Saying Hello and Goodbye at the Same Time

I woke up this morning to strange voices shouting. I was disoriented. Part of me felt like I was still on the bridge watching the Palmer wedge itself between ice floes, which is what I had been doing at 5 a.m. The ship was quiet then, though it shuddered and weaved among ice floes 12 feet thick. Now the ship is motionless at the ice pier but reverberating with dock noise.

For the first time in a month I put on my land sneakers instead of my steel-toed deck boots. In the halls I saw people I didn’t recognize. The people I did recognize had changed: they were wearing port clothes and their Big Red jackets. They paced around the empty labs, waiting for the decks to clear so we could disembark and walk up the brown gravel road to the unfamiliar town of McMurdo.

The Baltic Room, where we sent 89 CTD casts over the side last month, has become our front door. The gangway slants out from the gargantuan steel hatch and down to the ice pier. People are clanking across it the way I did on Jan. 18, after the redeye flight from Christchurch. Back then the ship was so big and unfamiliar that I couldn’t remember which direction the bow was in when I was inside.

But the world doesn’t pause when an expedition comes to an end. Out the window, Dr. Chris Measures’s trace-metal van is hanging from a crane over the ice pier. The yellow gliders are packed away in long, gray plastic boxes. Bruce Huber’s yellow mooring float is already gone, replaced by an orange one strapped to the main deck and ready for the next voyage. People are saying goodbye and hello at the same time to different people.

Read on through the slideshow to see how this last long day went. We’ve also got some birds, some sounds, and a wrap-up map to show you at the end of the post:


Birds of the Ross Sea

We’ve seen seals, orcas, and minke whales, not to mention krill, copepods, diatoms, corals, and chloroplast thieves. But our most frequent visitors were the birds of the Ross Sea: penguins, skuas, petrels, and albatrosses. Here’s a glimpse at four species (look closely for the albatross—it’s soaring low over the water) that I caught on my iPhone—I hope it gives you a sense of the special grace of these ocean birds.


Download the Quicktime version (10.6 MB)

Sounds of the Ship

Listen along to some of the sounds that have kept us company over the last month:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


This is what you’re hearing:

  • Our bow wave sliding over smooth water during a late-January calm.
  • Engine noises along the aft 02 deck.
  • Remember how I said that Darth Vader lives in the microscope room? (listen also for the rhythmic sharp click of our depth sounder—the most pervasive sound on the ship).
  • Water gurgling down the laundry room drain.
  • The complex drumbeat of ice chunks caught in the ship’s propellers as we break ice.
  • The quieter sound of ice chunks washing in our wake.

Animated Ship Track

We’ve been all over the Ross Sea in the last month. I’m still not sure where we went some of the time, and I was keeping track. So to help you envision where we’ve been I asked Eli Hunter if he could produce an animated map. Of course he could:


Downlod the Quicktime version (1.4 MB)

The ship’s course is a red line that represents a 3-hour stretch of travel. When the line shrinks into a dot, that indicates we stayed at a station for more than three hours. The animation ends at 76°S latitude because we turned off our data logging shortly before we returned to port.

Thank You

As this expedition comes to an end, we’d like to thank everyone who helped make it a success. Thanks to our website and outreach team back in New Jersey: Sage Lichtenwalner and Igor Heifetz at Rutgers University; Kate Florio, Katie Gardner, and Harold Clark at the Liberty Science Center; Chris Parsons at Word Craft, and Janice McDonnell of COSEE-NOW. Thanks also to Dr. Peter Milne and the National Science Foundation for making the expedition and outreach possible.

Thanks to Captain Yousri Maghrabi and the crew of the Nathaniel B. Palmer for making all the science on the ship possible. Special thanks to Jace Eschete, Gary Talbot, Chris Peterson, Vladimir Repin, Jamee Johnson, Jullie Jackson, Jeremy Lucke, Mark Harris, Alan Shaw, Ethan Norris, Lindsey Loughry, Lindsey Ekern, Sheldon Blackman, George Aukon, Bill Jirsa, Paul Huckins, Kathleen Gavahan, Ale Monje, and Dave Trotter.

Most of all, thanks to everyone who followed the blog from home or classroom. Teachers and students prepared and asked excellent questions on the blog and during the 9 live calls—we were consistently impressed with the inventiveness, insight, and curiosity in the questions you came up with.

In fact, many questions were so well put that our scientists thought they’d make good doctoral dissertation projects. There’s so much left to learn about the ocean that those questions may still be unanswered by the time you go to graduate school. We hope you’ve seen enough of how science is done, the many kinds of people who do it, and the strange and beautiful ways that the world behaves, that you’ll continue our journey from the Ross Sea to wherever your curiosity takes you.

Yesterday, while Eli programmed the ship-track video, I asked him if it would be possible to make a few additions. Lifting his fingers from his keyboard for a moment, he looked over and smiled a half-smile. ‘We are only limited by our imaginations,’ he said.

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Avatar of Hugh Powell

About Hugh Powell

Hugh is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is on special assignment with the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. He has previously written for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

10 Responses to “Saying Hello and Goodbye at the Same Time”

  1. Avatar of Claire Barnett

    Yay! Job well done!!Thanks for bringing us along with you!

  2. Hugh & Chris:
    Thanks for the great blog posts! Every day I looked forward to what new, surprising, amazing, beautiful and exciting things would appear!
    Your explanations of the science and the ship operations helped me understand what was happening there. And the photos and videos brought it all to life.
    Thanks again!

  3. was great to follow along with your travels, but it’ll be good to have you back round these parts. Travel safely…

  4. BTW nice thicker than water reference…

  5. Thank you, you guys are awesome!

  6. john kim and alex palumbo from Ms. Barnett's class February 17, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Hey Hugh! we were wondering what it’s like to return home from a REALLY long trip? Did any of your friends not recognize you or forget about you? Also FIRST!!!!!!!!

  7. Avatar of Loris Chen

    We will miss logging in everyday to see what’s going on in the Ross Sea.

  8. P.MCCRONE GARFIELD HIGH SCHOOL February 18, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Thanks a lot for some great pics and video. Our marine bio class has enjoyed them as well as the commentaries. Wonderful job!

  9. Avatar of Hugh Powell

    Thanks everyone! We’ll miss the Ross Sea, too. John and Alex, it was great to get back from this trip and see my family again, and also eat some fresh vegetables, as we ran out of those on the ship about three weeks ago! As far as I know, none of my friends have completely forgotten about me yet, but we’ll see…

  10. Thanks very much to everyone who followed the site. Your questions and comments inspired us. Best wishes,
    Chris