Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reflections of a Southern Ocean Storm

Consistent with forecasts from NOAA/NCEP in the US (``Passage Forecast``), winds and waves started to rise during the early evening of 27 March. Stormy weather was reasonably timed, but not necessarily for ideal reasons. Turns out that early morning of 27 March, one of the VMPs (vertical micro-structure profilers) hit the ocean bottom at around 3800m. Well, it remains stuck. This event is not uncommon, but it is quite unfortunate. We were hoping it could dislodge itself through the modest tidal motions down there. However, it remains stuck.

We spent much of the day of 28 March stationed near to the stuck VMP, hoping that it would rise. We also spent that time sitting out the storm. Southern Ocean storms happen on a weekly basis, or even more frequently. Indeed, we may have yet another storm coming through in a few days.

The view from Monkey Island as we were facing the wind.  The ship was relatively stationary, as we were at this time in a wait-and-see pattern to see if the VMP rose and to wait out the storm.  So the fact that the bow pitched so high as to cause bow spray says a lot about the strength of the wind and the swells. Standing atop Monkey Island exposed us to heavy winds, though there is a barrier that diverts the winds overhead. We could thus stand face to the wind without being blown over.  This sort of photo is classic for any oceanographer to show at the start of a seminar presentation. It really is an amazing experience to ride these waves on a research vessel such as the JC Ross. 

Incessant winds and waves

One amazing facet of this storm was the extent of the howling winds. We have witnessed winds upwards of 40-50 knots for nearly 24 hours now (still blowing steady at 40-50 knots as I write!), with the attendant waves and swell. OK, this is not hurricane winds. But for 24 hours and still going! Note that a knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile (1.852 km) per hour, which is approximately 1.151 mile per hour. So a 50 knot wind is 92.6 kph or 57.5 mph.

24 hours at this speed is an amazing amount of energy transferred from the atmosphere to the ocean. It is no wonder that the Southern Ocean is home to the largest ocean swells on the planet, arising from the strong and sustained winds and the infinite fetch (distance over which winds can blow before hitting land). It is also home to the strongest current on the planet, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). We are in fact somewhat south of the ACC now, sitting in the northern portion of the Weddell Sea. Nonetheless, the winds are here, the waves are here, and both are really really powerful. 

The wind-swept sea starting to organize into swell.  Note that foam that is ripped off the tops of cresting waves.

For those interested in wave information, I took the following reading from the ship's instrumentation: maximum wave height 9.3m; significant wave height 6.1m; winds sustained around 40 knots with gusts to 55 knots; position: 61,56 S; 31,40 W. Later in the afternoon, the winds and waves rose further. So my guess is the peak swell was around 11-12 metres and sustained winds 45-50 knots. Another interesting facet of this storm is the absence of heavy rains or snow.  In fact, most of the storm was just wind and diffuse clouds. There has not been much precipitation at all.

By late afternoon of 28 March, the wind swept sea had organized into quasi-regular swells, thus making the rocking and rolling motion of the ship quite impressive. Many of us were so fascinated by the waves and winds that we kept returning to the Monkey Island on top of the ship's navigation bridge to feel the energy, get wind blow frozen, return inside to get warm, then go out yet again.

Another shot from Monkey Island over-look.  Again, note the foam streaks aligned with the wind, and the white caps getting ripped off the crests of waves. At this point, the sky was a pale over-cast, with some moments of sun and blue sky.  But the winds kept howling and the wave swell kept growing.

I learned by trial and error that it is very difficult to capture the essence of a storm at sea using a camera, particularly when safely positioned high above the ship deck. One needs a lower vantage point to properly gauge the size of the waves and strength of the winds. To do so, however, meant moving to one of the lower decks. But that option was unsafe, since every so often a wave would over-top the lower deck railing. So the captain wisely made the lower decks off limits during the storm.

Making a turn to the northeast and surfing downwind

During the afternoon of 28 March, we concluded that it was time to move to the next CTD/VMP section, which was about three hours away to the northeast. Therefore, we reluctantly left the stuck VMP, with a diminishing hope that it will be recovered.

 Moving to the next CTD section meant turning the ship from facing westward into the wind (the wind was blowing from the west and towards the east, which is typical for Southern Ocean winds), to having the ship face nearly downwind towards the northeast. Everyone was warned to put away any loose objects, since there was a good chance objects would fall or fly about during the turn. Those of us on top of the Monkey Island were ready as well, and yes, we were excited!

This photo was taken near to the time when we started to make the turn towards the northeast, and thus downwind. It was an amazing sight to see how the ship rolled as it turned.  But with a heavy ballast in the keel, it remained quite stable.

As the ship turned, we did some wild rolls requiring everyone to hold on, really hold on. Moving across rolling waves upwards of 10 metres requires a deft hand at the steering wheel. During dinner, we asked the bridge officers about the maneuver. They jokingly said they turned the wheel and closed their eyes!

Upon stabilizing in the northeast direction, nearly downwind, the best views were now aft (the rear). What was previously an up down pitching motion facing the wind became a downwind surfing action. The surfing of the ship was astonishing. The wave swells were peaking around 9-10 metres at this point, causing the ship to ride the swell like an experienced surfer. Every few waves appeared to come right up to the lower deck rails, almost swamping the ship. But the ship speed was just right to avoid the wash. Doubtless those on the bridge have done this before.

Many of us on the Monkey Island were fascinated by the how the birds reacted to the storm. Generally, they swooped low to the wave tops, trying not to fly too high so to avoid the bulk of the wind. Rarely did any of the larger birds (albatross, petrels) flap their wings, given the wind that was more than sufficient to keep them aloft.

Besides the real possibility of suffering from motion sickness (I remain fine), a downside of non-stop wave action is the difficulty maintaining a sound sleep pattern. Sleep has come to me in fits and spurts during the past few days. When asking crew about sleep, they sound more upbeat, or merely less concerned.  Perhaps what they have learned to trust that the ship is going to be fine, even as it creaks and moans, and even as the wind keeps howling.  Or perhaps they have learned to let go to the fact that we are simply not in control.  
Yet another photo of the windy sea. Any number of us stood in awe of the wind and waves, staring into the never-ending distance full of white caps, soaring birds, and howling winds. One wonders why we stood there, but we did, fascinated, mesmerized, and deeply reverential to the rawness of these natural forces. It felt like we were certainly visitors. This could not be our home. But we were grateful for the privilege of sharing this place for a brief moment of time. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Basics of a CTD station

A large portion of our duties during this cruise concerns the gathering of data during a "CTD station".  In fact, the CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth recorder) is but one of the measurement devices attached to the Rosette wheel.  The Rosette wheel holds the CTD; two Chi-Pods for measuring temperature variance (an instrument from an Oregon State collaborator Jonathan Nash); two lowered ADCPs (acoustic Doppler current profilers to measure the ocean current velocity, one looking up and one looking down); some thermistors (temperature sensors with more precision than the CTD), and six Niskin bottles (to take water samples for salinity calibration). There are many details that need to be checked before releasing the Rosette to the crew for deployment into the ocean, with steps logged by hand on a sheet specific to each "cast".  

Each step of the process is not complex, but there are many. Fortunately, Carson is a patient teacher. Carson is an engineer tasked with running and fixing electronics related to the scientific instrumentation.  He is in charge of the Rosette and how its instruments take and store data.  We also have Adam and Andy, the two ship IT gurus who help set up the network of computers onboard, which are essential for hosting the data as it is gathered and then analyzed. Everyone has a role, with constant collaboration and interaction necessary to make the whole process work.

Crew handling a Rosette wheel as it is raised onto the deck at the end of a CTD cast. 



Downward cast of the Rosette

The process of placing the Rosette into the water involves some rather tricky work from the ship's winch operators Cliff and Craig.  Imagine a pendulum with a 500kg bob on a steel cable hanging from a crane on a rocking ship. This work requires extreme precision and care not to hurt anyone or destroy the gear (about two or three hundred thousand UK pounds worth of gear!).  We only have one experienced winch operator on the cruise (Cliff), with another (Craig) being trained on the job to allow more hours of CTD casts.

The CTD winch operators Craig and Cliff in their work station in the UIC.  Note the great view out the windows behind them. Their minds are very focused on the task at hand when the CTD is in the water or on deck. 

The Rosette is lowered into the ocean at about 60 metre/minute.  Inside the Unified Instrument Centre (UIC), the scientists (with Carson guiding us, especially during our training periods) monitor ocean properties measured from the Rosette, such as temperature, salinity, pressure, velocity, and oxygen. The data is saved in computer files for each particular cast, to be later analyzed.

We aim to bring the Rosette to within 10 metres of the bottom, without hitting the bottom!  Recall, the bottom is around 4000m-5000m below the ship, with the ship moving up and down with the surface waves.  If the Rosette hits the ocean bottom, it can damage instruments and create lots of head-aches (costing much money and very unfortunate downtime).  To avoid this sort of damage, we monitor acoustic signals that send information back to the ship telling us the distance of the Rosette from the bottom.  We also have alarms to help ensure we are properly monitoring things (important especially for night watches). It is a rather delicate process requiring coordination between the winch operator and the scientists monitoring the bottom sensors.  Both scientists and winch operator are seated nearby in the UIC, making communication very efficient (e.g., "OK, please stop now").

Christian Buckingham (my fearless shift leader) and me (right) looking at some read-out from the CTD in the UIC (unified instrumentation centre), showing us vertical profiles for temperature, salinity, oxygen, radiance, and fluorescence. We are possibly discussing what depths to fire the Niskin bottles as the Rosette is raised toward the surface.

The upward cast of the Rosette

Upon reaching the bottom, we log details such as metres of cable out, depth of the Rosette (not the same given swell and currents), time (GMT), and position (latitude/longitude).  We then "fire" one of the Niskin bottles (i.e., close the bottle top and bottom) to take a sample of seawater at the deepest depth.  "Firing" a bottle requires a signal to be sent to the Rosette to release a spring to close the top and bottom of the bottles.  Before closing, the bottles are fully open to water flowing through them during the cast.  The goal is to have each bottle sample be a pure part of the ocean at that depth, without contamination from water at other depths.  So it is important for the bottles to shut tightly and precisely when told to do so.

After firing the bottom Niskin bottle, the winch operator raises the Rosette wheel towards the surface, again at about 60 metre/minute.  At five more pre-selected depths during the rise, we stop to fire more Niskin bottles to capture further water samples.  Depths for these samples are chosen based on "interesting" features seen in the vertical salinity profile viewed on the downward portion of the cast.

On many cruises, there can be far more bottle samples, determined by any number of pre-selected depth levels, thus making each cast very time consuming indeed.  Our cruise is a process physics cruise, so the high sampling needed for hydrography, chemistry, biology are not taken.  Rather, we are mostly taking water samples to calibrate salinity measurements taken from the CTD (seawater conductivity is a function of salinity and temperature).  The reason for the salinity calibration is that conductivity measurements on the CTD can drift, making it necessary to calibrate the CTD by taking selected water samples.  These samples are later analyzed onboard using the ship's salinometre.

On the deck again

When the Rosette reaches the surface, it is brought back into a covered location off the side of the starboard deck (like a small garage). Various scientists then go downstairs to check their favorite instruments, fill sampling bottles for running through the salinometre (again, needed for calibrating the CTD), and to give the full suite of instrumentation a check to ensure that everything survived the 5000m down/up through the ocean column.  We then re-charge the bottles (snap open the top and bottom latches), hook up the LADCP batteries to the chargers, wipe down other instruments, all in preparation for the next station cast.  The full process of lowering and raising the Rosette takes about three hours depending on depth and number of bottles.

Rosette parked in its garage.  The CTD is the gold cylinder on the bottom center. One of the Niskin bottles is the vertical gray PVC cylinder on the right.  Two ChiPods are on the left. One of the two yellow ADCPs (the downward facing ADCP) is barely visible behind the CTD. Other detectors are spread around.  We only have six Niskin bottles.  On some cruises, the whole Rosette wheel is full of bottles.

What data do we get from a CTD cast?

The CTD cast provides measurements of ocean properties sampled throughout the water column, from near the bottom to the surface.  First and foremost, there is the temperature, salinity, and pressure from the CTD itself.  We can then compute the speed of sound in the seawater from knowledge of the temperature, salinity, and pressure.  Knowledge of the sound speed, and the navigation position, allows one to convert the acoustic information from the upward and downward facing LADCPs into horizontal velocity vector of the ocean current.  Other monitors on the Rosette offer refined information about temperature (i.e., from the very precise thermistors), as well as the ChiPods that measure turbulent properties of the fluid as manifest in the temperature field.  This data for one CTD station will be combined with other stations to offer us a measure of the ocean properties during the days of the cruise.

As these, and other, stations are "reoccupied" over many years, we are able to build up a map of ocean properties from year to year and decade to decade.  Such information then allows us to understand the "climate" (long-term statistical averages) for this region of the ocean.  Variations in the long-term averages then indicate how properties may be changing over decades. For the most part, the dominant long term signal seen throughout the ocean is related to anthropogenic climate warming.  In addition to this long term warming trend, there are many interesting "wiggles" that reflect dynamical processes that oceanographers also like to understand.  

Christian working the CTD instruments, while Alberto (principle scientific officer), Eleanor (his colleague at Southampton University), and Sonya (my colleague at Princeton University) enjoy the view out the window of the UIC. In the background are Peter, Carson, and Andy. 

A few words about watermasses

Much of the art and science of oceanography is related to understanding the dynamics of ocean "watermasses".  Watermasses are largely defined by their temperature and salinity properties, as well as properties such as oxygen and nutrient content, or dynamical properties such as potential vorticity.  As water encounters the surface in the high latitudes, such as near the Antarctic continental shelves, the waters are exposed to powerful winds (such as Katabatic winds blowing from the Antarctic continent), as well as heat, fresh water, and salt fluxes from the atmosphere, rivers, ice shelves, and sea ice.  These property fluxes imprint themselves on the seawater (the water has a memory).  Indeed, the seawater can maintain elements of these properties as they sink into the ocean abyss and travel for thousands of kilometres throughout the ocean interior.  Antarctic  Bottom Water (AABW) is the canonical example for the southern hemisphere.  Indeed, AABW is the densest water on the planet, filling the bottom of many of the ocean basins around the world. Understanding the history and dynamics of such watermasses becomes a compelling aspiration when watching the computer screen register information from the Rosette such as the temperature, salinity, and oxygen.

In the Weddell Sea, one of the first identifiable water masses we encounter is the very cold water (less than 0C) that originates from near Antarctica, and which lives in the upper 100-200m of the column. This water originates from the previous winter, and is known as the "Antarctic Winter Water" layer.

Just below the Winter Water lives a huge plug of water that last felt the atmosphere somewhere in the North Atlantic about one or two centuries ago, and has been moving southward ever since.  When it reaches the Southern Ocean, this water is known as the "Circumpolar Deep Water" (CDW).  CDW is one or two degrees Celsius warmer than Winter Water, and it is generally above 0C.

Schematic figure illustrating some of the many processes and pathways for water moving around the Southern Ocean. Understanding these processes is a central focus of Southern Ocean physical oceanography, and the role it plays in the global climate system.  This image is taken from a Physics Today paper by Morrison, Frolicher, and Sarmiento (2015), written for an audience of physicists with little knowledge of oceanography.
One reason oceanographers are interested in CDW is that it can impress itself against portions of the Antarctic shelf.  The presence of this relatively warm CDW layer next to the coast allows it to exchange its heat with ice shelves that rim the Antarctic continental shelf.  As with ice in a cup of water, heat from the liquid water readily melts the ice shelves.

Through various features of anthropogenic climate change, scientists have determined that CDW is a major player in the dramatic loss of ice shelf mass seen around much of Antarctica during recent decades.  This loss of ice on the ice shelves then acts like the removal of a cork stopper from a bottle, thus allowing for ice from the continental ice sheets to move downstream towards the ocean.  This process then contributes to sea level rise, accounting for a growing fraction of the sea level rise measured around the planet.  Another source for sea level rise is the warming seen in the AABW (formed on the continental shelves).  There are many ideas for why the AABW is warming. One leading idea is related to changes in Southern Hemisphere winds moving waters around the Weddell Sea, with this idea one of the motivations of this cruise.  

In general, it is vitally important for scientists to determine the potential for sea level rise, whatever the reason. Consequently, it forms a key mandate for ongoing research into fundamental ocean processes such as those in the Southern Ocean being investigated on this cruise.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Coronation Island

We had an unusual task on 21March. Another British research ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, had an AB ("able body seaman") to transfer to our ship. We met the Shackleton next to an iceberg near Coronation Island, which is part of the South Orkney Islands. This task was quite exciting for the scientists. First, we got to see a zodiac speed from the Shackleton to the Ross, bringing the AB and his gear to our ship. Next, and the most highly anticipated part of the day, was gaining a view of Coronation Island.
An iceberg in the distance, with a lee-wave cloud formation. It was a black/white photo day, prompting me to play around with the filters available on the Mac Photo application.
Just prior to Coronation Island, we saw a whale (likely a humpback) approach the ship, just checking us out. I found it splendid to see the excitement of everyone, even the veteran scientists, when the whale approached. We also saw more swimming penguins. And then, we caught sight of our first iceberg in the far distance. Needless to say, this was not our last berg!

A Minke or Southern Right whale through the UIC window (photo from an iPhone taken by Christian Buckingham)
Note the bluish colour of the iceberg, and bergy bits in the foreground.
Coronation Island in the distance, with sun trying to poke through the clouds, offering a mysterious otherworld look to the photo.
Land viewed on our cruise is treasured, since we are focusing on open-ocean research questions and thus in general not getting very close to land. Although cloudy and a bit rainy, Coronation Island offered us splendid views. This island has massive mountains that are being eaten alive by huge glaciers spilling into the ocean. Everyone's spirits were very high as we experienced the beauty, remoteness, and power of Coronation Island. Heart openings were easily realized in the presence its pristine and raw natural forces, even when standing on the deck of a metal ship with rumbling diesel engines many miles away from shore.

A view of Coronation Island with a mountain and glacier spilling into the ocean.
Another photo of my favorite iceberg pair, this time in black/white.
RRS Shackleton with a zodiac awaiting our arrival.  Note some of the crew members on the back deck.
The absence of any civilisation, prior to 19th and 20th century explorers and scientific camps, makes the Southern Ocean, its islands, and the Antarctic continent, an extremely unique place on the planet. I have read about those heroes who explored here in sailing ships, and have spoken to colleagues who have been here on oceanographic cruises similar to this one. To actually be on a cruise here, and to witness the wonder, is beyond words for me, and at times quite emotional.

Coronation Island was an opportunity to experience the gratitude each person on ship has for being on this cruise. Regardless the whys and hows of each person's role, everyone appreciates the incredible privilege we have to experience the planet at its essence. Even when it is cold, wet, rough, and dark, each person is cleansed by the sea, sky, clouds, ice, and land.

Many of the photos shown here are best viewed, in my opinion, in black and white.  There were not many colours during the cloudy day.  But the light was still wonderful, and the purity and simplicity of the land, ice, ocean, and sky made for some dramatic views. I wonder what sort of photos Ansel Adams could produce had he been here!

In just the one week of my being here, I have felt deeply invigorated. My body has felt the wind, really felt the wind! My mind is pondering the research questions while a bit overwhelmed with the idea of floating on top of a swelling and rolling 5km column of cold and circulating ocean fluid. My heart is tasting a piece of pure and raw existence that cannot hide itself even when surrounded by engines, computers, fluorescent lights, and metal. Words and pictures can only offer a tiny semblance of being here.
An appreciative and wind-blown blog author, with Coronation Island in the background.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kurt`s Mooring

Our first major science task on the cruise was to deploy a mooring for Kurt Polzin from Woods Hole. Kurt is in hopes of placing the mooring in a region of active deep ocean turbulence. For this purpose, he chose a spot at 60S near the South Orkney Islands. If this is indeed a region of active turbulence, the measurements will help to understand how waters mix in the deep ocean, and how this mixing transforms (changes) water properties (e.g., temperature, salinity, carbon, oxygen) as the water moves northward into the South Atlantic.

Basics of oceanic internal waves

Much of the deep ocean turbulence is initiated by astronomical tidal forcing that move columns of seawater across rough bottom passages, such as in the South Orkney Island chain. As this "barotropic" motion (coherent motion from top to bottom of the ocean, like a 5km skyscraper of water) encounters the rough ocean bottom, some of the barotropic energy is converted to "baroclinic" gravity waves through interactions (i.e., bumping into) the ocean bottom topography.There has been extensive research into this process during the past few decades. But there remains a lot of mystery, largely due to the extreme difficulties of direct ocean measurements of the processes.

Baroclinic gravity waves are akin to surface waves we see from a boat, only they are inside the ocean interior.  They are undulations of the stratified density surfaces, and they oscillate due to gravitational forces acting on different layers of seawater buoyancy. Imagine oil on top of water, and gently shake the container. You have just created internal gravity waves in the kitchen! For this reason, some like to call these waves "internal gravity" waves, which sounds a bit less sophisticated than the rather technical term ``baroclinic''. But they are really the same thing, just different names. 

Internal gravity waves generally interact with one another, as they are created all over the place, propagating around the ocean interior. Imagine waves emanating from two pebbles thrown into a pond, with the interacting waves creating a mishmash of constructive and destructive interfering waves. Besides interacting with one another (``wave-wave interactions``), internal waves also bounce off the bottom topography, and that can further impact their properties (e.g., wave length, amplitude).  

When internal waves steepen, they can break in a way that creates turbulent mixing. Think of the breaking white caps on the ocean surface, or breaking waves on the beach, only now these internal waves are 1000s of meters in the ocean interior. Or think of the oil/water bottle, and shake it vigorously.  When internal gravity waves break, they can mix very very large masses of water, like mixing a huge pot of the oceanic soup.

The dynamics of internal gravity waves and the mixing associated with gravity wave breaking are very interesting physical phenomena that intrigue physical oceanographers. Their impacts are also quite important for how the ocean works, such as how much heat and carbon are mixed into the ocean interior.  Hence, these processes have a very important role in how the ocean fits into the global climate system.  

To help better understand the physics of deep ocean mixing, Kurt has placed some ultra-sensitive devices along his mooring to measure flow and various turbulent fluid properties. He hopes to measure some of these "mixing events" occurring when waves break. The bulk of Kurt's instruments are within the bottom 1000m-2000m of the ocean bottom, where most of the interesting turbulent mixing is presumed to exist. Results from Sonya's computer model provided nice confirmation of the deep mixing in the proposed mooring location.
Kurt Polzin on the back deck watching the deployment of his mooring. Note the yellow plastic balls near his feet, which are floats to be strung near the top of the mooring.

What is a mooring?

A mooring is basically a long cable with any number of instruments attached at selected vertical positions. It extends from the ocean bottom (anchored with a huge weight, such as a piece of iron) to near the surface. There are floats (glass balls surrounded by hard yellow plastic containers) attached to keep the mooring vertically positioned. Kurt is very proud of his mooring given its very high precision instruments to measure current properties. He has 21 velocity sensors and 11 temperature sensors strung along the mooring, extending from the ocean bottom to around 2000m above the ocean bottom.

We reached the mooring deployment site on Tuesday, 21 March  near the South Orkney Islands. The mooring will stay in the ocean for about 40 days, after which time we will recover it on the way north near the end of the cruise. One of the uncertainties in this science is whether all of the measurement devices will stay in working order throughout the deployment, and how readily we can recover the information saved when sitting on the ocean bottom.

Deploying Kurt's mooring

Back deck with the mooring floats (yellow balls) and the crew getting things organized. Kurt is on the right (yellow jacket) and Andy is near the centre with the red jacket. They sky was clear but the winds were blowing and the air near freezing.
The process of deploying a mooring is nontrivial to say the least. It involves many of the ship's most experienced crew, as well as a top-notch ocean tech, Andy Davies, from Woods Hole who came on the cruise with Kurt. Povl Abrahamsen from BAS is also onboard.  He is an expert at deploying moorings, having been the principle scientist on the previous DynOPO cruise two years ago where he organized the deployment of other moorings that we will recover later in this cruise.

The overall aim is to have instruments placed at selected positions on a cable that is about 4000-5000m long. That is 4-5km!! It is a very long cable, taking many hours of careful winch operation, instrument placement, float placement, etc., all while standing on the back of a ship exposed to the rolling sea. We had plenty of waves on the ocean surface during deployment due to a strong wind (a rather normal occurrence for this part of the world). At least the sky reasonably clear.

Those near to the back deck doing the bulk of the mooring work wear safety cables in case they are swept into the ocean. At our location, the sea surface temperature is very close to freezing. Unprotected, a person will live no longer than a 3-5 minutes in that water. So it is simply NOT an option to fall overboard. Hence, there are heaps of safety precautions, including the cables attached to the work clothes. I took GoPro time lapse of some portions of the mooring deployment, at least for as long as I could withstand the winds and cold standing outside the UIC lab.

After a number of hours, Andy, Povl, and the crew successfully deployed the mooring. Now, we hope it will take a full suite of measurements for the next 40 days, with a successful recovery toward the end of the cruise. Fingers crossed!

Andy (red jacket and gray hat) leading the mooring deployment.  Note the train of yellow floats now in the water. At this point, the ship steamed ahead for about 1km, extending more cable out. Then, instruments were placed at selected positions along the cable. When all the instruments were attached, the anchor was then attached and thrown over. As the anchor fell to the bottom, the mooring line became vertical, with the yellow floats about 2km below the ocean surface. In 40days, we will return to this location to recover the mooring instruments.  We will do so by sending an acoustic signal to the anchor hook, releasing the anchor so the floats will rise to the surface. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A taste of the science

I stood for about an hour on the Monkey Island overlook (above the navigation bridge). I was unsure where the sea stopped and the sky started. It is rather meditative to watch and feel the swells, and to follow the albatross as they skim the wave tops.
First Argo float deployed on 19 March
The main science room on the ship consists of an open space with computers and large flat tables with maps and charts. There are broad windows looking out to the back deck where the gear is stored and thrown overboard. It offers a great view of the ocean and makes you feel like a real ocean scientist!

Unfortunately, we are unable to turn on any measurement devices until outside of Argentinian waters, such as the ship's ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profiler, to measure current velocity), as we did not get clearance for such measurements. There are in fact heaps of territorial issues that oceanographers must consider when studying the oceans, requiring lots of diplomatic prep-work. 

The daily work schedule will start Tuesday morning, March 21. It will be split into eight hour shifts. I have the "civilized" schedule, from 8am to 4pm. I will be learning about my duties over the next days, which will be a combination of manning the measurements and performing basic quality control data analysis.

Yesterday, 18 March, we had a brief discussion about the ADCP mounted to the ship's hull and the two ADCPs attached to the rosette wheel along with the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth devices) and measurement bottles. ADCPs work by sending out pulses of acoustic waves into the ocean along two distinct beams. The acoustic wave packets then scatter from small objects in the water, such as plankton, with some of the energy returning to the ship or to a lowered instrument. Through knowledge of the sound speed and other geometric properties, one can perform an inverse calculation (algorithm for the rosette mounted ADCP due to a colleague Martin Visbeck in Germany; the ship-board ADCP uses another method making use of GPS) to determine the ocean current velocity vector.
Title from Alberto's lecture today
Two Argo floats in their crates

Today (19 March) we had 2.5 hours of science discussion, led by Alberto with presentations also from Povl, Sonya, and Kurt. I will try to summarize some of it in a later post. The discussion was partly for the crew, so they could understand what science is being done on the cruise, but mostly turned into a general science discussion among the oceanographers. We are about 80% set on the details of the cruise, with the other 20% flexible, depending on weather and sea ice. We wish to avoid the sea ice, as it makes most of our work difficult if not impossible. To our advantage, this year has been among the lowest sea ice extents recorded, so there should be ample time to do our job. But the season is changing, with autumn bringing rapid growth of sea ice, so we may in fact need to alter the schedule. The most likely reason to alter schedule will be the normal synoptic weather patterns that pass through the Southern Ocean every 3-5 days, bringing yet another storm with rough seas. We have yet to encounter a storm, though forecasts suggest Tuesday will be rough.

Later in the afternoon today, we did our first deployment of an Argo float. There are a total of four to deploy during the cruise, which will add to the nearly 4000 such floats around the planet. Argo floats record basic properties of the ocean such as temperature, salinity, pressure, from the surface to 2000m depth. They send signals to satellites every 10 days. These floats have a finite lifetime (few years), so it is desirable for research cruises to deploy a handful in order to keep the array strong. These floats are the main method used to determine how much the ocean is warming due to human effects. They are quite simple to deploy: merely remove them from their crate and toss overboard. I will have the privilege of doing so myself in a few weeks.

Stephen (me) on deck with a VMP (details in a later post)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cruising along the southeast continental shelf of South America

Just about to leave Punta Arenas
Dolphins escorting us out to sea
Outside the rear cargo hold
Navigation bridge

We are "sailing" along the eastern continental shelf towards the south east tip of South America, inside of Argentinian waters. We left Punta Arenas via the eastern route, sailing into the South Atlantic on our way across the Drake Passage. We were accompanied by a school of dolphin on our way out of the harbor. Some came along side the boat for a free surf ride. I suspect they wanted a faster ship as they soon departed. Nonetheless, everyone was pleased with this positive omen for the cruise.

Before we left Punta Arenas, Alberto (chief scientist) and Eleanor Frajka-Williams (another Southampton oceanographer on the cruise) were interviewed by the Chilean TV news. They spoke about Boaty McBoatface and other aspects of the cruise. You can watch the video by clicking here. Unfortunately, given the slow internet speed, we cannot view it until returning to land.

Port side, looking out to sea.
The waves create a gentle, though sometimes large, rocking motion to the ship. Walking through the corridors, one is continually reminded of why there are hand railings everywhere: it is tricky to walk a straight line. I also now realize why none of the chairs have wheels. It is furthermore important to remember to keep objects secure when leaving cabins, as the swell can topple most anything left insecure.

Coat of arms w/ motto: Research and Discover
I have thus far had zero problems with motion sickness. Part of the reason is that the swells have been relatively mild compared to what they could be in this region. Nonetheless, I took two Dramamine yesterday upon departure, and two this morning. They generally make me a bit sleepy, but not too groggy. I am also wearing acupressure wrist bands, and sucking on ginger candies. Hopefully my internal equilibrium will adapt sufficiently in a day or two so that further use of these aides will be unnecessary. One can always hope.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Impressions from my first day on the ship

Name on the Scientist 7 cabin door

This is my first day on the JC Ross (JCR as folks call her).  I slept well last night in the top bunk of the "Scientist 7" cabin, which has a couch/bed underneath.  Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I have a private cabin and bathroom. My name is even written in a very fancy font next to the cabin door (see photo above)! Great welcoming!

From the Scientist 7 bathroom

The room has a single window, which cannot be opened (thankfully, as I would be unhappy to forget to close it during rough seas!). The window offered a nice morning view of the sunrise across the coast.  I presume it will also provide a front row view of the raging Southern Ocean swell and breaking waves splashing against the window!  The gentle roar of the engine, as well as the ventilation, helped me sleep rather soundly.

I was also pleasantly surprised that my "Kit Bag", sitting on the bed upon arrival, had just about all the warm clothes and work gear that I need, with every item brand new!  Some of the gear has a Union Jack with "BAS" (British Antarctic Survey) emblazoned. They also provided a Buck Knife, familiar to me as a kid.  I put it to use removing tags from the new clothes, and then proceeded to test it on my finger, thus reminding me that I forgot to bring band-aides! Fortunately there are plenty onboard.
Desk and window
Work clothes from the Kit Bag
Some items from Kit Bag
Many of the British scientists came into Punta Arenas on the same flight from Santiago.  The 3hour flight was spectacular, with heaps of southern Andes views (volcanoes, massive glaciers, and amazing cloud formations).  I was certainly pleased to have a window seat. Upon arrival, we took a shuttle from the airport to the ship, arriving onboard around 5:45pm.

The JCR is docked in the harbour just across from another polar research vessel from Brazil.  There are a number of scientists and engineers onboard the cruise, as well as crew members.  I estimate about 80 people total. Each ship member has their name listed on a big board next to the gang plank. We use this board to indicate whether we are on the ship or on shore, changing our name from green to red accordingly.
The JC Ross in the Punta Arenas harbour
Starboard side lifeboat; fully enclosed to protect from weather

About 12 of the scientists walked into town for a meal last night. Punta Arenas is an outpost town at 53S.  I saw a few outfitters for people visiting the local parks and going further south.  There are also statues of famous explorer/navigators (e.g., Magellan), and other images of the south.
Magellan on top of aboriginals in Punta Arenas
Povl (an oceanographer who has been on roughly 20 research cruises, many on the JCR!)  gave me an informal tour of the ship this morning (a formal tour will be given by the ship's purser in a day or two). Povl showed me around the meal room (where I had 7am breakfast), officers/scientists lounge (for socializing), library/meeting room, laundry room, navigation bridge (where the captain works), monkey's nest (top spot on the ship, with great views when not too cold), cargo holds with moorings and other research equipment, science laboratories, workshops, and many other sleeping cabins.  I met the captain on the bridge.  He seemed quite aware of the ship's every breath. 

Ship passenger/crew board (red=onshore, green=onboard)
The internet situation is just as I imagined: reliably slow.  My plan is to draft the blog on my laptop, then transfer it to the internet on one of the workstations that has a connection.  I hope that works, but it may prove tough given the slow upload speeds.  I spent a few hours today figuring out how to transfer photos from the cell phone to the laptop.  I needed to download some software from the internet, and then debug it using Google.  All that would have taken 10 minutes at home, but took much longer here.  Photos on this page are from the phone. I hope to start using the Climate Central SLR later today, with those photos readily transferred to the laptop and then to a 2Tb drive via a cable.

I was happy to learn that the Climate Central GoPro will be put to official use for the cruise.  The plan is to attach it to a long pole to video the maiden voyage of Boaty McBoatface as she enters the water. I hope that works!

I had personal time today, during which I spent on this blog and will now take a walk into town to tour around a bit, savouring my last full day near land for 8 weeks. A group will go again tonight for dinner in town.  We leave at 5pm on 17 March.  Our exit from South America is through the eastern channels, which is a more direct route for our cruise but less scenic than the western route.  Nonetheless, it will be a thrill to me whatever the cruise path! 

Finally, note the US/UK spelling in this blog, as the ship's workstation has a spell-checker based on UK English...

JC Ross around 10pm on 15March in Punta Arenas. She is a magnificent research vessel!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Departure from Princeton

Here are two photos with my family "good-bye" on 13 March from the Princeton Junction train station. It was a cold day, a few hours before a snow storm hit. I will dearly miss Adi & Francisco!  

I have a suitcase full of clothes (lots of layers), vitamins, and power snacks. The snacks and vitamins add heft to the load, as did the Tom's of Maine toothpaste! The backpack has electronics, including a GoPro and camera on loan from Climate Central. The hand-bag has a laptop and iPad along with a few papers to read and some note pads (including a new journal gifted to me from Carolina, a Princeton post-doc).  The fanny pack has my cell phone, glasses, and other handy items.  Somewhere in this gear I have a pocket knife, flashlight, scissors, small pillow,  etc. It has been a long time since I traveled with so much gear! Alas, no Whole Earth Center or REI, or any other store for two months made me err on the side of heft!

The flight to Santiago de Chile was uneventful.  I made it through customs with my bag full of snacks, still packaged so the agents were not concerned even with the peanuts.  They did open the bag of ginger candies and scrutinize it closely.  I wonder if they see this sort of stuff a lot from scientists en route to the south.

During the flight to Santiago I took some Andrographis that Adi prepared to help my immune system. I have a good number of Adi's concoctions loaded into my suitcase to help keep away colds and motion sickness (lots of ginger in many forms!) while on the trip!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Boaty McBoatface and DynOPO on the BBC

I am awaiting my United Airlines flight from Newark to Houston, connecting to an overnight flight from Houston to Santiago de Chile.  In anticipation of our cruise, the BBC has a nice article and brief video (click here for link) about the science to be conducted.  One novel feature of the cruise is the inaugural use of Boaty McBoatface to sample water properties and processes in the Orkney Passage.  I wrote about Boaty in a blog post on 24 October, 2016.  At that time, I did not realize Boaty is painted yellow, hence he is a real ""yellow submarine".  Besides offering a nice video about Boaty at his Southampton home, there is a brief sketch in this article about the science questions motivating the cruise.  

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Princeton departure now set for 13 March

Princeton is forecast to be hit by a snow storm on 14-15 March, making travel quite difficult.  With great help from Lisa Allen at GFDL, I have thus moved my departure to 13 March, which removes a great stress on being able to get to the ship on time. I will spend a night at a hotel in Santiago de Chile on 14 March, then leave for Punta Arenas mid-day on 15 March.  Other scientist will also stay the night in Santiago.  

It has been a whirlwind of little and big tasks to complete prior to departure.  Doubtless there will be tasks that must await my return. But thankfully, most of my projects are in a reasonably stable "holding pattern".  

One management nugget I learned 15 years ago in management training is to "nurture your obsolescence as a manager".  I take that lesson to mean I should nurture those in my circle who can do well in my absence.  That is, if things fall apart when I am not around, then I am not a good manager, mentor, or collaborator.  I am certainly testing my success in realizing this aspiration by taking this trip! 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Just over a week before departure

There is now clarity regarding my travel schedule.  I leave Princeton on 14 March for Punta Arenas, Chile, with arrival about 24 hours later on 15 March.  I will be shuttled from the airport to the ship (no hotel needed), where we will settle and prepare for ship departure on 17 March.  

My preparations in Princeton have largely focused on gathering necessary gear: medications/vitamins (heaps of ginger and Dramamine for motion sickness), books and papers onto my laptop, and clothes.  I have been feverishly working to finish a number of research projects, or at least to bring them into a stable holding pattern.  Alas, many projects will undoubtedly remain incomplete, but that is to be expected since research is never complete. 

I also spent a few days in late February with family and friends skiing in New York State (Hunter Mountain). We had a great time, particularly since my son Francisco is now able to go down most slopes with me.  He is a very good ski partner. Perhaps next year we can venture to a more significant mountain, such as Vermont or out west! 

Many people have asked what I am most excited about. That question is not easy to answer.  I am, in fact, trying to avoid imagining one thing or another.  Indeed, I am very much uncertain about many details. Instead, I am content to be surprised, and no doubt there will be many (hopefully all good!).  Nonetheless, I know it will be tough work; life will be less than comfortable; and there will be many many days of long shifts working with the experiments and taking measurements. I am the newbie among a group of stellar and experienced seagoing oceanographers. So it will be time to drop any pretense that I am "smart". Instead, I will be a student, yet hopefully not all "thumbs". More generally, I am excited about being on the open ocean and doing work to help better understand the ocean.  

I am also longing for a significant time away from electronic communication, the type where people expect an immediate answer.  Eight weeks with minimal communication options will, I hope, offer  the opportunity to fully engage in the work at hand; interact with other ship mates without needing to worry so much about other appointments; read for hours on end; or simply take in the view and shot some photos and videos.  All of this activity will take place without interrupting to check email! 

Some of my fondest memories of graduate school (1988-1993) relate to those days spent immersed in study, with interruptions generally limited to eating and sleeping. Email was checked at most once a day, and only for those days when I went to the laboratory where the computer sat. Will that sort of focus and presence be available on the ship? No doubt the quiet of my graduate school apartment room will be missing: research ships are not quiet. But the absence of an expectation that "Griffies will respond to this email message very soon" will, I presume, liberate me from the nagging thought that I must not disappoint that expectation.  Granted, I appreciate that much of my work requires rapid communication to keep collaborations strong. I furthermore greatly enjoy being able to meet with colleagues in Australia as if they were next door.  Skype, Slack, and email are routinely part of my work life.  But to step out of that communication web for a significant time will be, as I said before, somewhat liberating.

Furthermore, I will also remain happily ignorant of constant updates of the daily news feed. The world will continue its drama. Yet my drama will be for most part localized to a ship in the Southern Ocean with a handful of people trying to survive with some comfort;  having some fun while doing their job; and to learning a bit about how the planet works.  Even so, I have no doubt that news of major events will filter through to the ship.