A post trip update

Well the trip went great. Tons of wonderful samples however due to being at the ends of the earth we couldn’t get the bandwidth to keep up our blog.  I’ll keep putting some highlights here even though we have returned to the land of the warm, although we are now in winter after our nice stay in Antarctic summer.


Soft Coral and light

The making of benthic chambers!

The past couple weeks before our departure were spent preparing last minute items for the trip and packing. This included constructing benthic chambers that we have brought with us to the ice to deploy on the sea floor. The benthic chambers will be used to quantify the flux of methane from the seafloor over a 24-hour period. We will also take pore-water measurements from the chambers allowing us to see the concentration of methane, sulfur and oxygen at various depths within the sediment. To facilitate these research goals, the benthic chambers had to have various features that I’ll outline here. By working with the awesome people at the CEOAS Machine Shop (Ben Russel, John Simpkins and Tige Kurth) we were able to design the chambers using mainly stock PVC plastic and acrylic plastic tubes.

In designing the chambers, we had a few goals that we had to have many brainstorming sessions to figure out how to achieve. First, we had to make sure that we could gently mix the water periodically to avoid the sediment-water interface from becoming anoxic. It has to be a gentle mixing though, as stirring up sediment would skew our data. We also had to have outlets to sample the overlying water (through use of a gas tight septa) as well as holes for sampling of the pore water beginning at the top of the sediment and continuing at two centimeter increments down. We also had to ensure that the cap would have a gas tight fit so that we could have upmost confidence in our measurements of gas flux from the sediment into the overlying water.

Figuring out how to gently mix the water to avoid the development of anoxic conditions while also not disturbing the sediment was the most challenging task. Most designs employ use of a motor powered turbine, generally battery operated through water and pressure proofed connections. However, we knew that the best option for us would be non-electric – a difficult task to say the least. What we ended up designing can be seen in the animation that Ben Russel from the Machine Shop designed on solid works. It utilizes magnets to hold two propeller shaped pieces on either side of the lid of the benthic chamber. With manual movement (by us during dives) of the top magnetic piece, the bottom piece rotates accordingly gently mixing the water within the chamber.


Finished product!

In design of these chambers, I got to learn how to use the Lathe for facing, turning and drilling (machine shop lingo for smoothing the ends, countering the bottom, and creating even sides) the chamber tubes once they had been cut on the horizontal band saw. The lids for the chambers, including the outlets for the septa and o-ring groves, were designed in the CNC program and cut into the PVC plastic of the caps with precision by the machine. The ports for the rhizones that will allow for sampling the pore-water in vertical increments down the core were made with a simple drill press. Overall, it was really fun to work in the machine shop designing these chambers and learning how to use all the new equipment. Check back with us to see pictures of them deployed in the field!

Ahhh trainings…

The View from McMurdo.  It never gets old.

The View from McMurdo. It never gets old.

WE MADE IT!  Needless to say it is a relief to be back to Antarctica after four years away.  It is somewhat like returning home again but really only in regards to it being a research home.  Upon arriving we get swept right into trainings upon trainings.  These are some of the more fluid items that change periodically and this year had some big changes.  Here is just a smattering of the trainings that both Sarah and I have to complete before we can head out into the field:

Science Inbrief – this one is pretty straight forward.  Hello, Welcome, Do good and don’t break rules.  Here are the names of people whom will be helping you but you will meet.  I’m always happy to see certain people in this meeting as I know that parts of my research will succeed.  Tony runs the mechanical shop (MEC) and provides our cool tracked vehicles and drills. Michael is in charge of shipping and one of the greatest (annoyances) challenges of science is dealing with shipping samples.  Both of these people have been here for decades and if they were not I would be worried.  They are here – sigh of relief.. and on to the next training.

CORE training (Classroom Vehicle training, Fire Safety, Waste Briefing, Medical Briefing) – Don’t get in a crash and drive slow.  Don’t burn the station down.  Throw stuff in the right trash. Don’t get sick and if you do come see the doctor.  Check!

Practical Vehicle training –  Here is the truck/ piston bully (tracked vehicle) and here is how you start it and don’t break it/ catch it on fire. Check!

During training we get taught how to ride in the helicopters and ride these snowmobiles. Neither of which are we likely to do this season. .

During training we get taught how to ride in the helicopters and ride these snowmobiles. Neither of which are we likely to do this season. .

Snowmobile training (standard) – This is a snowmobile. I usually avoid this training simply because I do not love snowmobiles down here.  They are a bit chilly and more than that we don’t dive out of them so largely this training is not something we will use. Not Check!

Crary Lab Safety Orientation – Don’t die of chemical burns and don’t mess up the environment. Check!

Meeting with Crary Lab IT to gain access to wireless network – We will let you check your email and update your blog now… Check and whoo hoo.

Environmental Field Brief  – Antarctica is delicate don’t mess it up! Check (well not really… that’s Tuesday but I look forward to getting it checked)

FST Training Classes – This is how you don’t get hurt by Antarctica as she is an unforgiving beast.  For me this was a day course and for Sarah a day course plus an additional day getting instructed how to be safe on the sea ice (I’ve taken the sea ice course three times before so just got the PPT refresher).

MacOps Pre-Field Communications Briefing – This is how you use a radio and who to call.  Check!

Science Sample movement from the field to McMurdo – Pretty self explanatory in the name…

MOCA (McMurdo Operations Cargo Application) – This is the database that will let you ship samples off continent and back where they need to be.

Lab Waste Briefing – How to dispose of lab waste. In Antarctica this is more specifically, how do you put lab waste into a waste stream so it can be shipped off continent.  There is ZERO waste disposal in Antarctica (with the exception of effluent from the sewage treatment plant – but not the solids from it.  Those get shipped off as well).

MEC Allocation – Here are your drills, chainsaws, and anything else you may need.

BFC Allocation – The BFC is where we get field supplies that are not motors.  This is everything from survival bags (fingers crossed we never use them) to toilet paper.

Communications Equipment Allocation – Here are your radios! Check.

Dive Operations – This is the introduction to diving in Antarctica and how the dive locker runs.  Not listed but part of this is also a check out dive.

Implementer – I guess I haven’t done this one yet since I have no idea what it means… getting there.

All in all the trainings take around 6 business days. The good news is that there is only one non-business day in Antarctica and that is Sunday.

I will also say that the internet connection this year is not what it used to be so we will be updating the blog as we get intermittent windows of good internet but those currently seem to be rare.  This blog, for example, was supposed to post weeks ago but we haven’t been able to get it on line.

Since then this happened:

Cinder Cones Shallows

Cinder Cones Shallows