serial kriller

Meet Grace. Hailing from Rutgers University, a meter-and-a-half tall and weighing in at just over 7 stones, Grace is ranked No. 1 on the east coast in carbon dioxide purchases this year. A powerhouse package of awesome, she also happens to be doing one of my favorite experiments on the ship. Grace brought most of that enormous CO2 supply with her (check out the oversize golden scuba tanks in the photo below) to investigate the effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. For more than two weeks, she had incubators full of seawater connected to the CO2 tanks, all bubbling away at three levels: the CO2 in the atmosphere of pre-glacial Earth, today’s CO2 level, and the CO2 level we’re predicted to reach by 2100. The more CO2 is in the atmosphere, the more CO2 gets dissolved in the ocean (or these little mini incubated oceans, in Grace’s case), and from there she can see how the community of phytoplankton, bacteria, and viruses reacts. These tiny lil guys are at the base of the food chain, and since their tiny lil lives are very sensitive to acidity in the water, increased CO2 (increased acidity) has some big effects further up the food chain. It’s a tedious but elegant experiment and we’ve seen some really cool results so far, but overall I’m just impressed that Grace made the DEA watch list for all that CO2. Congrats, Grace.

northbound

For the last month or so, if someone yelled “Whale!” or “Penguin!” most people would yawn and carry on with their work. Today, somebody yelled “Bug! Bug! There’s a big flying insect outside!” and about eight people went running to look. I guess it has been a while since we’ve seen familiar things like moths or trees. Either that, or folks are just really bored because there’s not much you can do when you’re crossing the Drake Passage. In any case, we’re northbound — I should be back in Chile tomorrow. See y’all soon!

plunge

Well, you’re in Antarctica so of course the water is freezing cold — below freezing, actually — and there’s an awful lot of windchill and there are icebergs floating in the distance, but your pride is at stake and so off you go for a pleasant little swim.

whoops

Whoops, apparently my post from February 1st got cut off. Here’s what it was supposed to say:

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Imagine living with your coworkers for six weeks. No, scratch that. Imagine living with your coworkers while sleep-deprived for six weeks. Okay, then imagine living with your sleep-deprived coworkers for six weeks inside a floating container not more than 250 feet long. From there, you might be able to conjure up some idea of the current mental state of everyone on board this ship. Our breakfast conversations are always amusing.

Breakfast is served early — around 5:30 — when the night crew are getting ready for bed, and the day crew are just beginning their shift, and everyone at the long galley table is zonked in slightly different ways. The conversation often manages to wind up on the subject of poop (human feces, zooplankton feces, or otherwise). Today, it started with a discussion of last night’s carbon isotope data, traveled (of course) through eating one’s own poop, and somehow ended with a heated argument over the definitions of “sweet,” “savory,” and “spicy.” To settle things once and for all, we collected all thirty-something condiments we could find in the ship’s galley and arranged them in a triangular spectrum, with pancake syrup (sweet), soy sauce (savory), and jalapeno pepper sauce (spicy) at the vertices.

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poop and utility fingers

Imagine living with your coworkers for six weeks. No, scratch that. Imagine living with your coworkers while sleep-deprived for six weeks. Okay, then imagine living with your sleep-deprived coworkers for six weeks inside a floating container not more than 250 feet long. From there, you might be able to conjure up some idea of the current mental state of everyone on board this ship.

Our breakfast conversations are always amusing. Breakfast is served early

on the ice

The sound of the ship churning through sea ice is what I imagine it might sound like if you lived inside a Slurpee machine — an endless “slusha-slusha-slush” with the occasional grating noise. When we hit an especially big chunk, the whole ship shudders. We’ll be too far north for dense ice by the time I wake up tomorrow, so I wanted to say goodbye to the pack. It’s back into berg territory from now on.

I feel like I should give you an ice glossary.

Ice comes from land (via snow that packs down over the years) or the sea (when the surface water freezes every winter). Here’s how ice evolves, and the hip vocab terms that go with it:

LAND ICE FORMING
1. Snow: You’ve seen it. It falls from the sky.
2. Firn: Old snow that packs down and solidifies until it looks like a sponge made of ice.
3. Ice sheet: A huge mass of packed ice and snow. It’s an “ice cap” when it’s larger than 50,000 square kilometers.
5. Glacier or ice shelf: Glaciers are masses of moving snow and ice that slide from high to low ground. Ice shelves are floating ice sheets that are attached to the coast.

LAND ICE BREAKING UP
1. Ice bergs or tabular bergs: Big chunks that break off. Tabular bergs are flat on top, since they come from broken up ice shelves, rather than calving violently off a glacier.
2. Bergy bits: I swear that’s the technical term. These are chunks of ice less than 15ft tall and 30 ft wide.
3. Growlers: Little baby bergs, smaller than bergy bits.
4. Brash: The remaining fragments that eventually melt into seawater.

SEA ICE FORMING
1. Frazil ice: Fine spicules or plates of ice suspended in the water. 2. Grease Ice: Coagulated frazil.
3. Slush: Big piles of floating snow.
4. Nilas: A thin, elastic crust of ice that bends with the waves. 5. Shuga: Spongy white lumps formed from slush or grease ice. 6. Ice Rind: A brittle crust.
7. Pancake ice: Big circular chunks up to 10ft across.
8. Pack ice: Any big, flat, interconnected chunks of floating ice. 9. Ice cake: A floe less than 30ft across.
10. Floe: Enormous fields of floating ice.

SEA ICE BREAKING UP
1. Ice cakes or pancakes.
2. Brash.

Now you’re fluent in Ice!

For the last few days we’ve been in dense pack ice, all rolling with the waves like a vast, undulating puzzle. It’s completely hypnotic. To get some idea of scale in the picture, the horizon is about 10 miles away, and you could easily park a few cars on some of those big white cakes.