Zodiac, Blizzard, Iceberg

It’s 7 a.m. and I’m just sitting down to write about yesterday. I can scarcely remember the emergency glider recovery that Dr. Josh Kohut and Eli Hunter put into motion at 2:30 a.m. yesterday morning. Then the clouds descended and the wind picked up, and the chief mate closed the decks, keeping us all inside for safety.

A brief calm spell took hold in the afternoon as the sky brightened and petrels and albatrosses gathered around our ship. People gathered at the bow, cameras raised, admiring an iceberg in the near distance.

Back in the Dry Lab, Dr. Kohut realized that Bruce Huber’s mooring was uncomfortably close to the massive berg. After narrowly getting Bruce’s instruments back during an all-nighter on Jan. 25, it seemed only fitting to pull another one tonight. As the wind regained its strength, the marine technicians readied their grapples, boathooks, coils of line, and winch cables for a soggy recovery. Read on through the slideshow to see the sights from our day:

Over the last 30 hours we’ve seen some stark reversals in the weather—the wind has gone from stiff to slack and back to blasting with barely a pause. But you don’t have to take my word for it: instruments on the ship keep track of wind speed continuously.

In fact, as we were marveling over the way the weather kept changing its mind, some of the scientists couldn’t contain their curiosity any longer and decided to graph the data:

Can you read this graph? It’s actually tracks our day pretty well. Wind speed is graphed on the vertical axis and time is on the horizontal axis. So as the day went on you can see that there was a really windy period followed by a weird, short calm spell. After that the wind built again.

Can you follow along with the events I described in the slide show and match them to the periods of wind and calm shown in this graph?

Many thanks to Eli Hunter for plotting the wind speeds.

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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.

14 Responses to “Zodiac, Blizzard, Iceberg”

  1. The big question is what causes the highs and lows. Do you have graphs of barometric pressure, air temperature, and a location marker on a map? This would be an interesting meteorology lesson!

    • Dear Ms. Chen, that’s a great idea – but sorry we can’t come through. There are very few actual weather observations around here. The ship provides just about the only actual data for those kinds of maps. We get forecasts from models, but we’re never sure how accurate they’ll be.

  2. Rachel Kim at Brookside School February 9, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Hi, the picture of that bird is really close and beautiful. How did you ever get a picture like that?

    • Hi Rachel, glad you liked the photo. Chris Linder is a pretty lucky person to have an Antarctic Petrel land on the bow for him. But more than that, he’s extremely observant and always watching for good opportunities to take photos. So when the Antarctic Petrel showed up, Chris was ready for it. He moved very carefully and slowly until he was close to the bird and could photograph it without disturbing it.

  3. Zachary from Holy Family School February 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    What will you do with the glider for now?

  4. Zachary from Holy Family School February 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Too bad you had to take in the glider already! It must have been a grueling experience for it!

    • Hi Zachary, yes all three gliders are now on board the Palmer and won’t be going back out in the Ross Sea on this trip. The glider team has packed them up into their wooden shipping crates and they’ll be heading back to New Jersey via air freight from McMurdo. Dr. Kohut and team will have them back by sometime this summer, and the gliders’ next mission will probably be somewhere off New Jersey.

  5. Brendan from Holy Family School February 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Did you find out why the leak sprouted in the glider

    • Hi Brendan. Dr. Josh Kohut and Eli Hunter have done a preliminary inspection on the glider, but they need to get it back to New Jersey before they can be sure. They suspect it’s a gasket near the ballast pump that wore out due to normal wear and tear.

  6. Tyrik from Ms. Worth class at Intermidiate South February 10, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    What do the Petrel eat?

    • Hi again. We’ve been curious to find that out. I think it’s mainly small krill that they catch by dipping their head into the water when they find a patch of the creatures. But just yesterday Chris and I saw a couple of snow petrels catch something long, white, and skinny and hold it crossways in their bills. We think it might have been a small fish (minnow or sardine-sized) such as an Antarctic silverfish, a very common species in the Ross Sea. I think there needs to be more research done to figure out this question!

  7. Tyrik from Ms. Worth class at Intermidiate South February 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    How does the black tube in the Petrel’s snout keep it from being dehydrated when it drinks salt water?

    • Hi Tyrik, good question. Petrels have a special salt gland that takes the salt out of seawater so their bodies can use the rest of the water. The tube is just the way that the excess salt (and a little bit of water) gets excreted. We often see snow petrels with a little drop of water hanging onto their bill, and I think that’s where it comes from.


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