Polar explorers: Amundsen and AUVs

December 16, 2011 in Palmer Station by Travis Miles

The second half of November was a sunny, while not necessarily ice-free, contrast to the first. During the early part of November Low-pressure system after low-pressure system seemed to endlessly buffet our spit of land jutting out into Arthur Harbor. Winds whipped off the Marr Ice Piedmont cutting through the best of coats and relegating us to our warm offices and labs on a regular basis. As a high pressure ridged moved into the Drake Passage and extended down toward the Peninsula winds eventually abated and a long calm period set in with frequently blue skys and a balmy temperatures above freezing.

During this calm period we prepped and launched our first glider of the season RU26D . This AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) is tasked with a 3 fold mission. First it’s to set off to the north, collecting data along the old LTER grid, where we no longer sample. The second mission is to fly southward along the shelf-break, highlighting subsurface eddies, which we think might be carrying heat onto the continental shelf as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current essentially rubs up agains the shelf-break. Similar data last year was collected by RU26D’s older sister RU25D, which we deployed from Palmer Station and picked up with the LMG about a month later. RU26D is more suited to the task as it’s flying with Lithium Ion batteries, which can last for an extra month or two, as well as additional biological sensors that quantify phytoplankton chlorophyll as well as oxygen concentration and saturation. The third task for RU26D is more diplomatic in nature. We hope to reach Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey base by mid to late January and spark continued collaboration.

RU26D glider track and depth averaged currents

Other exciting events include our first tour ship of the year, The National Geographic Explorer, as well as the yacht Spirit of Sydney. The real treat was the crew on board Spirit of Sydney. As it is the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole Jorgen Amundsen, Roalds great grand nephew was on board re-tracing some of Roald Amundsens foot steps in the spirit of his explorations.


In wildlife news, we’ve had tons of crab eater seals visiting us lately. I managed to snap a few shots of the elusive critters while they were likely patrolling the area for some tasty krill snacks. Enjoy!

RU26D temperature in Celsius


The Spirit of Sydney


Crab-easter seals

Me with Jorgen Amundsen and a few other ocean explorers...

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