JCR274

The RRS James Clark Ross is currently on science cruise JR274,  Ocean Acidification,  and will be spending the next few weeks sampling rather a lot of water.

The proposed track for the JR274 science cruise.

The proposed track for the JR274 science cruise.

The above image is the proposed track for this cruise and at the time of writing this short update the JCR is just off of Elephant Island,  from where Ernest Shackleton set off in the small boat James Caird for South Georgia.

The Science team for JR274

The Science team for JR274

mepg

Position Report for Entry

Latitude: 52° 19′ S
Longitude: 57° 10′ W
Cruise Number: (not entered)
Heading: 281.96 °
Wind:
Air Temperature: 3.2 °C
Sea Temperature: 6.3 °C
Pressure: 993.38 hPa
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Mooring – 3rd April 2012

The JCR left the Falkland Islands at the end of March for the final Antarctic science cruise of the season, this time with oceanographers and geologists.

A recent mooring (instruments on a wire) placed in the Ocean weighed down with this 350kg train wheel.

A recent mooring (instruments on a wire) placed in the Ocean weighed down with this 350kg train wheel.

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Week 5: wrapping up and travelling home – March 21st, 2012

Jen Jackson, BAS

This week we bios have all been busy wrapping up our science work for this cruise: Adam (link: meet a scientist) is finally completing his bivalve experiments after many weeks in the cold room, Rachel has been entering all specimens into a database, examining the brittle star collections and taking small tissue samples from the brittle stars to send off for DNA barcoding when we return, Mel has been carefully checking through the sea cucumber collection and is beginning the long process of describing them; this requires a lot of examination under the microscope, careful sketching of specimens and referring to a lot of scientific literature. Camille has been taking high quality photographs of all the brittle stars and sea cucumbers in order that we can document them fully. Huw (our Principal Scientific Officer) has a big organizational task to make sure that all of our animals get into the right boxes and to fully document all box contents for import into the UK when the James Clark Ross finally arrives home in June. We have also had help from the ship’s doctor (Jim Rudd), from chemist Douglas (University of East Anglia) and from Stuart MacMillan of BAS.

Melanie Mackenzie examining an Antarctic sea cucumber in the ‘wet’ lab. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS.

Melanie Mackenzie examining an Antarctic sea cucumber in the ‘wet’ lab. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS.

Camille Moreau photographs a brittle star amid JR275 container boxes. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie, Museum Victoria.

Camille Moreau photographs a brittle star amid JR275 container boxes. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie, Museum Victoria.

Rachel Downey databasing specimens in the ‘dry’ lab area. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

Rachel Downey databasing specimens in the ‘dry’ lab area. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

I had a lovely phone chat on Wednesday morning with class 3J from Craneswater Junior School in Portsmouth. Michael Gloistein (www.gm0hcq.com) is in charge of communications on this cruise and he was able to help me set up the call via satellite phone and talk about life in the Antarctic. We fielded a lot of interesting questions about penguins, the climate, and our navigational equipment!

The James Clark Ross has a number of other jobs to do during the Antarctic season as well as on-board science. It also helps to ship people and their supplies and equipment between bases and ports in the Falklands, South America, the sub-Antarctics and the Antarctic. Since picking up the people from Halley base the ship has been very busy, and it just got busier on Sunday when we picked up all the remaining people on Signy Island in the Scotia Sea and helped them to close down the station. Signy is a long-term UK sub-Antarctic research base which has been carrying out environmental monitoring since it first opened in 1947. Nowadays it closes down over the wintertime, so as autumn comes everyone and their supplies must be evacuated and the whole base closed down and secured in preparation for the Antarctic winter. Recently the station has become quite overrun with some large nonhuman visitors as you can see from the pictures. Packing up the base around the roaring elephant seals felt like quite a challenge for us folk from the JCR but the people who work on Signy are evidently very used to it!

Business as usual at Signy Island base. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

Business as usual at Signy Island base. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

Elephant seals on Signy Island. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

Elephant seals on Signy Island. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

We are now heading back to the Falklands and expecting some rough weather in the Drake Passage on our way back across the Polar Front – these are notorious for being some of the roughest seas in the world so everything is lashed down tight!

Thanks for reading and see you on the next trip South.

Position Report for Entry

Latitude: 52° 19? S
Longitude: 57° 10? W
Cruise Number: (not entered)
Heading: 281.96°
Wind:
Air Temperature: 3.2°C
Sea Temperature: 6.3°C
Pressure: 993.38 hPa
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Ocean Chemistry on the JCR – March 21st 2012

Douglas Hamilton, University of East Anglia

Water chemistry is employed during cruises to look for various things of interest to Oceanographers like temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll.

Temperature and salinity can be used to tell us something about where the water comes from, for example warmer water originates from the hotter equator and colder water from the poles. Salinity is a measure of how “salty” the water is; new fresh water from ice melting for example lowers this, whereas evaporating water at the tropics raises this value. Salty water is of particular interest in understanding global ocean movements as it is heavier than fresh water and sinks, helping to create an ocean transport system around the world.

Dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll can be used as a measure of how biologically productive an area is. Levels of chlorophyll are related to microscopic phytoplankton (tiny plants) that live near the surface of the ocean.

Phytoplankton create their own food much the same as their larger relatives on the land, using photosynthesis to harvest the power of the sun to create sugars. Chlorophyll levels are of interest to researchers in many fields, both biological and chemical. In areas of upwelling, where water is brought up from the depths of the ocean, it carries with it essential nutrients for the phytoplankton to grow. A high chlorophyll count can help show where these nutrient upwelling regions are, or alternatively where nutrients from the atmosphere are entering through the surface of the ocean. As photosynthesis uses up carbon dioxide, the phytoplankton could help in a small way to lowering global warming if there is enough of them in the right area. Polar regions have some the highest chlorophyll levels in the world, helping to provide a strong start to the food chain and feed the large range of life living below the surface. Oxygen in the oceans is an essential part of animal life in the seas as much as on land, low levels can be potentially dangerous to many species. It is important for the safe future of all Oceans that we keep recording all these things and further develop our understanding of how these great blue oceans work.

The water to be analysed is collected using a piece of apparatus called a “CTD” which is lowered on a steel wire to the ocean depths. This consists of thick grey plastic tubes called Niskins that are mounted on a steel frame called a Rosette. A maximum of 24 Niskins can be “fired” at any given depth from a chosen location. Each Niskin collects the sample of the water traversing through it by snapping shut two water tight bungs at either end.  It is common practice to collect the water as the Rosette is ascending to the surface, this is because areas of interest spotted on the descent can be the ones captured. This water is then analysed onboard the ship using different techniques. Oxygen is measured by titration using the Winkler method which traps all the oxygen in the water. Chlorophyll is measured by filtering the water through filter paper and measuring the green bits in leftover cells with a fluorometer. Salinity is tested with a clever instrument that measures all the various salts within the water.

Sending the Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) recorder into the Weddell Sea to collect oceanography data. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie, Museum Victoria

Sending the Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) recorder into the Weddell Sea to collect oceanography data. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie, Museum Victoria

Douglas Hamilton (University of East Anglia) doing some water chemistry. Photo: Jim Rudd.

Douglas Hamilton (University of East Anglia) doing some water chemistry. Photo: Jim Rudd.

Position Report for Entry

Latitude: 52° 19′ S
Longitude: 57° 12′ W
Cruise Number: (not entered)
Heading: 286.37°
Wind:
Air Temperature: 3.1°C
Sea Temperature: 6.7°C
Pressure: 993.31 hPa
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James Clark Ross diary – March 15th 2012

Melanie Mackenzie – Museum Victoria

Now that we’ve finished collecting specimens, the EVOLHIST biology team on board the James Clark Ross is busily working away in the ship’s labs. Dr Jen Jackson has been working with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) for the past two years, using her skills in molecular science to help build a ‘big picture’ of animal evolution in Antarctica. For this cruise Jen has been focussing mainly on jellyfish and sea cucumbers and is hoping that the DNA sequences she gains from these will eventually will help to give us a better idea of how species from the Weddell Sea relate to those from other parts of Antarctica.

Dr Jen Jackson extracting jellyfish DNA on board the James Clark Ross.

Dr Jen Jackson extracting jellyfish DNA on board the James Clark Ross. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria.

Dr Jen Jackson explaining DNA extraction techniques to Stuart McMillan of BAS.

Dr Jen Jackson explaining DNA extraction techniques to Stuart McMillan of BAS. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria.

Stu McMillan of BAS is helping Jen out with her DNA extractions today.  Together they are placing tiny pieces of animal tissue in small plastic vials, then pipetting, lysing (using enzymes to break the material down) and spinning these samples until their DNA is in an appropriate form for testing back in the BAS lab in Cambridge.  While Stu has a background in zoology this is the first time he’s been ‘back in the lab’ for quite a while – kept busy as the cook/dustman from UK’s Antarctic Halley Base where we recently picked up a very happy (and mostly bearded) group of 21.

The crew hard at work at Halley creek 3.

The crew hard at work at Halley creek 3. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

Waving off the Halley 6 winterers.

Waving off the Halley 6 winterers. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

The summer crew have been busy readying the new Halley 6 for its first winter. While we were not able to visit the ‘big blue caterpillar’ ourselves, we had the amazing experience of being allowed off the ship for a couple of hours on the ice-shelf as the crew busily loaded gear onto the James Clark Ross.

After the requisite safety-briefings from 2nd Mate Tim, Captain Jerry happily waved us off from the Bridge and we were free to run around like school-kids on a snow day – extremely happy to ‘stretch our legs’ after a month and a half on board.  Marine geologist Alex Tate took this to another level, running a lazy 10 kms as the rest of us wrote messages home in the snow.

Team photo at Halley creek 3

Team photo at Halley creek 3. Photo: Richard Turner - British Antarctic Survey

Alex
Alex

Position Report for Entry

Latitude: 60° 13? S
Longitude: 48° 29? W
Cruise Number: (not entered)
Heading: 270.86°
Wind:
Air Temperature: 1.0°C
Sea Temperature: -0.2°C
Pressure: 994.81 hPa
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Week 4: Monday 27th February to Sunday 4th March: Completing our biological sampling in the eastern Weddell sea

Rachel Downey (British Antarctic Survey)

We have been working in some amazingly calm waters for the last two weeks, and are now breaking through the sea ice again as we leave this part of the eastern Weddell sea for a rendezvous with our Halley base colleagues. We have been sailing close to the Antarctic ice shelf, and have been able to see not only how impressive they look close up but also how colossal they are too! We have been getting this close to the ice shelf in order to map the shelf break, as Antarctica has some of the steepest shelves in the world, which can plunge from 400 m to 2000 m in just 2 kms. We have also found some really interesting gully features too, which will help our colleagues back at BAS to understand underwater sediment processes in this area.

Swath Bathymetry images of the shelf break in the Weddell Sea. Image by Alex Tate

Our journey through the sea ice towards the ice shelf has also given us dozens of wildlife spotting opportunities. Groups of Emperor penguins and Crabeater seals can be seen resting on many of the icebergs we pass. Large groups of Minke whales are also fond of feeding in this area, so there are plenty of opportunities during our working day to snap a couple of photos for the folks at home. Birds are surprisingly common round here as well, with petrels and terns often seen flying with the ship or resting on sea ice around us.

Two Crabeater seals on the ice

Snow Petrel. Photo by Huw Griffiths (BAS)

Emperor Penguin. Photo by Huw Griffiths (BAS)

In just over 2 weeks we have nearly completed our biology sampling of a wide selection of sea floor environments. Our trawls and underwater camera footage have shown us just how incredibly diverse and colourful Antarctic sea floor life really is. We have come across muddy sea cucumber ‘cities’, bryozoa (moss animals) reefs that are as impressive as any tropical coral reef, and rocky sponge gardens jam-packed full of animals.

Different habitats from the Weddell Sea captured on underwater video. Photo by Huw Grifiths (BAS)

Excitingly brittle stars of all different shapes, sizes, and colours were found in great numbers this week. We all took turns to climb into the nets to get them out carefully with tweezers! BAS are currently heading the largest brittle star DNA bar-coding project of the Southern Ocean, using this abundant group to help us understand the evolution of Antarctic sea floor life. The southern Weddell Sea is a completely new sampling area for this project, and me and my colleagues, Chester Sands and Huw Griffiths, hope to learn lots of new facts about this charismatic group.

Antarctic Brittlestars. Photo: Camille Moreau (BAS)

Working and living on a ship has been an incredible experience for all of us scientists on this cruise. All the crew have been superb in helping us complete our scientific work. Even though we are on a moving ship in one of the remotest areas you can find on the globe, we still enjoy some of the everyday touches of normal life, such as regular circuit training in the bowels of the ship to keep us in shape, and even a pub quiz after a hard day’s work. During this cruise, we have successfully gained our sea legs in some of the roughest oceans in the world, become expert whale and penguin spotters, and have got firsthand experience of just how amazing and unique Antarctic marine life really is.

JR275 Biology team

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Meet a team member

Adam has joined us from Southampton University where he studies the reproduction and morphology of bivalve molluscs in the Southern Ocean. Like their clam and mussel relatives, Adam’s tiny Antarctic bivalves get their food by filtering seawater. Adam is particularly interested in how the species respond to different environmental conditions such as sediment types, depths and temperatures. In the Southern Ocean, bottom water temperatures are a lot more stable than elsewhere, which means that species here may find it more difficult to adapt to temperature changes… a theory which Adam is keen to test.

To see how well his Southern Ocean bivalves respond to small, regular increases in temperature Adam has to work in the 4°C cold room on the ship, one of the best opportunities to study his animals alive as they are hard to maintain in captivity. At the bottom of the Southern Ocean they live at around -2°C! By slowly increasing their water temperature and measuring their rates of oxygen consumption he can test their thermal tolerances and in turn determine how the species may respond to rapidly changing environmental conditions. In this way he can learn about their capacity to adapt, which is useful for understanding the evolutionary history of bivalves in the Antarctic, and for predicting how these species may cope under potential ocean warming in the future.

So far he has been able to test one shallow water filter feeder species and two deeper water deposit feeder species. He is really hoping to catch more of the deeper water species in the next few days to make the most of this opportunity.

Adam Reed with Southern Ocean bivalves. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

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Week 3: Biological surveys in the eastern Weddell Sea

Jen Jackson (British Antarctic Survey)

Hello from the eastern Weddell Sea! On Sunday 19th February we reached the most southerly point of our expedition. At 77.36 degrees south we had made it as far south into the Weddell Sea as the sea ice would allow us to go – only 30 nautical miles short of the James Clark Ross southern record for this area. On the 17th we began to break into areas of sea ice. The James Clark Ross has a special ice heeling system which makes the ship roll from side to side, helping to ease our passage through the ice. We travel slowly through and stop frequently as the captain searches for a route through the existing cracks, targeting the weaker areas where the ice is more likely to break. The best place to watch this is from the very front of the ship, where you can peer over the prow and watch the action happening directly below.

Sea ice. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

The sea surface temperature is now around minus 1.5°C. At this temperature it is so cold that the sea changes in consistency. Ice crystals under the surface dampen the waves giving the sea around us a completely glossy and smooth appearance. Despite the complete lack of haze, it’s often hard to distinguish the sea and sky at the horizon. Minke whales patrol the sea ice; rising in the small pools that form where the ice fractures and separates. The groups of flapping Adelie penguins from the last few days have now been replaced by calm clusters of emperor penguins, craning at us from the sea ice.

Emperor penguins. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

The Weddell Sea. Photo: Jen Jackson, BAS

Minke whale. Photo: Adam Reed, University of Southampton

From the 19th we have been slowly tracking north along the Antarctic coastal shelf and into deeper waters, collecting sea floor animals from 300 to over 2,000 metres deep. Each ‘sampling station’ consists of three Agassiz trawls and one epibenthic sledge, which were described by Mel last week. Life on the Antarctic sea floor is incredibly patchy, so we get a much fairer representation of it with three repeats. In the evenings we can review the high quality camera footage of the sledge and get a good look at the habitat we are collecting animals from.

Sea life at our most southerly site included loads and loads of sea cucumbers. We collected well over 200 of these little fellows. When they come out of the sea in the net they look like slime and sludge but are beautiful in the water (at least I think so!). Mel Mackenzie, our sea cucumber expert from Museum Victoria in Australia, was really happy and was kept very busy sorting and identifying. The most exciting part was that we learned a lot about the biology of these little animals from our underwater video camera. We collected excellent footage of a whole ‘city’ of sea cucumbers, each one sitting in a little pit it presumably had dug into the mud. It is wonderful to see the animals in action and we have learned some new things about sea cucumber behaviour in the Southern Ocean.

Agassiz trawl samples: Photos by Adam Reed & Camille Moreau

Our first day of sampling at 2,050 metres yielded an amazing diversity of deep-sea life, from countless worm tubes to loads of tiny sea spiders which clung to the nets on the way up. We spent a fair bit of time picking them off the nets and deck with forceps. The glamour of biology!

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JR 275 Diary Log

BAS cruise JR 275 departed the Falkland Islands on the James Clark Ross in early February and will sample the South Scotia Ridge, southern South Sandwich Islands and Weddell Sea before returning to Stanley in late March. This Antarctic research cruise is running three scientific programs: a biological program collecting animal samples and video footage, a geophysical program including seafloor mapping and collection of rock samples, and an oceanographic program using CTDs and gliders.

Week 1 – Sailing from Stanley to the South Sandwich Islands – Feb 13 2012
Mel Mackenzie (Museum Victoria)

It has been a surprisingly busy first week for all aboard the James Clark Ross. From the excitement of the first wildlife sightings of whales, dolphins, penguins and albatross as we left the Falkland Islands, to the less-joyous attempts to gain our sea legs as we crossed Drake Passage, the EvolHist (biology) team have been busy adjusting to life and work onboard a moving ship.

Breaching Dwarf Minke whale

Breaching Dwarf Minke whale. Photo: Jimmy Rudd – BAS

On Thursday as we moved into the calmer waters of the Scotia Sea our resident geologist Phil was able to deploy his first ‘rock dredge’ near some seafloor volcanoes. The dredge is a simple but useful tool. Rocks are dislodged by the sharp frame around the first net as it is dragged along the sea floor. This is followed by the effective ‘back up’ of a metal cylinder with a solid base, which can also collect rock (and sediment samples) if the first net is not successful.

James Clark Ross crewmen Dave and Seamus, assisting with deployment of the rock dredge. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

James Clark Ross crewmen Dave and Seamus, assisting with deployment of the rock dredge. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

On our second dredge for the day – success! There was a buzz on deck as Phil realized we’d struck what he was after – magnesium-rich rocks called ‘peridotite’. These particular peridotite rocks have been carried by lava all the way from the earth’s mantle, a phenomenon not known from any other place on the major spreading ridges of the ocean floor. These amazing little rocks are still being studied by Phil and his colleagues and have only been collected from this site once before.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) geologist Phil Leat with his proud haul of 'peridotite' rock. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) geologist Phil Leat with his proud haul of 'peridotite' rock. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

On Friday night a lucky few braved the cold night air to glimpse their first iceberg from ‘Monkey Island’ at the top of the ship. My first sighting was just after 5.30 am the following day as we neared the South Orkney Islands. It was a beautiful sight to see these huge bright white plateaus bobbing by, and a sure sign that we’d moved into true Antarctic waters.
The marine geology team had been busy ‘swathing’ our path, bouncing sound waves off the ocean floor to create a ‘virtual map’ of its depth and make-up, and allowing us to choose a suitable site for deployment of our scientific trawl equipment.

BAS marine geologist Gwen Buys with ‘swath’ showing current depth in metres. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

BAS marine geologist Gwen Buys with ‘swath’ showing current depth in metres. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

We started our test sampling with the Agassiz trawl (AGT), a sturdy piece of collecting equipment, made up of a metal frame and thick net, and less likely to be damaged if we happen to find ourselves in a rocky area.

The frame and net of the Agassiz trawl (AGT). Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

The frame and net of the Agassiz trawl (AGT). Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

A two minute trawl yielding many of the animal groups we had hoped to see including sea spiders, sponges, brittle stars and many other creatures, even my own favourite sea cucumbers! With only small rocks brought up with the catch it was then safe to deploy the more sensitive epibenthic sledge (EBS) while we sorted through the first catch.

Brittle stars were abundant on our first trawl, often found clinging to sponges.  Photo: Pete Lens – British Antarctic Survey

Brittle stars were abundant on our first trawl, often found clinging to sponges. Photo: Pete Lens – British Antarctic Survey

Brittle stars were abundant on our first trawl, often found clinging to sponges.  Photo: Pete Lens – British Antarctic Survey

Brittle stars were abundant on our first trawl, often found clinging to sponges. Photo: Pete Lens – British Antarctic Survey

The team quickly sort through the catch, preserving and storing the material for later taxonomic and genetic work. Photo: Pete Lens – British Antarctic Survey

The team quickly sort through the catch, preserving and storing the material for later taxonomic and genetic work. Photo: Pete Lens – British Antarctic Survey

The epibenthic sledge (EBS) with two nets at back and camera at front. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

The epibenthic sledge (EBS) with two nets at back and camera at front. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

The epibenthic sledge uses two nets to collect animals from the ocean floor, and this particular sledge has also been fitted with camera equipment, allowing us to glimpse the animals in their environment. Being able to link the preserved animals back to this footage later will help build a more complete picture of abundance, habitat, and interaction between animals. Deploying the equipment requires skill, a good harness, and a little bravery as the trawl is lowered over the back deck.

Crew and scientists deploying the epibenthic sledge. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

Crew and scientists deploying the epibenthic sledge. Photo: Melanie Mackenzie - Museum Victoria

Tonight we’re heading towards some volcanic calderas near the South Sandwich Islands. With a little luck we’ll miss the worst of the coming storm and will be able to start our next deployments early tomorrow. But for now, as the ship has started rolling again, I think it would be wise for me to sign-off and grab a hand rail before I get too dizzy!

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JCR Refit 2011

The James Clark Ross entered Portsmouth Naval Base on Wednesday 1st June to start the annual refit period.

The JCR in refit

The James Clark Ross entered Portsmouth Naval Base on Wednesday 1st June to start the annual refit period.

Position Report for Entry

Latitude: 51° 11′ N
Longitude: 1° 6′ W
Cruise Number: In Reift
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