Tag Archives | radar

A Radar Station With an Oceanfront View

Sunday morning dawned clear and calm—only the second truly sunny day since we arrived at Palmer Station. It was a perfect opportunity for Dr. Josh Kohut to tick the second big item off his to-do list: a trip outside the boating limit to the team’s radar station on the Joubin Islands.

Three days ago we had zipped over to the Wauwerman Islands to do much the same thing, fighting a steady drizzle the whole way. The Joubin Islands are about the same distance west as the Wauwermans are to the south, but today’s trip was an altogether different experience, with wet grays replaced by stellar whites and sky blues. Click through the slideshow to see some of the sights photographer Chris Linder captured along the way:

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Safety First in the Outer Islands

Ever since January 15, Dr. Josh Kohut has spent each evening looking hopefully at the weather forecast. He needs one day of calm winds to do some radar maintenance at the Wauwerman Islands. Though they’re only 10 miles away—closer than a drive to my favorite dinner spot back home—they lie across a stretch of water that’s open to ocean swells and high winds.

On Thursday morning, a calm, gray sea lapped at the boat dock. A steady drizzle was the only sour note, but that’s what foul weather gear is for. With a storm system likely to move into the region the next day, Dr. Kohut, marine technician Rosemary McGuire, penguin team leader Shawn Farry, and station manager Rebecca Shoop decided we should take advantage of the good seas.

Dr. Kohut wanted to finish three tasks on this trip: download data files and replace a hard drive; shore up the building foundation after the ice melt of summer; and make a calibration run to check the radar antenna. But we also needed to be ready to turn around if conditions deteriorated. Click through the slideshow to see whether we got everything done:

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Learning the Landmarks

Antarctica is a lot less dangerous than it used to be, when people like Ernest Shackleton explored it in the early twentieth century. But it’s still cold, windy, powerful, and very far from help. The U.S. Antarctic Program takes great precautions to keep people safe. At Palmer Station, where almost all the work is done from small inflatable zodiac boats, we do almost all our work within a safe boating limit that extends about 2.5 miles from the station.

Within that limit are islands, glaciers, penguin colonies, giant-petrel nests, cormorant cliffs, leopard seals, whales, krill, and more—pretty much everything scientists are interested in studying. But occasionally we need to go outside that 2.5-mile limit. For example, in the next few days we will need to journey to the Wauwerman Islands, south of here, to do some maintenance on a radar site.

In this post, we’ll acquaint you with a few of the landmarks we’ll be referring to, both within and outside the boating limit. Click through the slideshow to see them, and use the maps below the slideshow to see where those landmarks are in relation to each other.

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Try This: Use These Maps to Find Landmarks

map of landmarks around the Palmer Station boating areaThe Boating Limit and Its Landmarks
On this chart you can see the roughly 2.5-mile boating limit (thin red line) surrounding Palmer Station. Look back at the slideshow and try to match Loudwater Cove, Station E, the Outcast Islands, and Cormorant Island to the points on the map. It takes about 20 minutes in smooth ocean conditions to make it from the boating limit back to Palmer Station. With Antarctica’s fierce, changeable weather, it’s risky to go outside the limit.
map of Palmer Station area showing Joubin and Wauwerman Islands

The Bigger Picture
To see where we’re headed in the Wauwerman Islands, we need to zoom out a little bit. (This map is from Google Earth—the imagery is a patchwork of satellite photos and maps; that’s why the backgrounds don’t match.) When we leave Palmer Station for the Wauwermans, we’ll be headed to the red dot south of Palmer Station. At a later date, we’ll also need to take a trip to the radar site in the Joubin Islands to the west. Each site is about 10 miles away from Palmer Station, and we’ll wait for really calm weather before we attempt to go that far.

Palmer Station locator map showing Drake Passage and Tierra del Fuego

The Wide View

It can be hard to keep straight exactly where along the Antarctic Peninsula we are. In case you’re having trouble, here’s a reminder of where in the world we are (also from Google Earth). We’re near the end of the Antarctic Peninsula, at the southern end of a fairly large island called Anvers Island. We’re about 700 miles from the tip of South America.

Map credit (top map):
United States Antarctic Program. 2013. Antarctic Specially Managed Area No. 7: Palmer Station Arthur Harbor. Environmental Research & Assessment for the United States Antarctic Program and the US National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, Washington, DC.

A Glider Joins Forces With the Krill Team

The gliders have been out on their own for more than a week. In that time they’ve traveled far out to sea, but today the team decided to turn one of them around and bring it almost all the way back home. Being close to shore is actually more dangerous for a glider than being in deep water, but they thought it would be worth the risk to meet up with the krill team’s echosounder and combine the two instruments’ strengths.

Click through the slideshow to learn about the glider’s travels—then check below for a quick look at what the two instruments found together:

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glider transect data with krill results
This graph helps show how two instruments combine to create a better picture of what’s going on under the water’s surface. To read it, imagine that the glider is flying from left to right on the graph. As it moves slowly along this 1.5-mile track, it dives from the top of the graph to the bottom and measures chlorophyll levels. That gives an estimate of the amount of phytoplankton in the water, and phytoplankton are the main food of krill.

Now imagine the krill team driving their zodiac along the same route. The boat moves along the top of the graph (the surface of the water), and the echosounder detects patches of krill below it. Interestingly, the glider found a fairly high concentration of chlorophyll high in the water on the left side of the graph. The krill team found a patch of krill in deeper water beneath it, but not anywhere else.

“That’s pretty neat to find,” Dr. Kohut said, “that the only place on the whole transect there was krill was underneath the patch of chlorophyll.” The krill may have been resting during the day before swimming up to eat phytoplankton later in the day, Dr. Oliver said, or they may have been feeding on organic material as it drifted downward from the phytoplankton patch.

What’s really interesting about this find is that it couldn’t have happened without putting the two instruments—glider and echosounder—together. If the glider had been on its own, it would have noticed the phytoplankton, but we couldn’t have known whether krill were around to feed on it. On the other hand, if we’d had only the findings from the echosounder we’d have known there were krill around but we wouldn’t know why.

Antarctic Radar Station, Some Assembly Required

Our main research mission—and our daily blog—will kick off just after Christmas. But the science team has already put in a ton of effort (actually it was about 8 tons of effort, as you’ll see in the slideshow). Scientists and technicians from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, spent several weeks in November setting up radar locations on two small, snowbound islands near Palmer Station. These solar- and wind-powered stations will scan the horizon and generate detailed maps of the ocean’s surface currents for us. That’s crucial information that will help the rest of the science team piece together why the penguins forage where they do, and where their food is.

So how do you build a radar station on an uninhabited island with no power? Find out in this photo gallery:
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After two weeks of solid work, the team had the two radar stations (plus one at Palmer Station itself) up and running by November 15. They spent the next couple of days calibrating their system. By November 16, Dr. Josh Kohut was logging into the radar systems all the way from his office at Rutgers University in New Jersey, in between donuts. He analyzed the data and produced these colorful maps of surface currents in the vicinity of Palmer Station. (The small red dots mark the locations of the radar stations.)

The brighter colors indicate faster-moving water. The scientists (and many of the students who follow along on this blog) will use these maps to figure out where and when krill might accumulate, creating possible feeding grounds for penguins. And that’s what the rest of the group will be studying when they arrive in January.

Hank Statscewich, Dr. Peter Winsor, and the rest of the installation team boarded the Gould and returned to Punta Arenas, Chile, soon after; they’re now back home in Alaska. Meanwhile, Dr. Kim Bernard, Shenandoah Raycroft, and Megan Cimino have arrived at Palmer Station, and we’ll check in with them soon.

(Thanks to Hank Statscewich for his descriptions of the work, and to Peter Winsor for the photographs.)

 

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