Connective, relative, and intrinsic arguments underlie the value of Antarctic research.
IVARS Cruise Blogs
The IVARS project (for Interannual Variability in the Ross Sea) involves two cruises per year on US Coast Guard icebreakers: one in December during the spring phytoplankton bloom, and one at the end of the growing season in February. Cruises are scheduled to visit the same sampling sites during each of the project's five years. Cruises deploy from the U.S. McMurdo Research Station.
By comparing data from each cruise to that of "pre-bloom" water, IVARS researchers can calculate seasonal phytoplankton productivity and compare it to that of previous years, thereby revealing year-to-year changes.
During the December cruise, IVARS researchers deploy two moorings. Each has an elaborate suite of instruments designed to continuously sample the surface layer to reveal short-term variations within each growing season. The instruments are a fast repetition rate fluorometer (FRRF), a nitrate analyzer, a silicic acid analyzer, a whole-water sampler, two additional fluorometers, a sediment trap, thermistors, a CTD, and current meters. The moorings are retrieved during the second cruise.
IVARS scientists typically travel from the U.S. to Antarctica by flying to either Christchurch, New Zealand or Hobart, Tasmania, and then either flying aboard a LC-130 or C-141 cargo plane to McMurdo Station, or sailing across the Southern Ocean. The NZ-McMurdo flight takes 5-8 hours. The Southern Ocean transit typically takes about 8 days. Once the ship arrives at the ice edge, scientists are often ferried to McMurdo via helicopter.
We awoke this morning to our first sight of land in two weeks: a distant glimpse to port of New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Nicknames help draw the distinction between scientist and sailor: scientists are "beakers," sailors are "crew." Without the assistance of the ship's crew, we'd of course still be back in McMurdo.
Albatrosses are true inhabitants of the open ocean, spending months away from land, drinking seawater and sleeping atop the waves as they wander the southern seas.
We've just seen about 15 "pods" of King penguins. Watching these creatures in action makes you appreciate that they're almost more marine mammal than bird, more cetacean than avian.
The world beneath the waves hides geologial and biological surprises. One is the recently discovered profusion of bacteria in the marine environment.
Mariners have celebrated "crossings" since the Great Age of Sail. Today, all pollywogs aboard the Palmer helped carry on this venerable tradition by welcoming King Neptune aboard our humble brig to celebrate its crossing of the Antarctic Circle.
Allan Sauter of Scripps Oceanography is aboard the Palmer to retrieve two acoustic moorings that were deployed last February to eavesdrop on blue whales in the Southern Ocean.
Geologists are working to resolve a long-standing enigma of plate reconstructions in the Southern Ocean—the gap that results when they try to fit the Pacific, Antarctic, and Australian plates together during the early Tertiary (~45-50 million years ago).
The wan faces and surly looks of "mal de mer" begin to appear below-decks as 40-knot winds kick up 10-15 foot seas.
Ping... ping... ping... chirp... chirp... chirp... The vessel's multibeam sonar system is a sound of science aboard the R/V Palmer.
AnSlope researchers study the genesis and movement of Antarctic Bottom Water—one of the ocean's coldest, saltiest, and most-dense water masses.
The summertime flurry of "marine snow" is a key component of the Ross Sea carbon cycle.
IVAR's "Calinectes" mooring honors Chesapeake Bay's renowned blue crab.
Dr. Walker Smith uses radioactive tracers to gauge the rate of photosynthesis by phytoplankton during their "spring bloom."
Photosynthesis at sea is accomplished by tiny single-celled plants that we can hardly see, yet marine plankton generate about half of Earth's oxygen.
One can only imagine what early oceanographers would think of a modern research vessel like the Nathaniel B. Palmer.
Where we learn the importance of accurate labeling.
To get to the first IVARS sampling site, our ship must break through about 60 miles of sea ice that averages 9-12 feet thick.
Where we learn that 90% of oceanography is filtering water.
Between the December and February IVARS cruises, graduate students Amy Shields and Sasha Tozzi have conducted lab experiments at McMurdo.
McMurdo Station, the largest research station in Antarctica, is reminiscent of an all-night interstate truck stop.
For those accustomed to the comforts of modern travel, the trip from Virginia to Antarctica can be a long, hard haul.