Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cruise objectives

I've talked about the weather enough (p.s. not looking good for
tomorrow...ugh), I'm going to start to address what we are doing here
and how we are doing it. As of this point, I only know some of the
cruise's objectives: there are many scientists on board, all of whom
have individual goals and plans -- I'll try to address the common,
big-picture ones. It is an art for the science team, and the chief
scientist in particular, to orchestrate where and how we will
allocate time to each one. Particularly when the weather is fickle,
instruments malfunction, and time is limited. More on that later.

A common theme of the research we're doing is a desire to understand
how the oceanic environment around Antarctica interacts with the
global climate. My guess is that most of us on board think that this
region of the ocean (which is, area and volume-wise, very small) has
a disproportionate impact on the climate and the carbon cycle.
Understanding the key processes involved here will better allow an
assessment of their sensitivity to change. In my case, I'd like to
understand how changes in the ocean may affect the Antarctic ice
sheet, which may in turn influence the global sea level. I'd also
like to know if there are ways or locations where we can monitor
change. Others on board are trying to determine how productive the
coastal ocean in the Amundsen Sea is and what causes the biological
activity (or lack therof). Biology (phytoplankton, bugs, fish)
removes carbon from the atmosphere and places it in the ocean. We
don't know whether this compensates for other parts of the antarctic
where the carbon goes from the ocean to the atmosphere. Other
scientists want to know what happens to sea ice (ice that forms at
the surface) as it floats on top of the ocean. When and why does it
melt? Where does ice formed in one place drift ?

We can lump the science into what we're studying -- subsurface ocean
currents, sea ice, and phytoplankton, but all of these overlap.
Biologists studying phytoplankton need to know where the water in a
location is coming from, physical oceanographers need to use
chemicals which are taken up by phytoplankton in order to know where
the water is coming from.

A key tool for all of the scientists is the CTD/rosette (good
wikipedia opportunity), which allows us to understand what's
happening below the surface of the ocean, where satellites can't see.
Water collected at different depths gives clues as to where the water
originates from, what's happened to it on the way, and what's lived
in it. Since I'm working on monitoring and sampling from this tool,
it may get disproportionate focus here. More on the CTD soon.

It's somewhat less quiet around the ship today, I think most people
are beginning to acclimate to the motion of the ocean. Both air and
sea temperatures are around 6 degrees, winds slightly weaker today at
20-25 knots. Hope it stays that way.

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