ORCHESTRA

Blog: Sampling starts on the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA (Pt 4)

Sampling starts on the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA (Pt 4)  by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of  ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS and several UK universities. This is the fourth blog about her trip where the work begins on the RRS James Clark Ross…

We are currently cruising south from the Falkland Islands, crossing the Drake Passage from the Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge off eastern South America) to Elephant Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula). We are repeating some established measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made with support from NERC funding since the early 1990’s but we are also adding some new novel measurements, including O, C, N and Si isotopes, nutrients, and micro plastics to help us understand the changes in the ocean. Most of the measurements are made on discrete water samples collected from depth profiles (down to the sea bed which in places is 5km below the sea surface) taken at regular distances along the transect. The water samples are taken using an instrument called a CTD.

The CTD is a carousel of niskin bottles used to collect discrete samples of water at different depths in the ocean as well as make some continuous measurements.

A CTD is an instrument used to measure the Conductivity (used to determine salinity), Temperature, and pressure of seawater (the D stands for “depth,” which is closely related to pressure) of the ocean but also to collect discrete water samples.  The water samples are taken using a rosette or carousel of “Niskin” bottles. Niskin bottles can be opened at both ends. The open bottle is lowered into the ocean on a wire until it reaches a certain depth and then the bottle is closed by a weighted trigger that is sent down the cable from the surface. Our Niskin bottles are set up in a circular rosette of 24 bottles attached around the CTD instrument. This allows us to take samples at different water depths in a way that seals off the sample and allows it to be brought to the surface without mixing with water from different depths. Getting water samples from different depths in the ocean is important to understand how the water chemistry and physical properties changes with depth.

The CTD being recovered from the Southern Ocean.

While the scientist work we have a dedicated crew on board that support us, for the sampling we are indebted to the engineers and deck crew for help with the CTD, as well as those responsible for the successful operation of the ship.

A CTD sampling team.

Cruising track from the south from the the Burwood Bank (an undersea shallow ridge off eastern South America) to Elephant Island (off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula).

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS britgeopeople.blogspot.com and drakepassageblog.wordpress.com when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.

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Blog: Sailing off towards the ice

Sailing off towards the ice by Julia Rulent

Julia Rulent is currently taking part in the JR18002 cruise in the Southern Ocean as part of the ORCHESTRA project. Here she tells us about life onboard ship.

After our first few lucky sunny days exploring the Falkland Islands, enjoying the unexpected warmth of this bright southern hemisphere summer, and trying to befriend as many penguins and sheep as we saw to make the most of last few days on land, here we are, finally moving on board of the RRS James Clark Ross.

Melanie Leng (BGS) and Julia Rulent (Bangor and Liverpool) on board the RSS James Clark Ross.

This impressive research vessel reaching almost 100m length will be our home, our workplace, our leisure space, and essentially our life for the next few weeks on board. After settling in our cabins, mobilization started straight away. Mountains of equipment boxes are sorted and all labs were built in a couple of hectic days of drilling, tying, nailing, or calibrating, in order to secure all kit and get ready for science at sea. We celebrated our last evening in Stanley with a few beers at the local pub (which was actually a shipping container…!) and we are ready to go!

Very soon after we sail, the Southern Ocean welcomes us with stormy weather and high waves, but sea sickness aside, isn’t that part of the adventure? We should have guessed by the “seat belts” we found on our beds that the ocean might get a little choppy. Here, between the furious 50’s and the screaming 60’s, the wind really does shout as if ghosts were haunting the ship at night. Despite the rocking and rolling that somehow makes walking around the ship feel more like a rollercoaster ride, we are all enjoying the great meals served on board by the crew and the sharing of quite a few laughs, and  with way too competitive board games. There are also guitars to play, a lot of films which we can enjoy while having a drink at the bar onboard the ship. Being on the ship can feel like being in a different century, maybe part of a ‘Master and commander’ film scene. At times when the agitated sea runs under the grey sky where somehow seabirds persist flying in, both the ship and the waves seem to move in slow motion and time freezes.

The view from the ship in slightly choppy waters in the Drake Passage.

A few technical problems meant that the work on board didn’t start straight away, but I have been spending my time staring at the horizon from the “monkey head” (the highest part of the ship) and the bridge, searching for whales and icebergs, which we all wish to see at some point during our journey. I think we are all looking forward to the rest of this expedition, I will update you in a few weeks!

Julia is currently a PhD student at the Universities of Bangor and Liverpool, and is on the ORCHESTRA cruise across the Drake Passage to gain experience of science at sea.

Blog: Penguins on the Falkland Islands

Penguins on the Falkland Islands – Felix Leung

Felix Leung is currently taking part in the JR18002 cruise in the Southern Ocean as part of the ORCHESTRA project. Here he tells us about penguins…

When I was young, I was fascinated with the cartoon animation Pingu, which is about a family of penguins living in an igloo in Antarctica. Of course I know penguins don’t live in igloos but they do live in Antarctica. Since my expertise is in biology and ecology, it has always been on my bucket list to visit penguins in their natural habitat. I am very fortunate to be able to visit Falklands Islands where we set off for ORCHESTRA cruise JR18002 and see two species of penguins’ colonies.

On the second day of arrival in Stanley Falklands, four of us joined a local tour to travel to Volunteer point to see the king penguins  (Aptenodytes patagonicus). The tour guide is the third generation of islanders in Falklands Islands. He is a farmer but also guide tourists to the Volunteer Point.  The journey to Volunteer Point was quite bumpy, we had to cross private farmland and some very wet peatland, the journey took 3 hours.

On arrival we immediately saw three king penguins walking up the beach to their colony. They walk slowly and sometimes the sheep blocked their way and have to wait for the sheep to move. There are around 200 king penguins in the colony, most of them are currently chicks. The adult penguins make a loud noise and the chicks chirp like a songbirid. The chicks have brown plummage which makes them look like a giant kiwi. Their feathers are very thick to enable them to keep warm. Since it is almost summer here in the Falklands, some chicks have started to shed their brown plummage and reveal their white and black tuxedo-like feathers, which represent them finally reaching adulthood.

The chicks have no fear if people and were quite happy following us.

Unfortunately some chicks do not make it to adults as they are predated on by skua and giant petrels. Corpses are scattered around.

Not too far from the king penguin colony is the gentoo penguin colony. Unlike the king penguin they are smaller in size and lay eggs on a nest that they built themselves. They are cramped into a small place and sometimes they fight for territory.

On a different day we visited the gentoo penguin colony near Mare Harbour, Stanley, where the RRS James Clark Ross was docked. We walked from Mare Harbour to Falkland’s longest beach (Bertha’s beach) the penguins were not obvious until I found penguin footprints along the beach which we followed to their colony. The gentoo penguins walk much faster than the king penguin, and out of the water they can run over the sand dunes to the protection of their colony.

On a different day we visited the gentoo penguin colony near Mare Harbour, Stanley, where the RRS James Clark Ross was docked. We walked from Mare Harbour to Falkland’s longest beach (Bertha’s beach) the penguins were not obvious until I found penguin footprints along the beach which we followed to their colony. The gentoo penguins walk much faster than the king penguin, and out of the water they can run over the sand dunes to the protection of their colony.

Gentoo penguins crossing over the sand dunes to their colony on the hill.

Sheep were grazing on the grassland around the gentoo penguin colony and they seem to live in harmony.

Many penguins eat krill as their primary food source. However, there are increasing more krill fishing vessel fishing the krill unsustainably among the Antarctic waters. The krill fishing industry is growing as there are higher demand for supplements such as omega-3 that is extracted from krill. Climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing are the main threats penguins are facing today. There is a proposal to set up a large protected area in the Antarctic ocean however there are disagreements between different policy makers. In the meantime, we should put pressure on the government and educate the general public to protect our beautiful nature.

Felix Leung has recently finished his PhD at the University of Exeter and is moving to a post doctoral position in Hong Kong, Felix researches into the impacts of tropospheric ozone on crop production.

Blog: On board the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA (Pt 3)

On board the RRS James Clark Ross: ORCHESTRA part 3… by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is currently part taking in an expedition to the Southern Ocean as part of  ORCHESTRA (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports), a NERC funded programme with partners at the British Antarctic Survey (lead), the National Oceanography Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and many more including BGS. This is the third blog about her trip where she updates us on her arrival on the RRS James Clark Ross…

We arrived on the RRS James Clark Ross a couple of days ago to begin the mobilisation (ie organizing our equipment that we will be using to make measurements and take samples) before we set sail. The equipment has been organised over the summer by numerous science teams (to name a few: BAS, NOC, BGS, University of Exeter, University of Southampton) and loaded onto the ship while it was docked in Harwich. Hundreds of boxes from numerous science teams were stowed in the hold. We had to bring all the equipment up to the dedicated laboratories that we will need for sampling across the Drake Passage. Much equipment remains in the hold for  subsequent cruises, following this one, before the ship heads back to the UK. The equipment in the labs has been securely strapped down as we are anticipating rough seas. For my isotope analysis, I will take bottles of ocean water for analysis back in the BGS laboratories. Others make measurements on the ship, as the analysis are either relatively easy or the samples will not preserve till we can get them back to our laboratories in the UK.

We are currently cruising south from the Falkland Islands and will be crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula in a few days, repeating some measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made with support from NERC funding since the early 1990’s. We will also be adding new novel measurements, including O, C, N and Si isotopes and micro plastics to the arsenal of information we will be gathering to help us understand the changes in the ocean.

The samples I am collecting  are for oxygen and carbon isotopes. The oxygen isotope data   will tell us about how much freshwater to seawater there is at particular locations (which will help us understand melting of the Antarctic ice mass and therefore heat) and the carbon isotopes will tell us where the carbon is from and how the ocean uses the carbon. These measurements are particularly important to understand because of the significant changes the Earth is experiencing during the Anthropocene period we are living in.

While the scientist work we have a dedicated crew on board that support us, these are engineers, deck crew and stewards to name a few. The crew, often overlooked, have significant responsibilities which are integral to the successful operation of the ship and our research.

So far the weather has been good to us, blue skies and calm seas, hopefully it will continue!

I am tweeting @MelJLeng and @ORCHESTRAPROJ and Facebooking (Orchestra project) during this trip, as well as updating the BGS britgeopeople.blogspot.com and drakepassageblog.wordpress.com when I have time.

Melanie Leng is the Science Director for Geochemistry at the BGS and the BGS lead scientist for ORCHESTRA.