the pilot is in charge of maintaining control and line of sight contact with the aircraft, there is another person (or two) out on the ice for each flight. The ground control person is in charge of the flight plan and communicating to the pilot where the aircraft is in the flight plan, and its condition: altitude, speed and battery voltage. The pilot and ground control person communicate directly with each other, with the ground control person talking to the additional person in charge of radio communications with the bridge. For some of the flights, the ground control person must also update the flight plan to reflect the current latitude and longitude of the landing strip. Due to the natural drift of the ice, it’s important that this information is as up to date as possible when initializing the UAS mission.


PIPERS around the World, in at least 3 languages and two classrooms

Out here in the Southern Ocean, surrounded by ice and darkness, things can get a bit lonely. As we slowly work our way north through the ice, stopping for Belgian Biogeochemical Stations, for Autonomous Underwater Vehicle missions, and to drop buoy arrays, we wait for the sun to rise again, and we daydream about what we’ll do when we get home.

Fortunately, we have been getting regular updates from our friends, family, and followers on land who let us know they are keeping close track of our progress and talking about the life and science aboard the NBP ice breaker.

Thanks to everyone who has sent us messages and posted on the blog. With this post, we want to give a shout out to everyone out there who has been keeping track of our progress! Let me tell you about a few of them.

PIPERS has a West Texas and Mexican Caribbean connection thanks to the work of Annie Wiesling who is completing a PhD in education. Annie hails from the town of Xalaopa in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Her deep roots in the town mean that she is still active in promoting education in Xalapa. Annie has partnered with the Julie Soto who teaches technology at the Escuela Simon Bolivar at the Briones Campus. Starting in 2007, a group of students has been studying polar exploration and sea ice issues. This group (pictured) is about to graduate secondary school, but they are active in making the younger grades at Simon Bolivar interested in polar studies. Together, Annie, Julie and the students maintain a Spanish-English blog titled: http://antarcticnbp17.blogspot.mx. Have a look if you get the chance!

Students at Simon Bolivar school in Xalapa, Veracruz.

Students at Simon Bolivar school in Xalapa, Veracruz.

At the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway (http://uwcrcn.no), foundation year students have been discussing the PIPERS expedition during their English language class. Students at the Red Cross United World College hail from Cambodia, Western Sahara, Thailand, and Nepal. The students posted some excellent questions and PIPERS participant and global modeler Laetitia (Lettie) Roach was corresponding with them through her friend and their teacher.

Celia Sapart, who is Swiss by birth, but currently lives in Belgium as a researcher at the Universite Libre du Bruxelles, is keeping a blog on the PIPERS expedition for friends, family and French speakers alike. You can find Celia’s blog at: http://antarcticoceanexperience2017.blogspot.com

Embracing the Unpredictable

By Kelly Schick

Winter in Antarctica isn’t always auroras and penguins – the chance for high winds, snow and rapidly changing conditions is a real factor that affects our day to day life on the ship. A fair portion of the science during PIPERS is weather condition limited. CTD casts and anything involving a crane, like a zodiac deployments, have wind speed cutoffs to ensure safety of equipment and crew. On ice operations require good visibility in addition to reasonable wind speeds. To complete the desired science, the PIPERS team needs to have a good idea of what weather will be happening and where there might be conditions more conducive to science.


Most sea faring vessels receive a once daily weather condition update that gives estimates of conditions for the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours in the vessels intended operational region. The source of these forecasts varies depending on where the ship is. The Palmer presently receives hers as a SPAWAR report from the forecasting team in McMurdo. The challenge in forecasting for the Palmer is that the vessel is constantly changing position to achieve the scientific goals of PIPERS, and the weather can change dramatically over short distances in space and time. Add in the fact that one of PIPERS goals is study ice production as a result of katabatic wind events (where pools of cool air rush down from higher to lower elevation creating an intense and localized jet) and the weather situation on board the Palmer becomes more intricate.


Dramatic wind speed changes during the peak of a katabatic event as illustrated by the ship’s on board measurement system. PC: Bettina Sohst.

Dramatic wind speed changes during the peak of a katabatic event as illustrated by the ship’s on board measurement system. PC: Bettina Sohst.



Enter the PIPERS forecasting team – John Cassano, based in Boulder at the University of Colorado, and myself, Kelly Schick, also of University of Colorado but presently based on the vessel. We’ve worked out a system where John will email in his review of the latest AMPS (Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System) model run so that his forecast typically arrives before we begin day shift operations. I’m up early in the morning to assess current conditions and prepare a weather briefing to the bridge. Of course, during PIPERS there are operations ongoing twenty-four hours a day. That means that in addition to an update at the nightly science planning meeting I’ll prepare a second briefing for the science groups and the bridge.


While we were in Terra Nova Bay, I would pull down automatic weather station (AWS) data from a network supported by the University of Wisconsin. This enabled us to have a better idea of the timing of katabatic wind events and help communicate their strength to the science team and crew. While I wasn’t brought on board to be “the weather girl”, it’s a role that has become part of my daily routine – and an enjoyable one at that. Through my interactions with the bridge crew I’ve had the opportunity to learn about ship operations, ice characteristics and past experiences in the region while also having some funny moments to lighten up the mood.


Weather in Antarctic is a large branch of an incredibly dynamic system. While the forecast models we use (primarily AMPS – the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System) do an incredible job, there are processes that can’t be resolved in the model due to their small spatial scale. Our experience in the katabatic winds drove home the importance of being aware of the weather as well as emphasizing how quickly conditions can change.


The ship has her own set of meteorological information that streams constantly on the screens in the main lab that allows the changes to be quantified and recorded on a local scale. Due the remoteness of the region we are studying, meteorological data is scarce. In the States, there are multiple radiosonde (weather balloon) launches performed nationwide two or more times per day, along with extensive automatic weather station networks even in relatively remote areas to provide continuous data for live information on conditions and to use for initialization in forecasting models. While there are a few automatic weather stations in Antarctica they tend to be clustered in coastal regions near the main bases. We are very fortunate to have the AMPS models to place our observations in context and hope to understand how weather conditions will develop. The added challenge of piecing together bits of data, different interpretations and watching the science happen in real time makes it more of an adventure.


Murder! In the cargo hold. With a slice of toast.

by Jeffrey Mei

Lying, deceit and paranoia have taken over the ship as friend turns on friend in pursuit of glory as the final survivor.

For the past week, our morale team have put together a game of Assassins. Each participant is assigned another person on board, with a location and a “weapon”, and has to try and concoct a plan to get their target to go to that location where they can be “killed” by a quick tap of the weapon. Weapons can be as concealable as a Sharpie, or as bulky as a gym ball.

Because the game is spanning the crew, scientists and the support staff on board, this has proven to be a good way to get interaction between people who may not normally see each other. “Interaction” here may involve (at least initially) a careful stalking of your target to learn their schedule and/or sleep times…


Bettina, found in the wet lab, murder weapon removed from scene. Murderer still on the loose.

Bettina, found in the wet lab, murder weapon removed from scene. Murderer still on the loose.


I sadly died on day 2 via weather balloon, after amassing a kill streak of 3. The traditional adviser-student hierarchy has been temporarily suspended as the young unapologetically kill the old.

The game continues… May the odds be ever in your favour!

The Copper Rush

By Sam Gartzman, University of Rhode Island

“Fire bottles 23 and 24” is the phrase to know when the CTD is coming on board. The CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) is a water profiling and sampling package that we regularly send down to close to the bottom of the ocean. There are 24 different bottles to collect samples on it and once the last bottles are fired we know it will be on deck soon!

Many of the science groups are interested in the water that we get from the CTD. Everyone rushes to the Baltic Room (the big room where the CTD comes in) with their bottles and caps to get the water before it warms up (many of the properties and gasses are temperature sensitive). However, I am not carting around a box of bottles. I march in with a pile of copper tubes. Now that is odd, what would you use copper tubes for? We are studying the noble gas (Helium-3, Helium-4, Neon, Argon, Krypton and Xenon) concentrations of the water. Since noble gases are largely unreactive we use them to help understand mixing and air to sea exchange. Since some noble gasses can diffuse through glass or plastic we use copper to be able to seal them inside for analysis back in the US.

Recipe for a copper tube sample:
1. Roll out and cut the copper – The copper comes in large rolls. Soon before each cast we will cut a large amount to 24 inches (Two 12 inch samples) and cap the ends to keep the salty air out of the inside of the tube.
2. Flatten a small piece of the copper— As the water warms up in the tube it wants to expand. This way we are shrinking the volume of the tube slightly while the water is cold. After sealing we will re-round the tube to allow for expansion of the water inside. This makes sure the seals stay in tact. When I say flatten we aren’t making it completely flat, but just not as round as it is from the roll.
3. Label your tubes— How are you supposed to know what water went in each tube?!
4. Put rubber tubing on each end of the copper to transfer the water from the CTD bottles (known as niskin bottles) to the copper.
5. TURN UP THE TUNES— To ensure proper copper tube sampling the samplers should be cool, calm and relaxed. Tunes aid in this process.
6. Check the niskin Bottle— Since noble gases are the most sensitive to changes in temperature and atmospheric exposure, we are the first to sample from each bottle. Before taking any water we open the bottle to see if there was a good seal (indicated by no leaking water). If there isn’t a good seal it is unclear if the water in the bottle is actually from that depth and we tend to not use those bottles.
7. Flow water into the copper— The copper tubes are parched and want some good saltwater to cool them off.
8. Get rid of any bubbles— This is the most time consuming part. We take a rubber mallet and knock every side of the tube to push any bubbles out. Although blowing bubbles were one of my favorite childhood activities, bubbles would cause error to the concentrations.


Hey that’s me! I’m knocking out all of the bubbles in the copper tube.

Hey that’s me! I’m knocking out all of the bubbles in the copper tube.

9. Seal the tubes— This is by far the coolest part of the process. We close the ends of the rubber tubing to keep the water inside the copper. We walk over to the cold welding system to seal the tubes. This system is essentially a hydraulic press that has a set of teeth that crimp the ends of the copper shut. The hydraulic pump can apply up to 10,000 psi of pressure so be sure to keep your fingers out!!! We get two samples from each niskin bottle. It makes a pretty cool noise when it crimps too, just in case you were wondering.


The cold weld system that sits in the Baltic Room waiting to seal copper.

The cold weld system that sits in the Baltic Room waiting to seal copper.


10. Repeat steps 6-10 for each bottle being sampled (Typically 8-12 bottles on each CTD cast).
11. Re-round the tubes— As explained in step 2 this will give the sample some room to expand. Right after re-rounding we shake each tube. You know you have a good seal on the tube if it makes a nice popping sound, which are the dissolved gasses in the water filling the extra space in the tube. We make note of the troublesome ones that don’t make this popping noise since they may not have gotten a good seal.


This is the copper before (top) and after being sealed (bottom). Notice the flattened areas on the before copper and how they are re-rounded on the final product

This is the copper before (top) and after being sealed (bottom). Notice the flattened areas on the before copper and how they are re-rounded on the final product

12. Rinse the tubes— Each tube gets a nice warm bath in some deionized water (ew, gross ions) to remove any excess salt water that could cause corrosion.
13. Pack the samples up— Once dry the tubes are packed up in bubble wrap. The corners are quite delicate and sharp so we take extra care to protect them.

PHEW! That was a lot of steps. While it does seem like a lot, it generally goes pretty quickly. Once back in the US these samples will be analyzed on a mass spectrometer, which is able to give high precision measurements of these noble gases of interest.

You can find this recipe and more on channel 73 on Nathaniel B Palmer closed circuit television.

LiDAR ice survey

By Julie Parno

We are about a quarter of the way into our cruise. It being my first, I feel like I am settling in to boat life well. As with any field work, flexibility is key and Mother Nature has the final say. The last couple of days the winds have been too high to get much work done outside so we have had the time to process samples and data, troubleshoot issues with instruments, and catch up on everything from email to laundry.

On our way to Terra Nova Bay, with clearer skies and less wind, we were able to get in two successful ice stations. I have been part of the collective effort to complete the ice physics station. At each station, we use a variety of techniques to map both the surface and underside of the sea ice with the goal of fully characterizing the ice. One of the main campaigns I am assisting with is a LiDAR survey, which provides us with the surface elevation over a 2D grid. For this, I got to step out onto sea ice for the first time and loved it. With the sun just hugging the horizon this time of year, the shadows and colors are stunning, highlighting the texture of the ice surface. Oh, and the bunny boots keeping my feet nice and warm make all the difference.parno_1


The LiDAR survey starts by measuring out a 100 m x 100 m square and setting up 6 highly reflective targets that the LiDAR can easily pick up. We then do 4 scans, one from each corner of the square. Tying all of these scans together, based on our reflective targets, helps to fill in any gaps or holes in the data that occur from “shadowing”, similar to regular shadows we see from the late afternoon sun.


Additional measurements at the physics station are done along a transect, including snow depth, ice thickness, and ice core sampling. To cap it all off, an under ice survey is done with an autonomous underwater vehicle. All of this information will ultimately help relate airborne measurements to actual conditions on the ground, improving modeling and forecasting capabilities.

I feel very lucky to be a part of this immense multi-project effort to better understand sea ice production in this area. Now let’s just hope that the weather cooperates soon so we can get back out on the ice!

Into the Belly of an Ice-Breathing Dragon

By Guy Williams

As I write, we are at ground zero of a hurricane-strength (65+ knots)
katabatic wind event in the Terra Nova Bay polynya [164 21ºE, -75 S].
It is quite incredible to experience such an epic demonstration of
polar ocean-atmospheric interaction. We are so small in comparison to
the forces around us, it feels like we are in one of those cheap dodgy
kayaks from Shiploads that has somehow made its way to the bottom of
Niagara Falls.


NB Palmer from DJI quadcopter.

NB Palmer from DJI quadcopter.

After a couple of weeks of work in the advancing sea ice pack to the
north, we have found ourselves once again strapping everything down as
the winds and waves buffet our progress forwards. This particular
event has now been running for over 24 hours and the ocean is
responding with long streaks of frazil that are over varying width and
over ten metres deep, spawning gazillions of little baby ice pancakes
(pikelets?). It is hard to fathom when it is so cold, but some
back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest over a 1000-1500 watts/m2 of
energy is pouring out of the ocean like some sort of apocalyptic
rapture as the cold, dry atmosphere rips out its tribute.

We had fair warning. On approach to TNB polynya, across the
continental shelf to the north-east, we encountered clues of what lay
ahead. Dragon-scale ice (aka Dragon-skin ice – but let’s face it, that
doesn’t sound as impressive).  Very rare, bizarre, evidence of a
darker chaos in the cryospheric realm. Not seen in East Antarctica
since 2007.  Kilometre after kilometre of larger pancakes all piled
up against each other like a gratin dauphinois gone wrong.
Horribly wrong.


Dragon-scale ice

Dragon-scale ice


Dragon-scale ice

Dragon-scale ice

We will spend the next two weeks in the belly of this ice-breathing
dragon, taking advantage of quiet periods when the katabatics drop off
to observe the increase in salinity of the shelf waters below, a
thirsty recipient of the brine-rejected during sea-ice formation that
rains down to depths below 1000m in the Drygalski trough. Cold and
saline…dense…growing in negative buoyancy relative to the offshore
Southern Ocean, biding its time before its escapes north past Cape
Adare and down into the abyss, injecting new life, and little bit of
dragon’s breath, into the Earth’s global overturning circulation.

Antarctic sunset

Antarctic sunset


Guy (inspired by Peter Sedwick)