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Journals 2007/2008

Mark Goldner
Heath School, Brookine, MA

"Dynamics and Transport of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current in Drake Passage"
R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer

November 7 - December 7, 2007
Journal Index:
November 7 - 8 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 18 - 19
               21 - 22 - 24 - 25 - 27 - 28 - 29
December 2 - 4 - 5 - 6

Additional Resources

November 14, 2007
We're off!

52° 51' S, 67° 50' W
Temp. 7.0°C/44.6°F (wind chill -5.5°C/22.1°F)

And we're off! The Nathaniel B. Palmer has begun its Drake Passage "cruise."

The first part of our cruise took us up the Strait of Magellan. This is the waterway that passes between mainland South America and a large island known as Tiera del Fuego. The Strait was named after the Portuguese explorer Hernando de Magellan, who discovered this waterway. (He then went on to be the first European to discover the Pacific Ocean.) In the center of Punta Arenas is a statue of this famous explorer. Tradition holds that travelers who sail across the Drake Passage should kiss the big toe of one of the statues on the monument as good luck. Safe return to Punta Arenas is then assured. Well, I stood in for the science team and did my good luck duty.

Statue of Hernando de Magellan in the main square of Punta Arenas
Mark kissing the big toe on the statue to ensure safe passage through the Drake

Last minute preparations
After working for several days to tie down all the scientific equipment, today we spent time securing our personal items. Everything must be securely attached to a table, wall, or floor. We went through quite a bit of duct tape and Velcro. Even my coffee mug and water bottle have their own customized cup holders.

Last minute checks and adjustments to the CPIES instruments
My knot-tying skills have come in handy as we tied down everything.
My work station is secured. Even my coffee mug and water bottle have been secured to the table!
Terri Chereskin (the chief scientist) and her well-secured and well-decorated lab space
Erran Sousa (one of the URI engineers) ties up odds and ends. He even tied down the box of tie-down supplies!

I took the opportunity this morning to do my laundry on the ship. This may not seem like much to write about, but when crossing the Drake it's important to be strategic about when you do your laundry. Once we hit large waves and the ship begins to roll a lot, then the washing machines won't work. I figured it would be best to do it before we started to move.

Into the wild blue yonder
At around 7:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday (5:30 p.m. Boston time), we finally left port. A few hours ago we left the Magellan Strait. The first few hours of the trip have been very calm and uneventful. It's given me a chance to stand on deck and watch the water and the coastline. It's pretty overcast tonight, with a light rain, so the visibility isn't great. The coastline here is quite unlike what I'm used to. The land seems to end very abruptly at the sea, leaving steep cliffs.

View looking behind the Palmer as it sails away from Punta Arenas

Now that we've entered the Atlantic Ocean, we have to cut South. Next we'll travel around the southern tip of Tiera del Fuego for our first "waypoint". This will be our first stop, where we'll be deploying the first of many "CPIES" instruments. We will also be doing a "Current Mooring" deployment - this will help measure the current at various depths in the ocean.

About an hour after we left port we had a safety meeting. It felt a little like a cross between the routines you go through on the first day of school and the safety demonstration you get on an airplane. In addition to all the routines of how the ship runs and the dos and don'ts (including which seats you should avoid in the mess hall because the captain and officers always sit there!), we went through all the procedures in case of an emergency. Then we got to test out our lifejackets and "immersion suits". These suits are designed to keep you afloat and warm in case we had to abandon ship. They are known as the "gumby suits"; can you guess why? Finally, we went into the lifeboats to see how to get in and strap yourself in. Every week or so there will be an emergency drill.

Trying on the life jacket
It may not look pretty, but it could save your life!

This morning I got up and took a nice stroll around deck. After breakfast I spent a little while up on the bridge. I've noticed that a large number of sea birds seem to be attracted to the ship.

The beautiful view from the Palmer on the morning of 11/14. An albatross or petrel circles nearby.

For the first few hours the seas have been fairly calm. This boat is very stable, and aside from some gentle rolling it's not much different from being on land. I'm sure this will change before too long!

I learned this morning that the tides in the vicinity of the Magellan Strait are enormous. In some places the difference in water height from low to high tide can be over 30 feet! Apparently this is partly due to the shape of the continental shelf. What we think of as the "continent" extends many miles into the ocean - in reality part of every continent is submerged under water. So because the shape of the continental slope is so steep, this magnifies the size of the tide on shore.

Standing on deck enjoying the view as we leave Punta Arenas