Blog: “It’s like the Caribbean, but with ice bergs”

“It’s like the Caribbean, but with ice bergs” – Elise Droste


Happy New Year everyone! May it be filled with amazing ocean science 😉 The New Year’s party on Polarstern will be added to the Christmas evening as a night to remember. One of the highlights was the surprise that the Dutch on this ship had had the ingenious foresight to ship oliebollen ingredients along with their scientific equipment months ago. Oliebollen are a Dutch tradition on New Year’s Eve: deep fried dough with sugar. HMM!! And so when we were done making them, we paraded with over-full dishes of oliebollen through the helihanger where the party was, dancing along “Dancing Queen”.

Since I wrote my last blog, all UK MetOffice floats that I had brought with me on Polarstern have been deployed. Paul Chamberlain and I now feel like fully competent, professional float deployers. The floats are now – hopefully happily – drifting along with the deep ocean currents. Yes, it’s a bit of a relief. As soon as we were back on the zero meridian, hard work kicked in. Gone was any decent rhythm of time. Sleep was reduced to a couple of hours scattered throughout the day and my activities were entirely dependent on when we had a CTD going into the water and when a float would go in with it, only to never return.

Paul Chamberlain (Scripps Institute) and I are ready to deploy Yellow Penguin (credit for photo goes to Markus Rex).

The floats have all been deployed around Maud Rise (an under-water mountain), where the presence of a macro-scale eddy will likely maintain them in the vicinity of that region. The reason for the choice of this location is that this is an important place where cold, carbon rich deep waters upwell to the surface.

Lowering the floats into the water (with a rope) was an adventure in itself, albeit a very quick one. If not done carefully enough and a sensor hits the side of the ship… Let’s just say that myself and many other people who are part of PICCOLO would be extremely upset. Anyway, no need to think about those career-doom scenarios anymore. I was happy to start deploying the Core Argo floats first, which have less sensors on them (only a CTD), so less things to damage. The sea was also very smooth. By the time we got to the station where I needed to deploy a biogeochemical (BGC) float, however, the winds and the waves had picked up considerably and it was snowing. It went fine!

Yellow Penguin is carefully being lowered into the Southern Ocean (credit for photo goes to Markus Rex.

The two BGC floats were named by the Roddick class at Buckden CE Primary School. The children came up with a whole list of very creative names and it was impossible for me to decide which ones to write on the floats. I therefore asked the scientists and crew to give their vote on their favourite names. It became a tie, so what else could I do but let the captain of the ship cast the deciding vote? Meet Frosty Float and Yellow Penguin, our two BGC floats that will feed data to PICCOLO over the next 3-4 years. (Yellow Penguin’s colour might confuse you a little… Unlike the Argo floats that pop up on Google Images, my floats aren’t actually yellow. And despite explaining this to the scientists, crew, and captain, it still won!)

The hard work that ended a hours before the start of 2019 will resume tomorrow when we get to the most southern part of the Greenwich meridian and will sample one CTD after another. Which is why I’m now just watching the calm waves from the winch room (one of my favourite spots to sit on the ship). The clouds are dissolving and the sun is brightening a clear sky and blue ocean. In a sudden exultation of awe, Diego Filun pronounced: “It’s like the Caribbean! But with ice bergs.”

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking DIC and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.

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