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NGO_Vleeptron (aka "Bob from Massachusetts") recently featured LIVE on BBC WORLD SERVICE, heard briefly by Gazillions!!!

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Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

old dude, all hair, swell new teeth

01 December 2005


The R/V Laurence M. Gould en route to the Antarctic.

Hi all on my not-all-that-massive mail list,

{again even though I've mentioned this to many of you,

1. Please let me know if you would like me to stop sending you these

[VLEEPTRON REPLIES: No, we don't mind these e-mails from scientists en route by sea to Antarctica. It's those goddam endless annoying spams from those jerks in the International Space Station that are driving us nuts! Can't somebody do something about that?]

2. Please keep your emails to text only and don't include the original text in the reply -- email goes through a sat-phone and since I'm one of the enforcers of data get the idea.}

So it's 6:02 GMT, 3:02 a.m. local and I'm up because we are approaching the 68 degrees west data limit, or time to start the data acquisition system. This is the first thing I'll do that approaches science. We are going to turn on the sea-water system which measures sea surface temperature, salinity, fluorescence (for measuring the number of beasties
in the water), and transmissivity (how cloudy the water is). ----working, working, working---- OK, that was the night before last and that chore took 2 1/2 hours instead of the usual half hour because one of the machines had been changed at the factory while getting calibrated and it took us a while to figure out what was up. Oh yeah, my job title is marine computer/instrument specialist, but we (the two of us) get called ET's or electronics techs. (Uncle Bob-- can I commission an E.T. goes to Antarctica postage stamp from the island nation of the South Orkney Islands 61 deg South, 45 deg West?)


Yesterday we were still cruising down the east coast of Tierra del Fuego. We are on our way to a visit to Palmer Station to drop off fresh veggies, fruit and prescription meds. Work involved running wires for the experiments on board, dealing with scientists who didn't get their shit
together before coming down here so 4 people are running around doing the work that one should have done a month or 3 ago. Getting ready for what? Well these cruises typically have one main science program going on with several PI's (principal investigators), and their associated grad
students and technicians. In addition to the main projects, there are also Science of Opportunity experiments (SOO) which take place on every cruise (we, the technical support staff run those or turn them on to let them run themselves.)

The big project now is looking at how icebergs affect the ocean biology. Now I think of a big iceberg in Alaska as the size of a Volkswagen (the new beetle) or maybe a house. Here we plan to look at icebergs measured in kilometers. After visiting Palmer Station, we're going to a place nicknamed iceberg alley, east of the antarctic peninsula. This is where you probably have heard about some of the ice shelves breaking off from the continent (in this case the Larsen Ice
shelf). These MASSIVE sections of ice shelf remain trapped in the sea-ice for a while and break up due to tidal forcing and melting from below and some from above. The smaller chunks (the ones the size of delaware or smaller) eventually float out of the sea-ice pack and begin drifting on their own, forced mainly by the ocean currents (90% of the ice is below the surface so wind forcing is usually less important than ocean currents). Since icebergs are made up of frozen fresh water (snow turned to ice and melting away in the ocean) and colder than the surrounding salt water, they affect the ecosystem immediately surrounding them.

In order to study how the icebergs affect the biota we will select an iceberg visible in satellite imagery (delivered to the ship each day by email) and approach it head on, then begin a circumnavigation. The initial attack will involve imaging the above water portion with a laser rangefinder and gps system, imaging the submarine portion with sonar, and
taking samples and running real time chemistry measurements (the salinity, temperature, etc. stuff from 3 a.m. the other night). Then we will continue circling in an expanding spiral to see how the effects of the iceberg decrease with distance. Another neat tool we will use is the MOCNESS. I don't remember what that stands for (google: mocness, bess (the
company who makes it), biological, ocean, net, and I bet you'll find it) but it is a big square steel frame with 6 or 8 nets on rails. The MOCNESS is deployed into the water and let out by a very large winch until it reaches the desired depth. It is dragged behind the moving ship like a small trawling net (the opening is maybe 10 feet by 10 feet). We can then trigger a release mechanism so the first net closes and the second net opens. We drag it along for a while collecting itsy bitsy beasties in a cup at the back of the net. Then the winch lowers or raises the MOCNESS to a different depth to catch more beasties. Repeat until all nets have been deployed, retrieve the unit, and let the grad students count the number of plankton in each net. Finally we will proceed around the study area performing a radar and visual survey of iceberg numbers, sizes and distribution. The science should take about two and a half weeks, after which we will return to Palmer Station and then across the Drake Passage again and into port at Punta Arenas.

Stay tuned tomorrow (or when I get around to it) when I'll describe daily life onboard the LM Gould -- like how using an exercycle means holding on to those handles so you won't fall right off the side.

Hope all had a happy and stuffing thanksgiving,

signing off from

59 deg 9' South
64 deg 59' West



Anonymous Jim Olson said...

Ok. Way cool.

Do send your nephew our regards. And tell him to bring back souvenirs!

On a related matter, I ran into the physics prof. here at BU that is working on the telemetry for the Mars Rover mission...those little buggers are STILL GOING! Way to go NASA! The Mars probes have been the most successful unmanned NASA mission ever...they are nearly two years past design obsolesence and are still collecting valuable data. There is the occasional technical glitch...overheating wheel bearings, instruments beginning to be out of calibration, etc, but not bad for two little probes ON MARS!

How cool is that.


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