LARISSA - LARsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica, a NSF-funded project.

LARISSA - LARsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica, a NSF-funded project.
We are conducting an integrated, multi-disciplinary field program to address the rapid and fundamental changes occurring in the Antarctic Peninsula region as a consequence of the abrupt collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in the fall of 2002. A profound transformation in ecosystem structure and function is occurring in coastal waters of the western Weddell Sea. This transformation appears to be yielding a redistribution of energy flow between chemoautotrophic and photosynthetic production, and to be causing the rapid demise of the extraordinary seep ecosystem discovered beneath the ice shelf, providing an ideal opportunity to test fundamental paradigms in ecosystem evolution.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rough Seas!

8 Jan 2010 – *“We’re crossing the Drake!”* This phrase has filled sailors and Antarctic explorers with trepidation for centuries. Why? Because the Drake Passage is considered the roughest water body in the world. It lies between Cape Horn and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula -- a 480 mile channel concentrating the storms and currents circling the globe in the Southern Ocean. Like any body of water, it is not stormy all the time; storm systems pass through at 5 to 10 day intervals. My 9 previous crossings of the Drake have been mostly pleasant with the ship surfing large swells amid black browed albatross who skim the waves for without flapping a wing. This crossing also began smoothly with a
pleasant sunset and modest seas in the evening of 5 Jan; however, things changed quickly. By the wee hours of 6 Jan the wind howled from the northwest even though no storm had been forecasted. For twelve hours we had sustained winds of 55 knots, with gusts of 96+ (well above hurricane force). The seas reached forty feet, washing over the back deck and making our heavily loaded ship roll like a carnival ride. Most of the glaciologists and land geologists suffered from “mal mar” and spent the day in horizontal in their bunks or watching movies in the lounge. A few hardy oceanographers and the ship’s crew populated the labs and mess deck, but the weather was so rough that even the galley (the ship’s kitchen) curtailed operations, serving cold cuts for dinner. Captain Joe Borowski altered course and held a weather pattern for 18 hours, heading theshp diagonally into the seas to ease the motion, but taking us off course. Fortunately, by the late evening of 6 Jan, the wind and seas had abated and we resumed our heading (albeit a bit bumpily) for the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our horizontal shipmates reappeared the next morning, looking very releaved that the final three days of the crossing were relatively smooth, allowing us to rounding the tip of King George Island in good time. The lesson of this crossing was clear: never take the Drake lightly -- howling gales and mountainous seas can come seemingly from nowhere, making life miserable for seafaring souls!

Iceberg in the Antarctic Sound shaped like a wolf's head.

The back deck of the N.B. Palmer, awash during the Drake Passage storm. This normally our work area for collected oceanographic samples.

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