PS103 - Weekly Report No. 1 | 16 - 20 December 2016

We are leaving Cape Town

[21. December 2016] 

16. December, day of departure

As planned, Polarstern pushes away from the pier in Cape Town at 6pm, taking off for her 103rd expedition to the Antarctic.

Actually, it was nearly 9 months ago, when this expedition commenced in a meeting of all scientific groups involved, the logistic department of AWI, the shipping agency Laeisz which manages Polarstern, and Heli Service International GmbH, which operates the helicopters aboard.  After months of preparations, the first scientists boarded two days ago to start unloading the many containers with scientific equipment while still in port (Fig. 1), whereas most scientists embark today at noon.  Directly after departure (Fig. 2), 3.5m of swell meet us directly outside of port, requiring thorough lashing of the numerous boxes with equipment.  First, though, safety instructions are given, including gathering at the meeting point on the helicopter deck and proceeding to the assigned life boats.  On Polarstern this is, in fact, quite easy, as every deck is equipped with outside stairs port and starboard, which directly take you there.


17. December, 1st day at sea

During the night, the swell abated and everybody started working in the morning.  This first day at sea is governed by learning to find your ways (for those new aboard) and organizing the scientific parties.  The laboratories are assigned, 4 for the biological groups, 4 for physical oceanography and one for the media team, and the temperatures of the cold storage rooms and lab-containers are agreed upon.  The ship’s officers introduce themselves and explain the do’s and don’ts.  Counting nearly a hundred persons aboard, the tight quarters for the next six weeks require mutual consideration and an understanding of everybody’s role and duties in this enterprise.

Passing the 12 nautical mile zone, the phytooptic team already starts their measurements in the middle of the night.  Two days prior to departure they came aboard to set up and test their measurement equipment, such that they could start their program only a few hours after departure.

18. December, 2nd day at sea

After yesterday’s assignment of the labs and lab-containers, today is the day of moving in.  While the physical oceanographers already prepare their data loggers, which will be moored throughout the next week in the depths of the ocean to record its evolution for another two years, the biologists setup their microscopes and analysers.  Even the most sensitive and filigree equipment needs to be lashed securely, as the weather forecast by our meteorology team aboard reads an unpleasant 10 Bft for the coming night.

19. December, 3rd day at sea

Facing waves of 6m height, Polarstern pushes her way to the Southwest.  Luckily, the ship rides out the waves smoothly rather than to slam right into them, as they have a favourable direction from about 2 o’clock.  Inspecting the labs in the morning happily reveals that the night has passed without any of the scientific equipment having been damaged; only the line of scientists reporting for breakfast is slightly shorter than the day before.  As work on deck is impossible under such conditions (Fig. 3), some good spirits use the time to prepare some Christmas decoration from outdated navigational charts and contemplated possible activates on Christmas eve.

20. December, 4th day at sea

In the meantime, the sea has calmed and we are looking forward to our first station at 1pm, both with anticipation and suspense.   “Station” in this context means that the ship heads into the wind and stands still, allowing to lower instruments and nets to great depth to collect samples and data.  Our standard configuration for this expedition is to first lower the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) to obtain salinity and temperature profiles of the ocean, followed by deployments of the Multinet and two Bongo nets to gather plankton samples for biological studies.  Further will follow in the next weeks, whose purpose will be explained in the coming weekly report (only on 5 January due to the AWI’s closure over the season). 

Until then, all participants of this expedition wish all our relatives, friends and those interested in our work, at home or at sea, a peaceful and happy Christmas, in spite of or just because of today’s sad news reaching us from Berlin, and a great start into the coming year.


Olaf Boebel



Olaf Boebel

Scientific Coordination

Rainer Knust
Rainer Knust


Sanne Bochert
Sanne Bochert