Observing whales on the way south

After a delayed departure, we are rapidly heading towards the Drake Passage and into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to reach our measurement area. The captain is giving his best and keeps a velocity of 9-10kn (instead of the 8kn that we expected). Maybe we’ll catch up! You can follow our track at http://havstraum.no/dml where you can also see our stations and satellite images.

Until we are at the first station, people are preparing their labs and observations are going on. The observers have the best spot on the ship and get a lot of company up there. We have already seen a lot of birds, whales, dolphins, penguins etc!

It is difficult to take good pictures of the whales and dolphins, because they only show up very shortly. The shaking ship doesn’t really help either…But here I got a sei whale in front of the lens! I hope there will be better pictures coming.
Spotting birds and whales

Going on board of RV Kronprins Haakon

Finally the ship has arrived and we could check in to our cabins! It is beautiful with big windows, meeting rooms, many labs, gym, sauna, hottop, great views and so far a lot of containers with instruments standing around. We are still sorting out all the equipment and getting it in place. The plan is to leave today after lunch (we are 4h behind Norwegian time), so cross the fingers we’ll manage. So far we are already one day delayed because the ship had to leave to pier the whole day on monday, but the mood is good and everyone is amazed by how efficient the crew is working. Let’s hope we can leave soon!

Going on board of RV Kronprins Haakon

Waiting for the ship

Yesterday after arriving in Punta Arenas, I took Maudy with me to check out the ocean and to look for RV Kronprins Haakon. It was nice to get some fresh air after a 28h travel, but we couldn’t spot the ship yet. We’ll have to wait a bit longer, so in the meanwhile I will go kayaking. See you soon!

Maudy and me waiting for the ship to arrive.


Why do we do this cruise?

… obviously because we want to gain more scientific knowledge about the ocean in Dronning Maud Land – both about the biodiversity (fish, mammals, plankton, benthos) and the physical aspects (water masses, currents, sea ice).
However, there is also a political reason behind it. Antarctica is nobodies land and divided into territories from different nations. To avoid exploitation of the land and the Southern Ocean, an Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by the 12 nations that were scientifically active. Today, it consists of 53 parties. Within the Antarctic Treaty, there is a Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, that started in 2008 to regulate fisheries in Antarctica and to adopt Marine Protected Areas (MPA). It is part of the global objective of UN Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 10% of coastal & marine areas by 2020.
The biggest MPA today is in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Further MPAs are under development, but are not consensus yet. One of the discussed MPAs is in the Weddell Sea and partly contains Dronning Maud Land, under Norwegian claim. A science-based management is crucial for the planning of the extent and conditions of the MPA, which is the reason for why we are going there with people from different scientific backgrounds.

A new adventure to Antarctica

Only a few days left until I am taking off to Punta Arenas in Chile from where I will take you on a new science adventure. Me– that’s Nadine, Elin’s PhD student, I will be on the ocean for seven weeks and explore Dronning Maud Land, the Norwegian territory in Antarctica, together with scientists from different marine science disciplines. The area is far away from any civilization and the transit from Punta Arenas takes about 11 days. At the moment, I am arranging the last details for the travel and the suitcase is slowly filling up. What’s in there? A warm working suit, safety shoes, gloves, hand warmers, sea sickness medicine, chocolate, an ebook reader stuffed with books, movies, a camera, my computer and most important, Maudy my mascot! The instruments that we’ll use are already sent down, among them a mooring (long chain of instruments) that will be anchored at the ocean floor in front of Fimbul ice shelf. In two years, we will hopefully be able to get back there to pick up the instruments full of data that tell us what influences ice shelf melt, ocean currents, changes in water masses with time and much more. The other scientists on board will be looking at sea ice, mammals, fish, benthos, zooplankton and micronekton. What this all is? To be honest, I am not so sure myself, but I have a lot of time to find out and I will keep you posted. You can follow my stories about the area, the measurements, the life on board here or on twitter (@DareliusElin) and facebook (EDarelius&Team) during the next weeks. Hopefully there will be some nice pictures of penguins and ice bergs!

Antarctica map with the research area marked with the ship. We will sail from Punta Arenas in Chile and back to Cape Town in South Africa.

First paper from our Amundsen moorings published!

Guest blog by Karen Assmann

Maybe you remember the blog posts I wrote a year ago about the cruise to the Amundsen Sea onboard the South Korean icebreaker Araon? (If not, see here!) Maybe you have even been wondering what we have been doing with all the data we recovered? About two weeks ago we had our first paper using these data published in a journal called Geophysical Research Letters: Warm Circumpolar Deep Water at the Western Getz Ice Shelf Front, Antarctica

Our two years of data show that there is a constant flow of warm water towards the western Getz Ice shelf and that this flow is pretty fast (20 cm/s). The distance from the shelf break, where the warm water comes from, to the ice shelf front is just 110 km so it takes only about a week to get from the deep ocean basin to the ice shelf front and the water does not have time to cool down much along its way. Temperatures in the inflow reach up to 1.59°C at the ice shelf front which makes this water the warmest that has been observed at any ice shelf front in the Amundsen Sea. The water reaching the Getz ice shelf cavity is hence warmer than the water reaching the fast melting Pine Island and Thwaites Ice Shelves further east!

To investigate what drives changes in the temperature and thickness of the warm bottom layer, we compared our ocean observations to wind data from the area and found that stronger easterly winds in the area make it harder for the warm water to reach the ice shelf front, because they depress the warm bottom layer over the shelf break. Climate projections indicate that these easterlies will weaken in future, making it easier for the warm water to get to the ice shelf base. We also find that gradients in the wind field over the shelf break control the thickness of the warm layer on longer time scales. This is a mechanism that previous studies have used to link changes in the wind field to changes in ice shelf flow velocities and melt rates, but these studies have lacked oceanic observations to support their hypothesis. Our observations close that gap and prove that the ocean does indeed react in the way that these studies imply

There is more science using these and the other mooring at the western Getz Ice Shelf moorings in the pipeline, so watch this space!



This is the Getz ice shelf in the Amundsen Sea! Our moorings were placed within the yellow Box, and the observed mean current is shown in (b). Panel (c) show the mean wind field.


Mooring deployment in the Amundsen Sea. Photo: K. Assmann



Understanding fjord circulation in a tank experiment

A re-occuring theme on Team Elin is that we like to combine observations, tank experiments and modelling. So this week, Steffi and Mirjam (who both were been instructors on the recent student cruise) went to work on setting up a fjord circulation experiment to complement future student cruises (and to be used in other courses like GEOF105, too).

We now have an experiment that shows how a fresh, yellow inflow (representing the freshwater input into fjords close to their heads by rivers) flows over a initially stagnant pool of salt water. As the freshwater plume flows out of the fjord, it entrains more and more salt water from below, thus thickening and setting up a return flow that brings in more salt water from the reservoir (representing the open ocean) on the right.

We drop dye crystals to visualize the surface current going out of the fjord and the return flow going in, and draw the profiles on the tank to be able to discuss them later.

This experiment is really useful in preparation for a student cruise. Why is it interesting to look at a transect along Masfjorden like we did? Well, because we see in the tank that the freshwater layer should thicken the further away we get from the source. Why did we do the microstructure measurements on either side of, as well as on, the sill? Because there is a huge amount of mixing going on there, just introduced by the tides going back and forth! What would happen if river water was really funneled down to the bottom of the fjord to introduce oxygen to very low oxygen regions? It would introduce a lot of mixing, indeed! All this and more can be seen in this one experiment!

Watch the movie below, and then head over to Mirjam’s blog post about the experiment for more details. Enjoy 🙂

What to expect and how to behave on your first research cruise

This blog post is an edited version that incorporated a lot of feedback I received on an earlier post over on my (Mirjam)’s blog “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”. If you have more to add, please let us know and we’ll update!

Going on your first research cruise is an exciting experience, and you are probably not quite sure what to expect from being out at sea on a ship with lots of new people for days, weeks or even months at a time. There are a lot of situations where you might not be quite sure how to behave, especially since the ship you are joining might be crewed with people from a different culture. And even if it isn’t — it’s like going on a sleep-over at your friend’s house as a kid: You never quiiite know what to expect, whether you’ll like what’s for dinner, and what polite behaviour might look like in that family.

Before we go into the actual “rules”, the main thing to be aware of is that while you are onboard the ship for what feels like a long time, that is nothing compared to how long the crew stays on the ship. The ship is their home for half the year every year, and you are a guest in their home. As Ilker Fer put it on Twitter: “Don’t forget that while this might be a rare and intense fieldwork for you, the ship is a daily workplace and home for the crew. Hard working and ambitious scientists and students tend to forget this.”

That said, it’s not immediately obvious what all of this means in terms of concrete behaviour. What’s considered polite in some cultures might be very rude in others. So if in doubt, just ask!

It’s ok (and even encouraged!) to ask if you are unsure of anything

Asking is actually the top 2 answer that our favourite sailor gave us in response to what students should know about how to behave on a research ship. Here are his top 3:

  1. Always be yourself. If you pretend to be someone you are not, people will find out soon enough anyway.
  2. Just ask. There are no stupid questions and sometimes having asked about something you are not sure about on a ship might end up being crucial for your safety.
  3. Be friendly. ’nuff said.

He says that’s all people need to know about how to behave at sea. While I kind of agree, those three rules are kind of … vague. But there are some “rules” (it’s more like guidelines, anyway, and bonus points if you got the movie reference) for what we have found works well on a research ship.

Etiquette on a research ship

Meal times

While meal times are often given as a one-hour time slot and you might think that means you can drop in at any time during that one-hour window, that’s not how things work on a ship. Usually, this one-hour window is meant as two 30min windows for people working on different watches. In between those two windows, the first group of people has to get out of the mess (not the messmess, the room where food is served on a ship is called the mess), the tables have to be cleared completely, and food refilled. So to be polite towards the people making sure you get fed, it’s good advice to arrive on time for your feeding window and don’t linger too long after you are done eating, so they can get the room ready for the next group or finish off that meal to move on to other tasks. If people start wiping the tables, it’s a clear signal that you should find some other spot to lounge in. If, however, you have to be late for a meal due to work reasons, everybody will be happily accommodate you and make sure you leave happy and satisfied. Just don’t push it without a good reason.

Thank the cook & galley personnel

This should go without saying, but if someone puts a nice meal on the table in front of you, say thank you. If the food was delicious, let the cook know. “Takk for maten” is something that comes pretty much automatic out of every Norwegian’s mouth, but whatever your background, I think everyone should adopt it on a ship (and maybe also at home ;-)).

Don’t complain about the lack of fresh veggies and fruit

Amelie Kirchgaessner shared this one with us on Twitter: “Don’t moan about the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. When there is some, be grateful, and eat it, even though the banana may bend the wrong way or have brown spots. Also, consider those who may be onboard for longer, ie have a stronger craving for freshies.”

If you drink the last drop of coffee, start brewing a new pot

This rule has actually been rejected by my favourite sailor after it was put forward on Twitter — while on some ships the polite thing might be to start brewing a new pot, on that particular ship the crew would prefer you let them know there is no coffee left so they can brew it themselves. Which goes back to asking what kind of help is wanted and needed before “helping”.

“No work clothes” means “no work clothes”

On ships, there are usually areas that you are supposed to not walk through, or hang out in, wearing work clothes. That’s because the ship is the crew’s home for long periods at a time (and also yours while you are at sea), and keeping a home nice and tidy is a big part of making it feel like home. And also it’s just mean to make the cleaning crews do extra work just because you couldn’t be bothered to change out of your fishy boots.

When you leave your cabin, leave the door open

Leaving the door to your cabin open when you are not in it makes it a lot easier for the crew to get their work done. They won’t knock on your door when it’s closed because they are respecting your privacy and your sleep, but they want to empty your trash, put new towels in your cabin, clean, etc.. The larger you make the time window for them to do that by just leaving your cabin door open, the less they have to organize their work day around catering towards you.

Be quiet on corridors, people are sleeping

You are not the only one going on watches (and even worse — just because you don’t go on watch doesn’t mean that other people are not), so be considerate of other people’s sleep. While it sucks to be tired as a scientist on a ship, other people have safety-relevant work to do (and also just live on the ship for many weeks at a time) so they should definitely be able to get the sleep they need.

Also consider whether you really have to go to your own comfy cabin and your own comfy toilet during your watch if you know people are sleeping in the cabins next to yours. Cabin doors are loud, vacuum toilets are really loud, but walls between cabins are more like paper than like actual walls. If you can avoid making unnecessary noises that might wake up other people by just going to a common restroom, you should probably consider doing that.

Respect people’s privacy

There is not a lot of spaces where you can hide on a ship to get your alone time when you need it. So do not enter other people’s cabins unless invited, and don’t go knocking on their doors unless there is a good reason. People will leave their doors open if they are open to communications, if the doors are closed it means you should leave people alone unless you really have a good reason.

Also the cabins are the only private spaces people get. If you wouldn’t go into someone’s bedroom in their house without explicit permission, why would you do it on a ship?

And as Hugh Venables points out: “Everyone relaxes and misses home differently. Know when to be professional, when to be silly, when to be the butt of a joke, when to answer back and when to leave alone”

Access to all areas?

Usually, you are free to go pretty much wherever you like on a research ship (except, as I said above, into other people’s private spaces). If areas are off limit (like for example the engine room or spaces where food is stored and prepared), you will be told that. But it’s still good practice to ask whether it’s ok to hang out. For example, in heavy weather or very tight straights, people on the bridge might prefer to not having you hanging around and possibly obstructing their work. And while they will tell you that, just asking whether it’s ok to be there makes it less awkward for everybody involved. Same if you visit other scientists in their labs, or the crew in the trawl mess — sometimes it might not be immediately obvious to you that people are concentrating on their work, even though they might look like they are just chilling, and that you are getting in the way of that. Or even just getting in the way of people chilling when they need to do that.

Be on time for handover between watches

Even if you are told that your watch runs from midnight to six in the morning and from noon to six in the evening, that doesn’t mean you show up at midnight and noon sharp. It means that the other watch wants to be able to leave at midnight and noon sharp, so handover should have happened before that time. It’s good practice to show up at least 5 minutes before watch changes.

Be on time for stations

People not being ready to start working when the ship is on station is a pet peeve of mine. Ship time is very expensive, so spending it on waiting for someone who wanted to get a hot chocolate right when the ship is ready to take measurements (instead of looking at the screen that shows you the navigation data of the ship, including ETAs of stations etc and getting it while there still is plenty of time) is a very bad use of taxpayers’ money.

Also be aware that there are a lot of people waiting for you once the ship is in position to start measuring: The officers on the bridge, the deck crew possibly standing outside in cold, windy, rainy weather, your other scientist colleagues. Not very good for the general mood if they unnecessarily have to wait for you.

Be proactive in offering help

This “rule” was suggested by Kim Martini: “Be proactive in offering help, but [very importantly!] always ask first because sometimes what you think are the right steps just may create more work”. And we 100% agree with both parts of this rule! Do offer to help, always, but always make sure the other person tells you what exactly they want done. And Kim adds “definitely offer help when loading and first getting on board. You never know if you get seasick later in the cruise and need someone to help you!”

It’s cold and in the middle of the night for the crew, too

Just because they might not let you see it doesn’t mean you are the only one that is tired and cold and feels cranky. I guess this goes back to rule no 3: Always be friendly and considerate of the people around you…

And as Ian Brooks put it on Twitter: “When the deck crew ask what time you need to put that bit of kit over the side, the correct answer is just AFTER coffee break!” And Joana Beja points out: “On my last cruise we found that the crew had had their dinner “on deck” so as to not delay work… none of us noticed and they didn’t tell us! They were great but it only happened once and we made sure we told them how thankful we were. and that it wasn’t required at all.”

Radio communication is safety relevant

Having fun with a radio is fun, but there are a lot of people working on the bridge or the deck that have to listen to everything you say on the radio. So if you try to be overly funny, you might end up annoying people, and worse, making it more difficult for them to do their job and keep you safe.

Don’t discuss safety issues

If the crew tells you to wear a life vest on top of your floatation suite (that is certified as being sufficient in itself) when going on a small boat trip, or a helmet when taking water samples, just wear it. In the end they are the ones that know better, and they are the ones responsible for your safety so even if they are, in your opinion, unnecessarily cautious, they are just doing your job making sure you are safe. So even if it seems unnecessary to you, if they tell you to do something, just do it.

If plans change, let people know early on (and maybe explain why)

Changing your plans might require a lot of work on the crew‘s part — putting together different instrumentation, rearranging equipment on deck, changing out winches, all kinds of stuff that you might not be aware of. So if you happen to change your plans, let them know as soon as possible so it creates the least amount of stress for them.

Also offer to explain the scientific reasons why you now think the new plan is better than the old one. In my experience, in general the crew is really curious about what they are helping you achieve (and what you really could not achieve on your own if they weren’t there to help!), and really appreciate if you let them in on what you are doing for what purpose. And also what the outcomes are!

Don’t make a cruise longer than it has to be

Even though it might be fun for you to extend your cruise for a couple of extra hours just because it’s so nice to be at sea and you feel like you payed for that day of ship time anyway, don’t change arrival times back in port on a short notice without a really good reason. The crew might have made plans with their family and friends whom they don’t see very often, that they will have to cancel. This is going to make a lot of people not very happy!

And this goes without saying: Don’t extend a cruise just to get the extra pay you get for every day you spend at sea. While I find it hard to imagine people actually do that, I have heard from so many different crew that they think a lot of scientists do that, that it’s hard to ignore the possibility that it actually happens, and quite often at that.

Etiquette on a research ship: Anything to add?

If there is anything you think should be added, please let us know and we’ll happily edit this blog post! 

GEOF337 student cruise: deploying moorings

We deploy two moorings in order to keep track of water exchanges over the sill; they will collect data for a year.  Instruments recording temperature, salinity, pressure, and velocity are attached to a rope, which is kept in place by an anchor and floating elements. One mooring is anchored on top of the sill (75m), whereas the other one is placed within the first basin at 460m depth.

The mooring is going over board. Train wheels are used as an anchor to keep it secured to the sea floor, the orange floatation spheres will keep it in an upright position while in the sea and bring the instruments back up to the surface when the mooring is released next year

This blogpost is one of a series written originally for our Insta-takeover of @PortalenIGLO, by the awesome night watch team Elina, Helene, Julie, and Sonja. Check out the twitter accounts of Elina and Sonja for updates on what they are doing when they are not at sea with us!

GEOF337 student cruise: About turbulence and how we measure it

The video showing milk being poured into water is an example of the small-scale process ‘turbulence’. In the ocean, turbulence is important for mixing of different water masses. We measure turbulence with a Micro Structure Sonde (MSS) by letting the instrument fall freely down the water column, recording temperature changes and water movement at a frequency of 1024Hz.

Algot and Arnt Petter are recovering the MSS after a successful measurement of turbulence in the fjord
Elina is working on the deck unit of the MSS, making sure everything is working well and data is recorded and saved

If you are interested in reading more about this, check out Mirjam’s blogposts on how to sample and how to measure dissolved oxygen! And a special post with focus on the color change of the indicator when titrating oxygen.

This blogpost is one of a series written originally for our Insta-takeover of @PortalenIGLO, by the awesome night watch team Elina, Helene, Julie, and Sonja. Check out the twitter accounts of Elina and Sonja for updates on what they are doing when they are not at sea with us!