Icy Inverts Cruise 2013 - Shipboard Blog - Nov 18th to Nov 21st

21 Nov 2013 - 2nd moving day to the Lawrence M. Gould (Punta Arenas, Chile)

Although this is my second trip to the icy south, I could not be more excited, or more grateful that I have been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not once, but twice. Last time, the entire voyage was a delightful, exhausting, dizzying, fantastic blur that I stumbled through for the first few weeks. And although this is not the R/V Palmer but the R/V Gould, this time the trip down was familiar; I knew what to expect and I found that my confidence was burgeoned by my past experiences. I knew exactly what to pack, where to go, and how to get there.

The flight down to Punta Arenas, Chile this time around was even more breathtaking than the last. From on high, the cities and farms patterned together in a way that almost resembled the perfectly straight lines and zig-zags of a giant computer microchip. But then suddenly, the manufactured world ended. Beyond the gray, opaque haze of smog and mist rose the Andes Mountains. Up close they looked hard, sharp, and unchanging, like teeth chipped to points and streaked in snow and glaciers. From even higher, they softened into folds of malleable cloth. There is no man there, only nature. And after a time there wasn’t even land or sky. For the snowy peaks became indiscernible from the clouds, and the giants of the forest were reduced to form-fitting streaks of colored fur, crawling along the back of the animal that we like to claim, but that we will never fully understand.

Most of the mountains were clustered together, but one, snow laden and weeping, stood alone at the base of an azure lake. The crater made me think it was a volcano, and unbidden came images of ancient worship. No doubt that peak had a name once. It probably has one now. But I had to wonder if the two names were one and the same—and how many cultures and civilizations it has seen rise and fall in its time.

It was a breathtaking sight, and I look forward to many more on this voyage. I look forward to running the trawls and being able to see and touch creatures that most individuals have never seen in their natural habitat. I look forward to watching the graceful, drifting flight of the pure white snow petrels, the sleek black and white of the penguins as they leap, like dolphins, ahead of our vessel, darting just out of reach, and the predatory, almost feline glares of the sharp-toothed leopard seals. But perhaps what I look forward to most is the bond that I will share with my science team.

I look around me, and this time I am not surrounded by strangers, but by old friends. And those faces that I don’t recognize, I know I will soon come to respect and love. There is a special camaraderie that forms between people who have crossed the Drake together, worked 12 hour trawl shifts, and seen some of the most beautiful vistas and wildlife the natural world has to offer. The bond that exists between people who have suffered and laughed as much as we have. I cannot wait to share the experience again with companions both new and old. And more than that, I cannot wait to learn from them. For each person on board this ship has a unique set of skills, talents, interests, and scientific expertise. It is so exciting to be able to tap into that vast well of knowledge and experience, and to walk away a different person. The last voyage changed the very fabric of who I was, and I know that this second voyage will do the same. The expedition cannot start soon enough.

Until next time,

Contributed by: Abigail Hollingsworth, Undergraduate Student, Central Michigan University



20 Nov 2013 - 1st moving day to the Lawrence M. Gould (Punta Arenas, Chile)

There’s a lot going on today! This morning most of us met at the Antarctic Support Council (ASC) warehouse to get outfitted with all of our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. Everyone is now outfitted with gloves, several different types of overalls, a parka, extra thick socks, etc (see above image). Because we’ll be spending a lot of our time on the deck sorting samples with our hands, rubber gloves with insulating liners are essential. Wet gloves are no fun so everyone was sure to request extra glove liners in case ours get wet. We were impressed how much of the gear we were provided was brand new still in its packaging.

After we were geared up, we came aboard the Lawrence M. Gould to check out our home for the next month. Although Drs. Halanych and Mahon have been on this ship several times, most of the scientific team has never been onboard. It’s a bit smaller than the Palmer, which we were on last December – January, but it’s still a big ship (see below image) with plenty of lab space and lots of amenities (a good-sized lounge with a TV, a gym, and even a sauna). One major difference between this ship and the Palmer is its width – the Gould is only 46 feet wide while the Palmer is 60ft. This seems like a small difference but it means we are probably in for a little more side-to-side motion if we get in heavy seas. I’ve got my Dramamine at the ready.

This afternoon we unpacked all of the scientific equipment and supplies that were leftover from the last cruise or sent down ahead of time. Because literally everyone involved has been to sea before (most of us were together on the Palmer cruise earlier this year), we were a well-oiled machine. The labs are close to being ready to go. Tonight the rest of the scientific team will arrive and we’ll finish setting up the labs tomorrow. Now we’re off to pick up a few odds and ends (and enough candy to last a month).

Contributed by: Dr. Kevin Kocot, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Halanych Lab, Auburn University 




19 Nov 2013: Sitting in Santiago, Chile

This morning, we were woken up by the flight attendants about 7:30 hours into a 9 hour flight. When we looked out the window, we were still over mountains but had crossed the highest parts of the Andes.  However, when we looked out the window we saw a sea of white clouds with rocky-mountain tops poking up from under the clouds (see above image). It was a very tranquil scene and but made me wonder what lies ahead in the Drake Passage.

As we were getting off the plane, we were met by “Jimmy”. He is a contracted agent whom helps USA scientists make their connections in the Santiago airport.  After getting off a 9-hour flight with impossible-to-sleep-in seat, some assistance in the airport is welcome.  After a couple of hours at the airport (see below image), we will get on another set of flights to fly down the spine of the Andes. If we get lucky and the skies are clear, I think this is one of the most beautiful flights in the world.  Flight over snow capped mountains, volcanoes with steam coming out, and at the south end beautiful white glaciers with a greenish blue tint. We should arrive in Punta Arenas at about 6:30PM.

On the way down, we are meeting up with other scientist whom will ride with us down to Palmer Station. The R/V Gould serves as the main supply ship to Palmer Station. As such, in addition to the scientist using the ship as a research platform, it shuttles scientists and supplies to the station…..and takes people and waste from the station. Because the LMG could not get into the station on its last trip, we might be pulling a little duty in terms of transport. 

Well, it is about time to board the plane to Punta Arenas…….more soon.

Contributed by: Dr. Ken Halanych, Chief Scientist, Schneller Endowed Chair, Auburn University




18 Nov 2013: Preparing to leave Auburn, Alabama

…and it begins…..

After much anticipation, we will finally begin to head south this evening to rendezvous with the ship R/V Laurence M. Gould or LMG. Compared to the last trip, this one has been easier to prepare for, in part, because we are still fresh off our trip in January and February 2013.  However, other issues have presented, and continue to present, challenges.  About mid-year, I received an email from the National Science Foundation, whose grant is allowing this endeavor to happen.  We were asked to give up several days of scientific research to help with budget constraints because of the financial “Sequester” by the USA National government.  Then in October, when politicians in DC lost site of what they were suppose to be doing, our trip actually got put on hold. It was not clear how our research would be affected by the US government shutdown. Fortunately, USA Antarctic ship operations were not heavily impacted. However, the main USA research stations in the Antarctic are still feeling the pinch from the shutdown.

Nonetheless, we are very excited and feel very fortunate to be heading south once again. Over the next few days, a group of 14 of us will start from all over the USA (Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Washington, Florida) and Germany and converge on Punta Arenas, Chile. Once there, we will have to organize our gear and load up on the LMG for a 1-month voyage along the Antarctic Peninsula. The plan for this trip is to sample in the Bellinghausen Sea at the southwestern end of the Peninsula. However, it is early in the summer season and ice is still a large factor. After we depart Punta Arenas, our first stop will be Palmer Station on Anvers Island about 4.5 days later. The LMG was suppose to make a stop there a few weeks ago but could not get in because the sea ice was still to thick. This image (see above) shows a satellite picture of the ice surrounding Anvers Island and Palmer Station.

The mission of these voyage complements our Jan-Feb cruise on the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer. We will continue to example biodiversity and collect samples to assess if bottom dwelling marine invertebrates have localized distributions or are found all the way around the Antarctic. By doing this, we can see the animal’s ranges have shifted in the future due to climate change. As before, we will mainly focus on bottom animals, but will also be looking at the water column to find larval forms in the plankton. We’ll talk more about that later.

At the time I am writing this, many of us are getting the last few items dealt with before we leave….run out and buy toothpaste…..copy those last few needed files…make sure to turn on the automatic response on email….

Contributed by: Dr. Ken Halanych, Chief Scientist, Schneller Endowed Chair, Auburn University

Last updated: 11/21/2013