Sunday, February 5, 2017

Balleny islands archipelago

February 3-4

We arrived to Balleny islands on Friday, February 3rd. The weather was not so good with really strong winds. We did a full CTD station ahead of the island and hoped for a better day tomorrow. It was still quite a magnificent view:
And magically the weather cooperated the next day. February 4th was sunny, albeit a cold and windy day. Island work was with in full swing. In the morning the helicopters brought the mountaineer and the ice coring party on top of the island. After several hours of work in “real Antarctic conditions” of sub-freezing temperatures and really strong winds they recovered a 17m ice core – a first one from this archipelago.
Meanwhile, the Zodiacs were launched into the water. The swell was rather high, but still operational. Two Zodiacs full of people went on around one of the islands in search of a beach to sample soil, microplastics and such. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any suitable place to land on a Zodiac and after an hour or so in the water they returned back to the ship.

At the same time helicopter operations continued. The "guests" of our cruise went onto the ice, but they got cold quite fast and returned to the well-heated icebreaker. After that, our pilots took the journalists and the ornithology team around the islands to take a detailed survey of the area. This digital photographs will be turned into 3-d maps of Balleny islands archipelago – hopefully helping all the expeditions to follow us. They would not need to spend all the time around the islands and would learn from our photographs where the suitable locations for landings/sampling/visits are.
Another activity we did for two days in a row – trawling for benthic creatures (organisms living at the bottom of the ocean). I went to the benthic lab after the first series of trawling we did and admired the organisms we acquired:
There were cold-water corals, star fish and sea urchins. Also cucumbers, several fish and some weird creature I forgot to ask the name of – these did not make it to the pictures I sent out.

All in all it was rather productive couple of days at Balleny islands. We also did a CTD cast before, in the middle and after the islands to study the island effect on biological productivity. As I sample these CTD casts I’m learning more about oceanography of the Southern Ocean, how to distinguish winter waters from the summer mixed layer waters and so on.

As we were cruising past the islands in the afternoon of February 4th, our chief scientist pointed out that we are the lucky bunch. Not only these archipelago is rarely visited by expeditions – it is quite rare to catch such a sunny day and actually see the islands. So here’s one more picture for all the readers of my blog. You are quite lucky to be seeing this as well!

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