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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


3/2 – 3/5/12 -- After more than a year of planning, we are beginning our second major research cruise of the LARISSA project to the Weddell Sea. We conducted our first major LARISSA cruise in 2010, but unusually heavy sea ice blocked our southward path into the Weddell Sea, just as it did for Shackleton long ago on the Endurance. Satellite image of the Weddell Sea region suggest that our luck with sea ice may be better this year.

The LARISSA cruise scientists hail from around the world; we have researchers and students from USA, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, South Korea, and the UK. The 6-person contingent from the University of Hawaii (Craig, Laura, Pavica, Michael, Jackie and Paulo), also called the “Benthic Group”, includes three of these nationalities, reflecting the truly international flavor of Antarctic research. The term “benthic” means “of or relating to the seafloor” which is the habitat-type we study.

It has been a very long trip for the “rainbows” from UH to Punta Arenas, Chile, our embarkation port for the cruise. The trip involved 29 to 42 hours of air travel, depending on the route taken, and invariably involves two overnight flights. If you want to work in Antarctica, you must relish long air travel and be able to sleep in an economy seat!

The Magellan statue in the Plaza De Armas of Punta Arenas. Tradition holds that all seafarers misth rub the shiny right big toe of the Tiera del Fuegan for good luck at sea. We all rubbed the toe to insure good luck for our crossing the Drake Passage, the body of water between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula. The Drake is known as the roughest body of water in the world.

The UH team arrived in Punta Arenas airport on March 4, and were whisked to our hotel, Hostal La Avenida, by agents from AGUNSA, the agency working with the U.S. Antarctic Program to support cruise logistics. The La Avenida is a typical Chilean hostal, with gracious hosts, a hearty breakfast (including “heuvos revueltos”, or scrambled eggs), and a lounge filled with well-worn antique artifacts. The owner is of Croatian descent, and as always enjoyed speaking Croatian with Pavica, our Croatian graduate student, and Craig, our Principle Investigator.

The "Hostal De La Avenida"

After a short nap and a stroll down to the pier to view the RVIB (Research Vessel Ice-Breaker) Nathaniel B. Palmer, our home for the next 40+ days in the Antarctic ice, we all met at the restaurant Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) to grab eat and meet-up with fellow research cruise participants. After dinner, we returned to our Hostal, for a luxurious night’s sleep in a real bed!

Our research vessel, the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP) tied along the pier in Punta Arenas. This is a rare windless night in the Strait of Magellan.

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