VIMS

Mal de Mer

We've spent the last few days off Cape Adare, a narrow headland that forms the northwestern corner of the Ross Sea. It's a beautiful spot. Small icebergs dot the inky blue sea, and the ice-covered peaks of the Admirality Range loom along the southern horizon. Most striking is 14,642-foot Mt. Minto.

The area is rich in seabirds. We've seen the beautifully marked Cape Petrel (Daption capense), the all-white Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea), the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata), prions or whalebirds (Pachyptila spp.), and the pesky South Polar Skua (Catharacta maccormicki). We also watched a pair of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) flee our oncoming ship in a rapid series of dives and jumps.

The weather at Cape Adare was almost idyllic—light winds, calm seas, and mostly clear skies, expect for a few hours of snow on the "night" of February 5th (it's still light 24/7).

Today, that all changed as we began to move into the open waters of the Southern Ocean. Unfortunately, the barometer started moving just when we did. This afternoon it bottomed out at 967 millibars (23 mb lower than the lowest pressure recorded in Gloucester Point during Hurricane Isabel!). The wind rose as the pressure dropped, and by late afternoon it was blowing at 35-40 knots, with seas of 10-15 feet.

The Palmer is a stable ship, and these are calm conditions compared to what it often experiences in the Southern Ocean. Nonetheless, we were feeling a pretty good roll (~ 6 degrees) all afternoon and evening. The roll was most pronounced when our science track brought us parallel to the swells. Soon, the wan faces and surly looks of "mal de mer" began to appear below-decks.

Seasickness, and the threat thereof, is a fact of life for those who spend any time at sea. Some are lucky enough to be immune to its effects, others take various steps to prevent or minimize them. Common preventatives include stepping outside into the fresh air (not allowed today due to the wind, roll, and icy decks), gazing at the horizon, drinking a carbonated beverage such as ginger ale, eating salty crackers, sleeping, and taking motion-sickness medicines such as Dramamine.

Of course, today's seas might just be a mild taste of what's to come. Our transit to New Zealand will take us across the "Screaming Sixties" and "Furious Fifties," and into the "Roaring Forties." Here's to calm seas ahead!