Getting Our Hands Dirty : 3 Days of Field Work with SCINI (& Good Weather!!)

Matt and Anthony’s first field day – 

After a weeks worth of persistent nasty Condition 2 weather the clouds have dispersed, the sun is shining, and the wind is, well, at least not as bad as it was.  Spirits are high with good weather abound and the opportunity to gear up and drive some snowmobiles out onto the sea ice, drill some holes, and get a look at whats down there.  This week has been filled with test runs on the sea ice, prepping everyone for SCINI’s deployment through the ice shelf next week.  Our first SCINI run with the engineering crew present went swimmingly and everyone seamlessly jumped into the routine.

Jumping right in : unpacked gear, marked drill site, and Matt and Laughlin getting us started

Jumping right in : unpacked gear, marked drill site, and Matt and Laughlin getting us started

This being a test run, the motions were pretty much identical to our previous post.  However, the scenery on this day made for a few choice photo opportunities.  Including a Weddell seal basking on the snow near us.

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As the sun sunk lower in the sky droves of helicopters began returning from carrying cargo out to the McMurdo dry valleys, another scientific hotspot near the station.

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As always even the skyline provided a scenic backdrop to our day at ‘the office’.

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Mystery Peak – 

Later in the week we split ranks and Matt, Mick, and Anthony stayed back to assemble Icefin, while Catherine, Britney, and I headed out to a ‘sea mound’ with Stacy Kim’s crew.  The sea mound is a drastic rise in the ocean floor, this one hidden under 4 meters of sea ice in the McMurdo Sound.  This particular sea mound is particularly intriguing as it houses a completely different benthic biosphere than the surrounding seafloor.  We sent SCINI down to document the two different ecosystems (actual SCINI pictures forthcoming, I promise!!).  Although the skies were clear, the wind made the hour long snowmobile ride out, as well as the field work a little taxing.  The distance from the station did, however, provide us with a brilliant view of Erebus and put us in our most humblingly remote location yet.

Setting up shop with Erebus looming in the background

Setting up shop with Erebus looming in the background

Catherine carrying on through the wind and the snow

Catherine carrying on through the wind and the snow

In addition to SCINI’s launch, we helped Stacy’s group deploy a long term time lapse camera system on the top of the sea mound, which will continue to take photographs of the subsurface world for the rest of the season before it is pulled back up.

Stacy and Marty prepping the long term time lapse for it's descent to the bottom of the sound

Stacy and Marty prepping the long term time lapse for it’s descent to the bottom of the sound

The Trans-Antarctic Range, Mount Erebus, and Erebus Glacier – 

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Recon – 

The next day Britney, Matt, and I spent three hours after dinner getting further acquainted with the snowmobiles as we took a long haul expedition to do some reconnoissance for the field sites we will be traversing to starting next week.  These six locations were picked to explore a potentially diverse array of underwater dynamics and ecosystems.  To get there we have to travel far across the ice shelf, which has few flagged roads and zero less natural features, so we wanted to begin to get a feel for how we’ll go about traveling from the base to our field camps.  Our plan is to take marked roads as far as we can and then diverge off of them and utilize GPS’s to go the last leg to our sites.  We spent this evening planning routes and finding our turnoffs.

Pegasus field, the end of the flagged routes to the west

Pegasus field, the end of the flagged routes to the west

Matt at one of our turnoff points, beyond which lies one of our future campsites

Matt at one of our turnoff points, beyond which lies one of our future campsites

Dive #3 : Sea Ice and Ice Shelf Transition – 

The next day Matt, Catherine, Britney and I, along with Stacy’s group, headed out onto the white expanse one again.  This time our destination was one along the transition between the yearly melting sea ice and the permanent ice shelf.  This location is of interest because the ice shelf is an extension of a glacier, a gargantuan slab of fresh water ice that slides off the land and floats atop the ocean, making it drastically different from the sea ice.  Being permanent makes even the edge of the shelf up to tens of meters thick, which is extremely difficult to drill through.  However at the transition, we have the opportunity to launch SCINI through the much thinner sea ice and then swim under the shelf to see the difference in the environment under the fresh water shelf.

I said thinner, not thin. The team stacking flights onto the drill.

I said thinner, not thin. The team stacking flights onto the drill.

As we ramp up we're needing to bring more equipment, so in addition to a Piston bully full of gear we sledded out multiple tools

As we ramp up we’re needing to bring more equipment, so in addition to a Piston bully full of gear we sledded out multiple tools

Setting up the tripod for tests and ladling out 'frazil' and 'brash' ice

Setting up the tripod for tests and ladling out ‘frazil’ and ‘brash’ ice

One thing that we’re particularly interested in is how the freezing and melting of fresh water from the ice shelf affects the underside of both the shelf itself and the sea ice, dynamically as well as biologically.  One side effect is the increase of frazil and brash ice.  When warm currents melt the bottom of the shelf the freshwater melt flows out towards the sea ice.  When it reaches the saltier sea ice it refreezes in platelets and discs that sit in a slush under the ice instead of just freezing to the underside of the ice.  While for us this, up to 20 ft. thick, slush means lots of ladling it out of the hole to get SCINI down through it, this water logged salt slurpee provides a safe, nutrient rich, haven for algae and other microorganisms which in turn feed other creatures under the ice.  This is incredible, as this type of ecosystem extends far under the ice shelf to places completely devoid of light, and brings into question whether the same type of frigid, but bustling, habitats could exist elsewhere in our solar system (and throughout the universe).

Deploying a water sampler through the drill hole to test for chemical concentrations and biological tracers

Deploying a water sampler through the drill hole to test for chemical concentrations and biological tracers

A view of the crew

A view of the crew

Catherine manning the hole while SCINI descends

Catherine manning the hole while SCINI descends

Though hard to make out, you can see the snow packed slope up to the edge of the ice shelf

Though hard to make out, you can see the snow packed slope up to the edge of the ice shelf

Although this day was particularly ideal, sunny and no wind at all, being outside in the cold all day takes its toll and you can’t get too bogged down in being totally serious and sciencey all the time.  Luckily we’ve got a crew that knows how to keep morale high.

Matt in his natural habitat, pizza in hand, intentionally livening up my scenery shots

Matt in his natural habitat, pizza in hand, intentionally livening up my scenery shots

Matt and I with our victory salute after ladling half the oceans ice through a hole

Matt and I with our victory salute after ladling half the oceans ice through a hole

Britney being Britney, and pizza consuming Matt doing his best to photo bomb every shot he can

Britney being Britney, and pizza consuming Matt doing his best to photo bomb every shot he can

The Antarctic Chaise Lounge Chair, patent pending

The Antarctic Chaise Lounge Chair, patent pending

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On the agenda:

-Tank testing Icefin

-Prepping for movement out to far off field camps

-Catherine and I teach the rest of the crew how to cross country ski!!

(look forward to pictures from ALL of these events)

Cheers! – The SIMPLE Crew

3 responses to “Getting Our Hands Dirty : 3 Days of Field Work with SCINI (& Good Weather!!)

    • Neither of these submersibles actually bring samples back up to the surface, we’re just gathering the water samples via the drop tube this year. However, Icefin will pass the water through it’s sensors to gather all of the data about temperature and salinity profiles underneath the shelf. Next year we’ll be bringing down a much larger submersible called Artemis that will have even more sensors, capable of tracing biological presence in the water during missions, and will also be capable of doing water sampling deep deep underneath the shelf. Additionally the students of an undergraduate class at Georgia Tech taught by Mick West, our lead engineer down hear, is working away to design a controllable arm for Icefin for future field campaigns. The main goal for the arm is to be able to collect all the samples we could ever want; sediments at the bottom, ice from the bottom of the shelf, and even safely return complete, in tact, biological specimens.

      Thanks for reading!!
      And feel free to keep the questions coming, we love telling people about all this stuff.

      -Jacob

      Liked by 1 person

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