Jan 5: Drake Passage

Post by VIMS graduate student Lori Price

Greetings from aboard the Antarctic research and supply vessel Laurence M. Gould, which we will call home for about the next month! We have almost completely crossed the Drake Passage and are a couple of hours from arriving at Palmer Station, a U.S. research base located on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The research vessel Laurence M. Gould, Photo by Deb Steinberg.

For most of us, our journey began on Monday, Dec. 27 with a 24-hour flight to Punta Arenas, a small city at the southern tip of Chile where the ship was docked. We were scheduled to leave port on the 29th for the 4-day journey across the Drake Passage to Palmer Station. However, the blizzard that crippled the U.S. East Coast left some of our scientists from New Jersey, Delaware, and Boston stranded. After countless frustrating hours on the phone with the airlines, they finally got their flights rescheduled for a few days later. Our last passenger arrived in Punta Arenas the evening of January 1 and we left as soon as she was on board.

Fortunately, everyone from our zooplankton group made it to Punta Arenas as scheduled and we had plenty of time to make sure we had all of our supplies and were able to completely set up our lab. Our zooplankton group includes Debbie Steinberg: the principal investigator for the zooplankton component of the project; Joe Cope (Debbie’s long-time technician); Kim Bernard (a VIMS post-doctoral researcher who we’ll pick up from Palmer Station where she has been since October); Kate Ruck (one of Debbie’s Master’s students); Caitlin Smoot (a recent graduate of William and Mary); and myself—Lori Price—Debbie’s other Master’s student.

These past couple days on the ship have been slow and relaxing because there isn’t too much we can do before we start our science (other than the set-up, which we’ve already done). It’s been great catching up with old friends many of us have worked with before, and getting to know the new scientists and crewmembers on board the ship. There has been a lot of reading, catching up on sleep, watching movies, and playing board and card games. I have actually been working a little bit to get ready for the experiments I will do on the cruise. I have to make sure the bottles I use are extremely clean so I acid-wash them, which includes soaking them in 10% HCl (a weak acid solution to remove any residue that might be in the bottles) and rinsing them five … yes five … times with extra clean filtered water. It takes a long time and is very monotonous, but Caitlin has been helping me out a lot to make it go much faster.

VIMS graduate student Lori Price deploys an XBT (expendable bathy-thermograph) in the middle of the Drake Passage. The device measures water temperature and depth. Photo by Tim Hollibaugh.

We have also been taking turns participating in a survey of the Drake Passage, which the ship does each time it crosses the Drake. We drop probes called XBTs (expendable bathy-thermographs) about every 45 minutes to measure water temperature with depth. The data are sent back to someone in the States who then keeps track of the currents and water masses in this area (different water temperatures indicate different water masses). At certain locations we also collect water with the flow-through system on the ship to analyze for salt content, nutrients, and other water properties. We take four-hour shifts to help with this data collection, which is a fun way to break up the monotony of the crossing and get to know other passengers at the same time.

This crossing has been perfect—the weather has been great and the seas have been very calm, which we are always grateful for considering the Drake Passage can have some of the worst seas in the world. I have heard stories of horrible crossings, but this is my third year going down to Antarctica and I have yet to experience a bad crossing. I hope to keep it that way. We will reach Palmer Station this afternoon, spend the rest of today and tomorrow offloading supplies for station and loading supplies and equipment that we will need for the cruise. If everything goes as planned, we will leave the morning of Friday, Jan. 7 to begin our sampling. Everyone is well rested now because we will need all of our energy when the science begins!

About David Malmquist

David Malmquist is the Director of Communications at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.
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2 Responses to Jan 5: Drake Passage

  1. Anonymous says:

    Bon voyage

  2. sstein says:

    What an interesting start to your journey! I can’t wait to read more about the expedition. Post lots of photos!