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  • Writer's pictureAlexis bahl

Steaming to the Southern Ocean: Part 5

This blog is intended to capture the experience of the Macrozooplankton and Micronekton team led by Evgeny Pakhomov, comprising Lora Pakhomov, Florian Lüskow, and myself on board the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Polarstern research vessel. From October 1st – November 17th for the PS 133-1 Island Impact cruise to the South Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean, we will record daily insights of the activities on board, with a personal perspective of what it’s like conducting science at sea. All thoughts are ours and are not to be taken for media use. This work is funded by Alexis Bahl's 2022 Explorer Grant with the National Geographic Society.


Day 41: When the science ends, the cleaning begins

November 10, 2022

Station work on November 9 – the South Sandwich Islands Trench with depths of more than 8000 m. The benthic work group has completed their sampling and left some time for additional gear to be deployed, including our IKMT. As practiced many times before, Evgeny, Florian, and two crew members bring the mid-water trawl smoothly into the water, and only half an hour later, the net returns on board. After this, the RV Polarstern begins her transit to the southern tip of Chile. The net catch, this time dominated by small krill, is processed immediately for larger specimens, including salps, jellyfish, and amphipods. The overwhelmingly large rest of the sample is fixed and analysed the next day. With the recovery of the IKMT, the scientific station work on PS133/1 has ended and we are moving on to the next phase – cleaning and packing.

Typically, these procedures take much longer than initially thought and can easily occupy several days. All sampling gear and lab equipment need to be washed with fresh water to get rid of all animal parts and seawater residuals. Packing boxes in an orderly fashion is, as with private luggage, always easier at the beginning of a voyage than at the end. Of course, we are not the only people with this problem. In the following days, the working deck and lab corridors equal an ant state – on the first view, there is chaos and no logic, but on the second glimpse, all the shifting of cargo out of the hangar, into the container, and temporary storage in apparently random corners of the deck has been strategized.

Crew and scientists work hand in hand, and fork lifters make the impression of a busy logistics center. In a way, a ship the size of the RV Polarstern can be thought of as one. Eventually, the lab spaces need to be cleaned. This is typically the last step done by the scientific cruise participants before the labs are left. Next stop: Punta Arenas, Chile.

Evgeny Pakhomov is analysing the last zooplankton sample under the microscope (top picture), while Florian Lüskow has already started cleaning sampling gear, lab equipment, and lab space (bottom right picture). Photo credit: Lora Pakhomova.


Day 47: Transit through the Strait of Magellan

November 16, 2022

For the last three days, Polarstern was steaming west, mostly through fog not allowing for any sightings of marine wildlife. The ocean had calmed down and everybody on board is looking forward to seeing (and walking on) land again. It is after breakfast that the first land and signs of civilization (oil platforms) appear on the horizon. We are lucky because the sky is mostly blue, the winds are calm, and the sea is as flat as a summer lake. All of a sudden, sea birds surround the ship and have apparently lost their fear that we observed in the weeks before. All equipment has been packed and last updates of our scientific achievements are shared in today’s afternoon meeting.

Florian and many of the scientists take the chance to spend a good part of the day outside on the helicopter deck, stretching their legs, and enjoying the view, alit with sunshine. On the left, on the southern side of the Strait of Magellan, we can see the Land of Fire (in Spanish, the Tierra del Fuego) - an archipelago off the southernmost tip of South America divided between Chile and Argentina. On the right, the northern side of the waterway, the South American mainland stretches. The landscape is low and of little vegetation – on both sides. As an Argentinian scientist explains, this area receives little rainfall as almost all clouds lose their water on the western side of the Andes Mountains, leaving this landscape mostly dry. We continue our journey westward through the strait under the supervision of a pilot who entered the ship some hours ago. The excitement among scientists about our soon arrival can now be grabbed by hand. Daylight vanishes and the night rises. The shipbound map viewer displays three hours to Punta Arenas: the colorful pearl of the Strait of Magellan.

Tierra de Fuego on the southern side of the Strait of Magellan (top picture) and Florian and Evgeny obviously happy to see land again (bottom picture). Photo credit: Lora Pakhomova.


This concludes our experience on the PS133/1 Alfred Wegener Institute cruise to the Southern Ocean. We appreciate you reading along and be sure to keep your eye out for future adventures!

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