We are at sea! After a several day weather delay at our port in Lyttleton, NZ the R/V Araon has finally departed and is making her way south. The first hour at sea was magical. Every science team on the boat (of which there are several) made their way to the helicopter pad to take photographs of the blue New Zealand waters, the ever diminishing landscape, and of course, each other.
The highlight of the departure was the arrival of several small pods of Hectors dolphins who escorted us out of the bay! I am the only marine mammalogist on the boat, but I was clearly not the only one excited to see the dolphins. Admittedly I had slunk inside to change my laundry over when one of the Kiwi helicopter pilots graciously hunted me down and dragged me back outside so I wouldn’t miss them.
The same pilot also stood on the deck with me for nearly an hour that same evening telling me everything he knew about pelagic seabirds (which is admittedly more than I know), and pointing out how they use the wind funneling off the Araon similarly to a helicopter. The albatross are amazing! I wish I could identify them to species, but as a first time Southern Ocean visitor I’m clueless. Everything I know I learned in my afternoon at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, or Ricky the Kiwi pilot taught me.
A little about the demographics of our ship. The Araon is a Korean icebreaker (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) run by KOPRI (the Korean Polar Research Institute). I’m part of an oceanographic team working under Chief Scientist Dr. Won Sang Lee (KOPRI). Our team is made up of myself (representing the NOAA/PMEL Bioacoustics Lab), a German Oceanographer who will be recovering three Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBS), one Korean micro-biologists, one Korean geoscientists, one Korean geoscientist/acoustician, and one Australian oceanographer. We meet nightly at 2000 (8PM) to debrief the day, make any plans, and to discuss our research. Won Sang presented an overview of the KOPRI mission in Antarctica at our meeting last night including our role at PMEL on the acoustics side of things (despite the incessant and nauseating rolling of the ship). I’ll be presenting some of my work at our meeting tonight, despite my research occurring a hemisphere away (although keep me down here long enough and suddenly my research will develop an Antarctic component).
Ours is not the only crew, however. There are five scientists from PRNA (the Italian Polar Research Institute) who are hitching a ride on the Araon as they prepare to summer in the Mario Zuchelli Research Base in Terra Nova Bay. They are studying the impacts of ocean acidification on polar macro invertebrates. There are two NOAA researchers headed to the Jang Bogo base to install a space weather radar. The methodology of their work is actually very similar to mine (wavelengths and physics) but what they’re actually doing is still beyond me. There are also two Russian ice pilots on board whose job it is to navigate us through the ice when we get into the Ross Sea, and a Finnish fellow who has been unfortunately seasick since we boarded the Araon. Lastly, and certainly not least, there is a team of Korean scientists (largely geo-scientists) headed down to summer at Jang Bogo Station and do all manner of measurement and experiments.
Oh! How could I forget! There are three kiwi helicopter crew onboard. Two pilots and an engineer. I adore them.
All said and totaled there are about 30 crew members on the boat, and about 45 scientists/passengers on the vessel. There are three women; myself, my amazing roommate Ombretta, and Sukyoung from our research team. Ombretta will depart at the ice for the summer, and we will be down to two.
A few things I wished I had known before I came (silly living things, for anyone trying to get info on daily life at the R/V Araon). There is a refrigerator in every cabin, and also a hair dryer. The power source is European style and in 220v- this is very important for instrumentation. Make sure you have a converter (not a just an adapter!). The beds are hard but clean, a sleeping bag goes a long way. The food is very Korean (we had steamed octopus in chilli sauce yesterday), they make a bold effort to include western style food, which was appreciated today when they served ‘chips’ with lunch . (‘m not complaining! The marinated mushrooms in the Korean barbeque were excellent… but it does take a little getting used to). Bring tea if that’s your thing (it’s mine), there is green tea on the boat, nothing else.
Good advice I was given (thanks Matt!): bring an HDMI cable. There are TV’s everywhere you can hook your computer into. Spices go a long way. There is white rice at every meal, bring a little cumin, garlic salt and spinach? You’ve got a decent meal. Bring a mug. All beverages are served in small metal cups. They get very hot, and hold very little. A to-go mug has made my life much better. Especially since I’m on the third deck, and tea water is on the main level.
Other than that the rooms are very accommodating, there is WiFi throughout the boat (albeit very slow WiFi), and ample space to spread out. There is also a sauna and a karaoke machine- but only time will tell if I dare to use them.
Over and Out.
Your Antarctic Correspondent,