PS117 - Weekly Report No. 2 | 21 December 2018 - 5 January 2019
After nearly a week at sea, the oceanographic station work falls into routine: CTD (conductivity – temperature – pressure probe) in the water – lowering to the bottom – hoisting – CTD aboard. This is frequently followed by the deployment of an Argo float, freely drifting profiling probes which will regularly provide the oceanographic key parameters, temperature and salt, from within the upper 2000m of the ocean for the next 5 years.
However, the morning of 22 December bad news intercept the emerging routine: a member of the crew is seriously ill. In the afternoon, it becomes clear that he quickly needs to be evacuated to the next hospital. Directly returning to Cape Town, however, is hampered by a storm to the North of us. This is why - in coordination with the shipping agency, AWI logistics and DROMLAN (Dronning Maud Land Air Network) – it is decided to head South to the Russian Antarctic station Novolazarevskaya, which is even 300 nautical miles – and hence more than 20 hours travelling time – closer than Cape Town. Three days later, shortly after a successful festive Christmas reception in the “Blue Saloon” on Christmas Eve, Polarstern has muscled its way through a wide strip of dense sea ice – the patient is flown by one of our helicopters to Novolazarevskaya, where a Russian Ilyushin 76 – which arrived from Cape Town just in time – is waiting for him. On the next morning, 4 days after emergency struck, we are happy to learn that our friend safely arrived in a Cape Town hospital.
Meanwhile Polarstern turns back North to resume station work along the Greenwich Meridian. Our initial plan, steaming straight to the northernmost of our moorings and resume our southbound section there, becomes unrealistic due to another heavy storm being forecasted for that area. Even though our ship allows us to conduct work up until 7-8 Beaufort, which are not uncommon in this area, and even though it has overcome many a storm, there is no need to knowingly head for 8m-high waves plus 3m swells and gusts up to 12 Beaufort. These would significantly hamper our progress, and also be prohibitive of deploying instruments over the side of the ship, such as the Surface and Under Ice Trawl (SUIT), which allows fishing directly under the sea ice.
Back on the Greenwich meridian, on a more southern location, SUIT experiences its first full deployment on 27 December. The heavy gear (Fig. 1) is lowered carefully by the A-frame into the water. At low speed, it rights itself behind the ship and shears to the side to get out of Polarstern’s wake, starting its first half hour profile. The effort’s result: a sparse catch of a few specimen of krill and jellyfish. Nevertheless, this too is an important result complementing our understanding of the Antarctic Ecosystem.
Station by station we now work our way North, unaffected from heavy weather, and then turn around South, to finally commence our work at and in the sea ice (Fig. 2). Here the SUIT is making its first successful catches, which are sorted diligently (Fig. 3). Fascinating one again, the forms and colours of the Antarctic Fauna. (Fig. 4).
With the exception of a persistent cough, scientists and crew send their greetings home from aboard Polarstern, looking forward to their rapidly approaching visit of Neumayer Station.