Wednesday, January 26, 2011

a bump in the road

01:03 GMT 25 January 62�41.82 S 054�14.15 W

Around 18:00 this evening I was strolling around the ship and just as I
stepped onto the bridge I heard the first mate announce, "I've lost
steerage," which I took as my cue to leave the bridge. The boat was
shuddering as they tried to use the bow thrusters to steer. They soon
discovered that all the bolts holding one of the two rudders in place
had broken. We are currently trying to position the boat in the lee of
one of the large icebergs nearby so the engineers can do a full
assesment of the situation (there is too much motion from the waves to
do anything where we are currently). If it turns out that we can repair
the rudder on our own, my understanding is that the plan is to find a
sheltered place to anchor and fix the rudder. Fortunately the seas and
weather are relatively calm. The chief scientist's guess is that we will
be heading back to Punta Arenas within the next several days, either
under our own power or on another ship. : (
Everyone in the science party is in good spirits (the ship's crew are
understandably busy), and the general feeling is that we're not in any

As a bonus, here is a recent article about our cruise from the San Diego
Union Tribune:

25 years in Antarctica for local scientists
Program tracks health of struggling ecosystem
By Mike Lee

Sunday, January 23, 2011 at noon

The research vessel Moana Wave waits to offload supplies for the
Copacabana field station, in Admiralty Bay on King George Island for
NOAA's Antarctic Marine Living Resources program. The research program
is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is based out of the
Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

Few landlubbers pay attention to humble shrimplike invertebrates
called krill.

But federal researchers at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in
La Jolla this month are celebrating 25 years of scouring Antarctic
seas for the tiny crustaceans and other species in hopes of preventing
a large-scale collapse of that once-vibrant ecosystem. Besides krill,
which are used in huge quantities as vitamins and fish meal, the
Southern Ocean supplies loads of Chilean sea bass and other foods.

Since 1986, the scientists have provided data for international krill
harvest restrictions, identified 30 biological hot spots on the
seafloor for protection from destructive fishing gear and charted
population trends for seals and seabirds. Several important species
have declined dramatically since the 1970s despite conservation

�That is one of the key things we want to unravel,� said George
Watters, director of the Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division at the
fisheries center. �Why haven�t these things recovered? We want to know
that so that in the future we can prevent that kind of thing from
happening again.�

Even in the farthest points south, America�s seafood cravings are

�People in the U.S. don�t necessarily realize that as consumers of
things, they actually have a huge market force in terms of what
happens in Antarctica,� Watters said. �When I first started doing
this, probably nobody in the U.S. knew what Chilean sea bass was. Now,
it�s one of the favorite fishes and we are the main market for that.�

Researchers� work is cold and sometimes dangerous as they roll through
icy seas for weeks at a time, occasionally buffeted by 80-knot winds.
Even hardy souls get seasick, and everyone who works on the back deck
of the ship must be harnessed in for safety.

But they keep going back for two main reasons: Their studies are
critical to improving management of the Southern Ocean, and some days
at sea bring spectacles you can�t see anywhere else.

�I basically live for this time every year. It�s the most exciting
thing that happens,� said Amy Van Cise, a National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration biologist who leaves for her third voyage
in February.

Veterans such as Watters still retain a sense of wonder about
Antarctica even as they harbor concerns about human influences on and
around the remote continent.

�Every once in a while, you get to see the most amazing things that a
human can ever see,� he said. �Just to see an albatross flying along
the water � it�s just awesome.�

The La Jolla-based science program runs on about $4.6 million a year,
more than half of which is spent on chartering a vessel for two
monthlong voyages in January and February. Each season, about 40
researchers and crew members on land and water participate.

�It takes commitment to stay with this program because you do have to
deploy to sea for months at a time,� said Christopher Jones, a federal
fish researcher. �It tells you how much I like the job.�

Scientists typically work 12-hour shifts, sampling the seas with nets,
underwater cameras, acoustic instruments and other devices to monitor
species and water conditions. They track species� distribution, the
duration of animals� foraging trips, their reproductive success and
other details.

�We try to sample as much of the ecosystem as we possibly can on each
cruise,� Jones said.

Interpreting the data is difficult because so many factors are in
play, including harvest, climate change and natural fluctuations.

�The real challenge with our work is to sort out the causes of the
different trends we see,� said Mike Goebel, a wildlife biologist with
the program. �Sometimes it can make sense and other times it doesn�t
make sense, so you are always searching for the best possible
explanation of what we observe.�

While their jobs are far from civilization, they are in the center of
a 25-nation campaign to buoy Antarctica�s biological resources. Most
of the Southern Ocean is not controlled by any one country, creating a
management void that was addressed in the early 1980s by the
Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources,
a treaty in which the U.S. participates.

�There is a huge emphasis globally on maintaining the uniqueness and
special character of Antarctica,� Watters said. �Decision-making is
supposed to be made on the basis of the best available scientific
evidence. That is where we come in.�

Concern about the Southern Ocean blossomed about 30 years ago as
stocks of the Antarctic toothfish � marketed in restaurants as Chilean
sea bass � and marbled rock cod and other species plummeted under
unregulated fishing pressure.

A closer look at krill
Krill are small (5-6 cm) shrimplike crustaceans that are found
throughout the world�s oceans.

� Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) can form large swarms in open
ocean regions, or more scattered layers under the ice edge.

� Krill move up toward the ocean surface at night, and down into
deeper water during the daytime hours.

� Antarctic krill are filter feeders that consume algae
(phytoplankton). At the bottom of the food chain, they serve as the
plant grazers of their ecosystem.

Source: Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Some of those problems have shrunk as international conservation
measures have taken hold. But there�s still widespread concern about
overharvesting, particularly by pirate fishermen who operate in the
vast open spaces where violations are hard to spot and enforce.

Antarctica has what Goebel described as a history of �classic
exploitation� as crews from different nations have worked their way
down the food chain from large creatures such as seals to the smallest.

These days, krill is a top concern because it is a principal food
source for many species of fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Some
scientists think the creatures have declined by 80 percent in
Antarctica in recent decades as they have been snatched up by fishing
fleets for Omega-3 supplements and other uses.; 619-293-2034

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