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Back under the boot of civilisation

Hello readers. I am now safely back within the spotlight of the satellite that provides our internet connection, and I can't believe it's been 18 days since I last posted a blog entry! When going away in future I really must remember to shift the satellite orbits around a bit after cancelling the papers and leaving a note for the milkman.

It has all been a bit of a blur since I last wrote, with highlights sprinkled liberally within the daily routine of salt processing, CTD driving, salt processing, writing computer programs, salt processing, sitting in the bar, and salt processing. Luckily, every so often I remembered to look out of the window (salt processing) or get my camera out (salt processing) and as a result I now have something to write about other than salt processing. Did I mention salt processing? I could talk about that too, but only if you fax through signed disclaimers attesting that any injuries caused by the ensuing excitement are not the responsibility of me, BAS, or Shopsoiled Salinometers Inc. of Neasden. I would characterise that last sentence as medium to gratuitous irony.

I think it's fair to say that we have done a small mountain of CTDs since my last entry (current cruise total is 161) so we will now know more about a few sections of ocean. In the last couple of days it has been a little choppy on occasion, shall we say, and I have not been having the best days' sleep; at their peak the bags under my eyes were so large that I was worried about getting them through customs at Brize Norton in a few weeks' time. As a result of sleeping lightly I have been having some literally fantastic dreams, including one in which gravelly-voiced cockney darts player Bobby George came round to give me a Christmas present which I then had to pretend to like in case he took offence. Psychoanalyses on the back of a postcard please.

It would be churlish of me to say that I have not enjoyed it, and looking back through my photos makes me think what a lucky almost-middle-aged person I am indeed. I’m not sure that that would be the impression received by my brave cohorts on the night shift, who have to put up with my incessant whining about how it is better to dry the plates anti-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and why the ship would be better if it were run by a supercomputer called Boris5000 and things like that. See what you can glean from their blogs and then report back to me: here and here. Actually I really do recommend you take a look as they are both more capable than me in general, and blogging is no exception.

Since there is far too much material even for me to write up here, I will guide you lovingly through the minutiae of my life in chronological note form using bold font. If days are missing that means that I was doing lots of work and/or the sky, ice, sea, and wildlife were all different shades of grey such that they were topologically indistinguishable from a duty-mess tea-towel. If, for some strange reason, you want to know more, then you will have to wait for the DVD with the deleted scenes and the commentary. Readers with meaningful lives to attend to should probably look away now. Toodle-oo.

Big Ted scribbles down a last Will and Testament before going into the freezer to cut up his ice cores. That involves the combined dangers of cold, band-saw, and Ted, so we have to check he's still alive and un-mutilated every half hour or so. So far he is OK but it's only a matter of time...

I went on an unforgettable ice station. As we were lowered over the side in the 'Wor Geordie', a rope cage used for dumping excess scientists onto the ice, a little Adelie Penguin came over and started looking cute. As we manfully got on with hacking the ice to pieces, three Emperor Penguins came over too and stood by us curiously as we worked. They were only a few metres away and it was quite an experience. I didn't take my camera with me so I'll extract some photos for a future post, but in the meantime you can tell from these dark blobs how close we were. I am the person in the middle standing near the three Emperors. The Adelie is on the far right. The other Penguin-like thing in the foreground to my left is (Cook) Glen's toy Penguin mascot!
Also, this is what the scenery looked like:

I saw an iceberg. With a rainbow near it.

It was a little parky in the UIC. The first time I have ever attempted to program a computer with gloves on. Needless to say the result was very similar to Shakespeare.

Another ice station, this time at night. It was snowing and we were illuminated by the super-spotlights from the ship, so the effect was a little like Christmas except plus cold fingers and minus Rum butter. Another stunning experience.

Five or six Minke Whales came to see what we were up to while we were stopped in a 'pool' (gap in the ice) to do a CTD. It's hard to imagine what they thought of all the acoustic signals coming out of the ship and CTD; it probably sounded like George Formby to them or something. They swam around a bit and exhaled a lot before going away. What nice creatures they are, unless you are Krill.

At the end of my watch, the morning sea was filled with frazil ice as far as the eye could see. Alert readers will recall that frazil is tiny crystals of ice which forms in a mixed fluid when it is cooled to below the freezing point. The slush on the surface effectively increases the viscosity of the water, making it look very silky and amazing.

We were breaking ice all night and the poor folks on the bridge had a hard time of it. We went up to see them and were amazed at what they are asked to do. They had to steer through tight sea ice and bergs in a howling blizzard with only their Owl-like night vision and 3 super-spotlights to guide them. Amazing. The spotlights are moved electronically so they jerk from place to place like the Eye of Sauron.

I awoke to discover that were were doing an ice station in an area of bright brown sea! Between floes was copious quantities of algae happily growing away. The ice was also blueish in places, which is where it has been flooded with seawater.

After losing all sight of the sun to clouds and daylight-shifting for a few days, it was a very welcome sight when it returned. Here is an example taken through the bulrush-like aerials on the Monkey Island.
Also, after several days of rough seas and low temperatures the Fo'c'sle (Forecastle) was sheathed in ice and quite surreal. Here are some pics of that:

Finally, here is a picture of me doing what I do best, processing salt samples in the 'salt mine'. Check out that two-handed action! I think I will have learnt how to do it after a few hundred more crates.

Posted by DrPaul 23:38

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Hi, I only stumbled on this site this evening, as I was searching for tips on Romania. I was immediately drawn into your blog. I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your writing, laughed outloud a few times, and admired the photgraphy. I had no idea what a CTD ir why you did salt-processing, but it didn't matter.

Thanks again! Mimi

by mimipetit

Hi; your freezing occupation has at least several highlights - amazing scenery that few humans will ever see in person, penguines (who doesn't like penguines?), ice-covered ship and salt-testing. I enjoyed your writing. Keep it coming.

Thanks. Cory

by c.w.roan

Thanks for the kind comments folks. It is gratifying to be appealing to an audience wider than my address book, particularly since that is what various funding bodies have been trying to make me do for years. Just as a note, I have described the CTD etc. in earlier postings (especially Visions in the Mist) and tend to blithely refer to them elsewhere in order to reserve brain operations for more important things, like brushing my teeth.

by DrPaul

Hey Dr Holland

Wow, the photos just keep getting better! I love them, the scenery you're seeing is just fantastic!!! And now you know what it feels like to be the object of a penguin's attention, how can you beat that??

by becsmall

Here's another member of the wider audience piping up. Just found your blog because of the gorgeous pictures you keep uploading, and read straight through all your posts. Extremely interesting, keep it up!
You wrote a while ago that why you are measuring would be a tale for some other day, but any chance you could at least say a few short words on it? Are there specific theories you're hoping (not) to disprove, specific bits of data that you're wanting to find to plug into any models? (The footnote on the science definition made me laugh out.)

Also, since you're the first environmental scientist I've had a direct line to, I'm hoping you're familiar with the writing of Kim Stanley Robinson (his books are where I got most of my high level overview of the factors at play in climate change), and if so, if you could tell me how accurate (or how likely to be true) his descriptions are? (I realize very much that he writes fiction, but he also seems to take painstaking effort in getting the science right.)

by Sander

Hi there

Very briefly, I am interested in how the ocean melts Antarctica. Large parts of West Antarctica are not parts of the ice sheet, where glaciers flow over land, but are instead ice shelves, where these same glaciers flow out over the ocean and float on it. Floating ice shelves can be huge; for example Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf is the size of France and up to 2km thick. I specialise in modelling the ocean underneath ice shelves.

Various satellite-monitoring studies have shown that some grounded areas of West Antarctica have thinned quite rapidly in the last decade or so. This transfers mass from the land to the ocean, leading to sea level rise. However, the thinning is not fully understood.

There is a reasonable suspicion that ocean warming has caused this inland thinning by increasing melting of the ice shelves from below. Melting increases may thin the ice shelves and thus possibly reduce the extent to which they are able to prevent the ice sheet from flowing into the sea. However there are no ocean measurements providing direct evidence for an ocean warming. In some relevant areas there are no temperature measurements at all! Amongst other questions, the observations from our cruise will help address this theory.

I'm afraid I am not aware of the writing you refer to so I couldn't really comment. Sorry! I would say, however, that there can be no serious doubt that human activities are seriously affecting the climate and will continue to do so unless we act. If you want a relatively-conservative overview, read what the experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are saying. Download the 'summary for policymakers' from this page:


It might be a little dry but it's an excellent overview and definitely not fiction! Thanks for your interest.

by DrPaul

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