July 25, 2008
Today's news involved the planning of a potential new station. The NATHANIEL B. PALMER has been contracted to be out for 27 days. The amount of time scheduled for the project is a conservative estimate based on the ship's endurance, distance to study sites, number of samples needed and foul weather delays. If the sea state is too turbulent, sometimes deployments are postponed due to safety concerns. In difficult weather the movement of the ship can affect the interface between sampling instruments and the bottom, compromising sampling efficiency and stretching out the time needed to complete the schedule. In February 2008, the first outing for the FOODBANCS2 project, they experienced rough weather allowing for only a 30-40% sampling efficiency, where as this trip, we have had around a 90% sampling efficiency up to this point in the cruise. Basically, when the coring equipment goes down to grab mud, we tend to come up with good samples for each attempt. This impressive batting average has put us ahead of schedule and we will have some time left at sea once we finish with Station B to scout out new study sites. We will look into northern sites on the way back to Chile, which may be a good indicator of how the southern latitudes may be impacted by global climate change.
The IT folks have spent the morning searching for "multi-beam" acoustic data for the region in which we are interested. These images will show the contours of the seafloor in impressive 3-D maps. One area that may be suitable for our study is a part of the continental shelf between King George Island and Elephant Island (known from the explorer Shackleton's exploits). Upon arrival, we will use the onboard sonar to survey the seafloor in order to pinpoint some flat, soft bottom sites for sampling. Today the Principal Investigators used some of our transit time from Station AA to B to look over charts and to discuss the possibilities. The Captain will approve where we can go and assess how much time will be necessary for transit to the site. We plan to use a remote underwater video camera to survey the bottom before we deploy any equipment. The naming of the new site is currently being hotly contested.
Less interestingly, it is time to start packing up samples. The Raytheon Company assists with the shipping of our cargo, which involves the logistics of customs and the transport of preserved specimens, hazardous chemicals and refrigerated/frozen samples back to the United States. During downtime, the science team has been packing up samples and storing them in the ship's hold. The work will not end when we get into port; samples will need to be offloaded, shipped and much of the analysis work will take place back at university labs.