September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Dispatch: Antarctica

Posted: Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Hello CSTA!AnneMarie Wotkyns

My name is Anne Marie Wotkyns and I am a 4th grade teacher at J. B. Monlux Math Science Technology Magnet School in North Hollywood.  I am a PolarTREC teacher currently living and working aboard the Oden, a Swedish icebreaker in the Amundsen Sea, in the Southern Ocean in the Antarctic.  Here is some information and journal entries about my first 12 days on the ship.

My team’s primary objective for this expedition is to collect sea ice physical data and install remote buoys to collect information in regions of the Amundson and Ross Seas, some of the least studied regions of the world.  We will be involved in four main activities once we reach the sea ice:

1. Hourly sea ice observations from the bridge.  Working in 4-hour overlapping watches and later 3-hour solo watches; we will use the ASPeCt protocol to record information about ice type and concentration, floe size, topography, snow type and thickness, and visible water.  These visual observations will be supplemented with photographic images taken from an automatic digital camera in a special housing mounted on the deck directly about the bridge.

2. EMI (electromagnetic  induction) measurements.  Once the appropriate ice floes are detected, the ship will stop for six to eight 8-hour stations and four 24-hour stations.  Our research team will go out onto the ice to conduct our work.  The EMI is a hand-carried device which sends and receives electromagnetic waves to measure the ice thickness over a determined transect.  We will collect this data, as well as share it with the other research teams to help them choose appropriate research site.

3. LiDAR mapping—Light Detection and Ranging.  LiDAR uses active illumination and reflection on a landscape to produce a realistic, three-dimensional model of a given area.  We will set up an area of 250 square meters with eight reflective “targets” on tripods.  A rotating laser scans 360 degrees and uses the reflected light to create a 3D “picture” of the target area.  This will be one of the first attempts to use LiDAR on a floating surface (i.e., an ice floe).

4. Installing two Ice Mass Balance buoys and two GPS/thermal buoys at four different sea ice sampling stations.  At these stations, we will also be taking ice cores to measure physical properties and ice structure, measuring ice thickness by drilling and EMI, and snow sampling to collect data on depth, density, oxygen isotopes, grain sizes, and stratigraphy.  These buoys are actually metal frames which hold a variety of instruments which collect and transmit data such as air/water/sea ice temperature and GPS geolocation for up to two years as the buoy travels on the ice floe.

We have been issued our “floating coveralls”—insulated one-piece jumpsuits AnneMariewith a built-in floatation device.  We’ll wear them whenever we are out on the ice.  And, wow, are they warm!  We’ll also wear big sno-boots and carry a ship’s phone and a walkie-talkie, so we will be well connected with the ship and our science team.

Dec. 12, 2010

As the Oden continues sailing southwest, we are working on new tasks and work assignments.  Yesterday was a busy work day as Sea Ice Team Leader Blake Weissling  prepared a science presentation to share with all onboard after dinner last night, and I presented a brief overview of the PolarTREC program.  We crossed  the Antarctic Circle (below 66.5 South) and could see icebergs and bergy bits in every direction.  It is amazing how large they are and how the ice appears to change colors as the sun hits it from different angles.

As one large bergy bit, or ice floe,  was approaching, someone noticed little black dots on it.  Yes—PENGUINS!!  There were about 40 chinstrap penguins on the ice, and as the day progressed we saw more swimming in the water.  They could be seen swimming away from the ship, porpoising in and out of the water, moving very quickly.  I was amazed at how they propelled their bodies out of the water and the speed at which they travelled.

Yesterday afternoon, we began to see a thin white line on the horizon, and as icethe Oden got closer we realized it was the edge of the sea ice!  That’s what we’d been waiting for!  It was amazing—you could see a “tiny” wall of ice appear way ahead of us, and as it got closer and closer, it was really ice floes of different sizes close together.  As the ship goes through this field of ice floes, pieces crack and bob and flip over, revealing the yellowish tinge of ice algae that grows on the bottom layer.  There are still lots of icebergs all around—some have cool blue streaks running through them, and when the swells reach the icebergs they crash in big waves, just like waves on the shore.

Ocean water (salt water) begins to freeze at -1.8 degrees C, and as it freezes it goes through several different ice types, from a greasy looking film on the water called grease ice, to roundish discs called pancake ice, to actual ice floes big and thick enough for people to walk on.

Dec. 15, 2010

We’ve started our hourly ice observations.  We are following the ASPeCt protocol to record a variety of detailed observations of ice type and coverage, as well as meteorological observations.

Last night, I bundled up and went out on the bow to see the ice—it was AMAZING!  I could hear each piece as the ship crushed through it or over it.  We are now in 24 hours of daylight.  The sun appears to move across the sky and dips toward the horizon, but does not go below the horizon.  The next true sunset in this area won’t occur until mid-February.

Later today I’ll be calling a school in Texas to speak to a class—I am looking forward to sharing my impressions of this experience so far.  Hopefully the satellite phone connection will work well for us.  Don’t forget to post your questions and comments on the “Ask the Team” section of the PolarTREC website.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!  The ship is hoping to reach thicker sea ice this afternoon, with floes large enough to tie up to so we can conduct our first sea ice station.  We need ice about 1.5 meters or more in thickness, and very large floes—200 square meters or more.  So far we haven’t reached that type of ice, so onward we cruise.  In the past few hours, we’ve spotted three Adelie penguins, an Emperor penguin, and a crab eater seal, so I have plenty of welcome distractions as I type my journal entries!

December 16, 2010

Today was like Christmas and my birthday all wrapped up in one—the BIG day finally arrived.  I went out on the Antarctic sea ice!

When I went to bed last night, the Oden was entering thicker sea ice, with bigger ice floes and less water showing between the floes.  We were looking for a floe much larger than the Oden, with ice 1-2 meters thick, to tie the ship to so the different teams could safely collect their snow, ice, and water samples and our team could map and measure the sea ice thickness.  I knew I needed to try to get a good night’s sleep, but it is so hard to go to sleep down here.  The unofficial term for this sleeplessness is “Big Eye.”  There is no darkness to tell your body it’s time to sleep, and everywhere you look outside there’s something new and amazing to see.  My brain kept telling me, “Don’t go to bed yet—you might miss a whale about to surface near the boat, or that photo opportunity when the Antarctic Petrel lands on the ship, or. . .  ”  I was glad I turned in when I did, because as I lowered the black-out blind in my cabin window, what do you think I saw outside on the ice?  There were two Adelie penguins on an ice floe about 40 yards away, just watching the ship go by!

So early this morning, the Oden‘s helicopter pilot invited sea ice team member Brent out for a helicopter flight to look for larger ice floes and seals for the seal research team.  Even though my cabin is directly under the helicopter pad, the ship is so well constructed that all I heard in my room was a little “wind.”  I didn’t know it was the helicopter until someone told me it had been out on a flight.penguin

Although several seals were spotted from the helicopter, no floes of appropriate size were seen.  So it was decided that the seal team would fly out on their mission to find seals, land on the ice floes, capture the seal with a net, take measurements and tissue samples, release the seal, and repeat this procedure as many times as possible all day.  So as the seal team left with Sven, the helicopter pilot, the rest of us waited with fingers crossed that we would be able to find an ice floe to begin our work.  The head scientists and the captain decided to tie off to a smaller floe and try to do some of the research activities.  So we watched from the bridge as the ship was maneuvered next to a floe which was about 250 meters long and 350 meters wide.  (Imagine an area about the size of three football fields.)

First, two crew members were lifted and then lowered off the ship onto the ice using a “cage” that was moved by the giant crane on the back deck.

They assessed the ice thickness by poking a stick down into the ice, then they used a huge motorized auger to drill three holes into the ice.  They inserted large metal pipes, about 1.5 meters long and at least 15 centimeters in diameter, into the holes, then tied the ship’s dock lines to them.  Once the ship was secured, it was determined that only four people at a time would be allowed out on the floe and we would be the third group.  We kept ourselves busy preparing our equipment, watching the group on the ice, and observing two crab eater seals dozing on a nearby ice floe.

The other science groups were working to collect ice cores (tube-shaped pieces cut from the ice), snow samples, and sea water samples to analyze for different chemical and biological factors.  I’ll describe the other science projects in upcoming journals.  The crew also deployed a CTD (a large water sampling device that collects water at different depths) from the bow of the Oden.  It was lowered to 1500 meters below the ship, which meant the water beneath the Oden (and beneath our ice floe) was over 4500 feet deep!

Finally it was our team’s turn.  We donned our blue and gold “floating coveralls” (they have built in floatation devices) and our snow boots, picked up our walkie-talkies and hard-hats, and headed to the back deck for the ride in the “bird cage.”  Under my coveralls, I wore jeans, two thin, long-sleeved shirts, wool socks, a fleece hat, and wool gloves under leather work gloves.  The temperature was just below freezing, about -.5 C, and I was quite comfortable the entire time we were outside.  The ride in the cage was a blast!  You climb up a short ladder into the basket, trying to maneuver in your big snow boots, then just stand there and enjoy the ride.  It was quite smooth and only took a few minutes.  I was so excited that being afraid or nervous never crossed my mind.

Once on the ice we walked out about 30 yards to the “snow pits,” the areas the other two teams had cleared of snow and taken their samples from.  The snow was about 15 cm deep and soft enough that our feet sunk down to the ice below in most areas.  I was really surprised that there was a layer of “slush”—a slurry of ice and water a few cm deep—under the snow but on top of the solid ice.  I thought the snow would be sitting on ice that was smooth like an ice cube, but Blake explained that often the snow presses the ice down low enough that some seawater “floods” it.  If the weather gets cold, then the “slush” can refreeze, adding a layer to the sea ice.  Luckily, our boots were waterproof and our feet stayed dry.  We found a flat area and set up our main project—calibrating our equipment.  David and Brent set up a ladder with a wood “boom” from which Blake hung the EM device.  The EM uses electromagnetic induction (sending and receiving magnetic waves) to measure the thickness of the sea ice.  Blake needed to raise it to different levels above the ice and record its readings, then take physical measurements of the same ice and calibrate the device to the Antarctic ice.  Then it would be ready for us to use for the rest of the trip.

Blake set and read the hand-held controller, Brent measured the EM’s height from the ice, David steadied the ladder and held the boom, and I recorded the readings and measurements in a small notebook.  We were a great team!  I also volunteered to walk back to the ship twice for additional supplies we had left there.  I enjoyed walking around and getting some exercise that was more than just climbing the flights of stairs on the Oden.

After we finished with the EM, David used a hand auger to drill holes through the snow and ice down to the sea water.  Then Blake used a brass weight attached to a measuring tape to measure the ice thickness.  This device was very clever.  It was shaped like a T with a loose screw attachment at the top of the T.  It would fold straight and thin enough to fit down a skinny hole in the ice.  Then when the measuring tape was gently pulled, the T would open up and catch at the ice’s bottom edge and you could then record the thickness. Then another tug would release the catch and the T would collapse so you could pull it back up to the surface.  We recorded the actual ice thickness in seven holes in the same area we tested the EM over.  Blake would use this information to calibrate the EM device.  The ice was about 70 cm thick in all the holes we measured, and the snow and “slush” another 15-20 cm on top of the ice.

After we finished, we loaded the supplies back on two sleds and walked back to the Oden.  The officer on the bridge informed us that the helicopter was taking off for a second flight and the crane could not be used until the helicopter left, so we had some time to relax on the ice.  We walked back to our work area and sat down, watching two Adelie penguins on the far edge of the floe.  They seemed to be watching us too!  They seemed curious and slowly walked a little closer when a large Southern Antarctic Petrel landed near the penguins.  About a hundred meters from us, an avian face-off was brewing.  The penguins and the large petrel faced off, flapped their wings,  and postured a bit as we wondered out loud if petrels ate penguins?

But, no way!  Those Adelies held their ground until the petrel backed off and instead started heading toward us.  Suddenly he started running right at us, wings spread, as Brent calmly commented that petrels were “really nasty birds.”  We breathed a sign of relief when he stopped about 20 meters away.  He must have realized  we were blocking his runway, so he turned and chose another path, running awkwardly across the floe until he was able to take off and fly away.  The helicopter took off and we returned to the ship.  We spent about 2-1/2 hours on the ice, completed our planned work, and had an AWESOME time doing it.  Today is a day I will never forget!

I’ll be on the Oden until January 14, so I will send another update after January 1st.  Everyone can follow my expedition on the PolarTREC website at www.polartrec.com.  Readers can also post questions to me or my Sea Ice team members, and we’ll answer them from the ship.  Stay tuned for more adventures from the Antarctic!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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