Welcome to the 2016 I08S Oceanographic Expedition

In this blog we will describe our oceanographic expedition from Western Australia down to the Antarctic and back again. Along the way we will be measuring ocean properties like temperature and salinity looking for signs of climate change. Here we hope not just tell you what we are up to, but to extend to you some measure of the excitement we feel as head out on this adventure into the Southern Ocean.

This expedition is known as the 2016 I08S by the oceanographers and it is part of the GO-SHIP program. GO-SHIP??? Are you curious to know what is GO-SHIP? Take a look in our next post.

In the 2016 I08S, we have participants and principal investigators from 16 different institutions and 7 different countries! You can find who we are and what we do in this page here "Science Party".

Our adventure begins in early February 2016 in Western Australia (Fremantle) as we begin loading the  R/V Roger Revelle.

Fremantle Harbour, Western Australia, where our adventure begins!

Fine Dining at Sea

By Charlene Grall

For those of you who have never been on research cruise, I will enlighten you on the great importance placed on meals. When at sea, there are various pastimes available. There is work, sleep, game playing, work, video watching, exercise, yoga, work, reading and some hobbies. But the most anticipated time of day is mealtime. The day revolves around this favorite activity; common topics of conversation include, “What is for lunch?; What did you have for dinner?; When will they have pizza?; Will you wake me for breakfast?” There are four meals served on board the Roger Revelle – breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-rats. “Mid-rats??” you ask in horror, your imagination conjuring up sautéed rodent a la carte. No, mid-rats (short for midnight rations) are leftovers from lunch and dinner, as well as sandwich fixings, for those crew and science personnel who miss the dinner hour because they were sleeping. No one works a 9-5 job on this vessel. We all work around the clock. Science stops for no one!


The ship’s kitchen is called the galley. The dining room is called the mess. The mess is not large enough to accommodate all the crew and science personnel at once so the rule is “Eat it and beat it” during mealtime. I have clocked some people eating their meals in less than 10 minutes. 

The mess also serves as a communications office. The whiteboard seen in this photo is used to inform all personnel of important information such as fire drills, rough weather and time zone changes.

It is also used to announce birthdays. We have had 5 birthdays on this trip. Birthdays are celebrated by decorating the mess or the science labs, while the cooks bake a birthday cake. No one can escape, but at least they don’t reveal your age!


There two cooks onboard the ship; many consider them as some of more important members of the ship because without a good cook, the journey could be quite unpleasant. Fortunately, we are blessed with fine cooks. Richard, the head cook, hails from San Diego. He has worked on the Scripps ships for eight years and truly enjoys his job preparing meals to keep the scientists and crew full and content. His favorite meals to prepare are ethnic, his favorite mealtime is lunch.

The assistant cook is Marlin; a Texan from Houston. He has been a cook on research and sportfishing yachts, but this is his first Scripps ship. He loves to prepare freshly caught fish, so let’s hope we can give him that opportunity before the cruise ends. Both he and Richard find the rough seas no fun to navigate in the galley.


When travelling down to Antarctica through the Southern Ocean, one can always expect rough seas due to the continual parade of polar weather systems creating high winds and waves. Unless you want to eat dinner on the deck, steps must be taken to secure the galley, the mess and the food. The first sign of approaching bad weather is the sudden ominous appearance of green rubber matting on all the serving surfaces and tables, and the ever-helpful plastic cupholders. The chairs are outfitted with rubber feet so they don’t slide. All the dishes are battened down. Despite all these precautions; during those 30 degree rolls, you will still hear the crashing of metal utensils and see chairs tumbling over. We just get used to it!


“Please, Sir, may I have some more?” – Oliver by Charles Dickens

You will never lack for food on the Roger Revelle. There is always plenty to go around and leftovers for those unfortunate souls (like me) who sleep through dinner. The one exception is onion rings – they seem to be a particular favorite of most everyone. Breakfast is a huge variety of fresh fruits, cereals, yogurts, eggs (fried, scrambled and omelets); hash browns or home fries; pancakes, French toast or waffles; bacon, sausage and ham. Oh, and don’t forget the homemade fresh baked biscuits, Danish, scones and cinnamon rolls!

Lunch is like a mini-dinner with sandwiches, hot foods, salads, cheeses and delicious homemade soups.

Then there is dinner – ah, dinner, where the cooks’ skills really shine. What’s your fancy? Mexican, Asian, Italian, Down-home, Cajun, Hawaiian, German - you name it; the cooks will prepare it! Then there is Fishy Friday and Steak Sunday. On Sunday night, weather permitting, the grill is pulled out on deck and the air smells of barbequed steak. It’s the only dinner I wake up for, eat and go back to sleep. For his own birthday, Richard prepared Beef Wellington along with with his own handmade mozzarella cheese wrapped in prosciutto, and homemade bread. WOW!

Seared salmon with parmesan zucchini and couscous

Wondering which meal is best? Hard to say, because they are all great; but a shipboard survey pronounced Breakfast as the Favorite Meal by most of the participants. If you haven’t gained any weight from the meals, there are always the snacks to lure you. Nuts, pretzels, trail mix, granola bars, candy, popcorn and various ice cream novelties to name a few. I could go on, but I have to run. It’s time for breakfast!

Grilling steak on the "barbie" – photo by C. Nissen

Sampling for Science

By Hannah Dawson, Seth Travis and Dave Webb

We’ve left the Antarctic Circle and the icebergs behind and have been heading north along our transect for 13 days now. If you’re curious about the ocean properties we’re sampling and why then this is the post for you!

Recovering the CTD after a cast on one of the nicest days the Southern Ocean has to offer.  Photo courtesy of Cara Nissen
The photo above shows us retrieving the rosette package, which contains a sequence of bottles that can be closed independently to collect water samples at depth. In additional to the water samples, the rosette has a number of other instruments to collect additional information. One of the instruments installed on the rosette package is called a CTD which measures the conductivity, temperature, salinity and depth of the ocean.

Photo courtesy of Cara Nissen

The following figures show the potential temperature, salinity and oxygen levels that we have measured along this current occupation of I08S.

Once the rosette package is back on deck, it’s taken into the hangar for sampling. On this cruise we have scientists sampling the following water properties: chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), pH, alkalinity, chlorophyll, coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM), radioisotopes of carbon (14C and 13C), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), δ18O, δ15N, salinity and nutrients. By sampling these properties, we can identify different features of the ocean and further our understanding of the processes operating. Without taking the time to describe all of the great science being done, we wanted to describe a few of the samples in more detail, and how they help us understand the ocean.

Sampling at the rosette. (Photos courtesy of Seth Travis)

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are known to cause ozone depletion in the atmosphere but are useful tracers of water in the ocean. CFC’s are man-made compounds that were used for a long time as refrigerant gases. The CFCs can be thought of a dye that is added to the ocean surface waters. When ocean waters are in contact with the atmosphere, there is some transfer of CFC’s from the atmosphere to the ocean. These waters can then be subducted to depth, and move throughout the ocean. By knowing the concentration of CFC’s in the water at different locations, and the concentration of CFC’s in the atmosphere at different times, we are able to infer how long it has been since a water at a particular location has been in contact with the atmosphere, which is often called the “age” of the water. By following water masses from oldest to youngest, and CFC concentrations can act as a map of the paths water takes, similar to pouring dye into a stream and watching it be carried away by the currents. Now that CFCs concentrations are starting to decline in the atmosphere we are also measuring Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6). This man-made compound also acts as a dye just like the CFCs and it continues to increase in concentration in the atmosphere.

CFC Gas Chromatography Machine (Photo courtesy of Seth Travis)

Radiocarbon (14C and 13C), can also be a useful tool for tracking various oceanic parameters. 14C occurs naturally in the atmosphere, and can be transferred into the ocean waters at the ocean surface. On this cruise, Sarah is trying to use radiocarbon to determine the age of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) pool (or supply), in the South Indian Ocean. Generally, DOC has an age of between 2000-6000 years, but there are few published profiles of 14C. Most of these profiles are in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans, with none taken in the Indian Ocean. The profiles taken on this cruise would help improve our knowledge of global 14C pools, and how these pools of DOC circulate between different oceans.

On the cruise, there are a number of different nutrients being measured. These include nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, silicate, and ammonia. From a biological perspective, the levels of these nutrients can give indications of available primary productivity (a measure of the conversion of inorganic carbon to organic carbon), and can help to understand the food chain in the area. These nutrient measurements are also a key component in understanding organic and inorganic carbon cycling. Beyond the biological implications, physical oceanographers are able to use the nutrients as tracers of water masses. By examining data from the previous times that this transect of the ocean has been sampled, we are able to see decadal changes in the levels of these nutrients, and how they vary with other parameters, such as temperature and salinity.

Thanks to Jim Happell, Sarah Bercovici, and Susan Becker for taking the time to explain the work they are undertaking on this cruise.

Southern Lights and Ice bergs

By Hannah Dawson

Last night we were lucky enough to see the Southern Lights or the Aurora Australis as it’s otherwise known. A bunch of crew and science members got the wake up call at 1am and headed up to the bridge to see this natural light display. lt was incredibly beautiful and quite magical to be watching it from a ship in the middle of the Southern Ocean with icy Antarctic winds blowing about. To the eye, the lights appeared a whitish colour with a faint green tinge. When photographed, the lights turn up a vivid green colour. The aurora is caused by the interaction of solar winds with the Earth’s magnetosphere. This interaction causes electrons, atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere to collide, releasing their energy. This release of energy emits light of varying colours. If you’ve ever tried taking a photo of the Southern Lights, you’ll understand how challenging it must be to capture them when you’re on a rolling boat with nothing to stabilise the camera! Nevertheless some of the science party managed to capture the following images. We hope you enjoy.

Photos by Earle Wilson

Photo by Hannah Dawson

The day became even more exciting when the first ice bergs were spotted off to the port side. It’s hard to grasp the scale from the photos but they’re like towering sky scrapers made of pure ice. Even from a distance you could see waves crashing onto the bergs and sending up spray. We’re now less than a day away from our first station and hoping to see many more ice bergs on the way.

Photos by Hannah Dawson

Riding out the storm

By Cara Nissen & Heather Page 

 Photo by Earl Wilson
As predicted by the wave forecast, we had rough seas for the past few days. Apparently, we have finally made it to the Southern Ocean! Everyday activities became chores: sitting upright on a chair, lying in a bed, opening and closing doors, eating, even standing still. This was also the real test to see if we have gotten over seasickness (i.e. if we have gotten our “sea legs”) and of our ability to secure scientific equipment, furniture, and personal items.

Dave Webb. Photo by Earle Wilson

But luckily, also all storms are over at some point. Despite the challenges, we still maintain daily (indoor) life and good spirits. The main entertainment of the past and probably also upcoming days is Cribbage, a popular card game on (all?) boats. 

Alison teaches cribbage. Photo by Earle Wilson.

Sarah Bercovici x Joseph Gum. Photo by Heather Page.
We also have many books, movies, and TV shows at our disposal, thanks to a great library on the ship. If we feel too cooped up, we can also work out in the tiny room stuffed with a rowing machine, stationary bike, and treadmill.  The night crew was treated to a light show last night – Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). Fingers crossed for another viewing! We are still in transit, but we are looking forward to reaching the Antarctic Shelf, seeing icebergs and marine life, and getting fresh air – no matter how cold it might be!
Seth Travis & Norm Nelson. Photo by Heather Page.

Science Talks on board

Organised by Earle Wilson 

All science & crew are invited to participate! We plan to continue these science talks throughout the cruise.  

  • Alison Macdonald "I08S: A Little History from WOCE to CLIVAR to GO-SHIP" 
  •  Michael Fong "pH in seawater: What does it really mean?" 
  • Heather Page "Coral reef biogeochemistry" 
  • Seth Travis "Archaeology and Oceanography"

What lies ahead?

By Seth Travis and Natalie Freeman

We are currently in transit to our first station (scheduled to be near the Antarctic ice edge). You can find us playing cribbage, sleeping (and others NOT sleeping!), reading, working, attempting to use the internet, snacking, listening to or sharing stories, etc. During this time, we often wonder what the weather will be like over the next few days (i.e., how sick we’ll feel). So, Alison and Phil download updated wind and wave forecast images (.png files) every day, showing forecasted wind speed and direction and wave height and direction over the next several days. Additionally, in order to get a sense of where we are and where we’re heading relative to any possible storms, we (Seth and Natalie) have worked out a way to recreate these forecasted images with our current path/position and our expected track overlain.

Smooth and successful coding + snacks and tea = smiling, happy scientists! (Photo courtesy of Joseph Gum)
Through the wonder and magic of Matlab, the forecast images/maps are converted into a format where a latitude/longitude grid is projected onto the image. We then use this conversion to pinpoint and plot our current and future cruise track.

When can we expect bad weather? Do we need to adjust our station locations or sampling/transit times? The ability to quickly and efficiently produce updated tracked forecast images every day will be extremely useful, when planning future stations and sampling. Current forecasts are suggesting that things are going to whip up over the next day or so, with winds up to 40 knots! Hopefully these forecasts prove wrong! Still, in these rough seas, it’s better to not be caught unprepared!
Wind forecasts look like this. The red diamond shows our current position, and the grey circle shows our expected position at the time of the forecast (always subject to change). The black solid line shows where we’ve been and the dashed line shows where we’re going (again, subject to change).

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