Transit and Arrival in the Ross Sea!


Hello from Emily in the Antarctic! We’ve had quite the journey south onboard the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer. We left Lyttleton, New Zealand and transited to the Ross Sea, Antarctica over ~10 days. Leaving port we had beautiful weather and were escorted by the pilot and a few local Hector’s dolphins.

Lyttleton Harbor, New Zealand

As we transited south, the sun stayed up longer and longer. During our last few dark nights, we stargazed from the Palmer’s helo deck. Back in the day, explorers would follow the Southern Cross towards the pole. Now, we have GPS, but the Southern Cross is really cool (just ask Matt Hommeyer, Amelia’s husband and CMS’s multibeam wizard. Rumor has it he got a tattoo of the Southern Cross onboard the Palmer in 2001). Also, now that we’re closer to the South Pole, it is light almost 24/7.

Stars from the Palmer’s Helo deck

As we transited farther south, the seas began to get rocky. We left New Zealand coastal waters and had to quickly adjust to 15-20 foot waves. One day the swells even got to be 30+ feet, with wind gusts of 50 knots! While the Southern Ocean is notorious for being rough, we were sailing into a large low-pressure system.

After crossing the Antarctic Circle (66.3° S), we not only woke up to calm seas – but also giant icebergs the size of skyscrapers!

Our first iceberg

Once we saw the first signs of ice, we began to adjust to our work shifts. To fit in as much science as possible, we operate 24 hours a day. In the science party, we work 12 hours on and 12 hours off. I am part of the night shift and on the clock from midnight to noon. At first, the adjustment was hard, but it got easier after the sun started staying up almost 24/7. We stayed awake by watching movies in the lounge, trying new card games, playing ping pong in the helicopter hanger, and exploring the Palmer. After a night or two, we started transitioning into “work” mode, with lots of coffee!

Moving closer to our destination, the icebergs faded away as we reached patches of floating sea ice. Since it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the ice has been melting and we haven’t had to do any “hardcore” ice breaking yet.

Moving through sea ice and into the Ross Sea

We did see a few whales and dolphins during our transit across the Southern Ocean, but nothing compared to the wildlife we saw once we reached the pack ice! Our group was most excited to see some penguins and, luckily, they stand out from the white backdrop of the ice. So far, we have seen Adelie and Emperor Penguins off in the distance. We have also seen many crabeater seals lounging on sea ice.

Soon, we’ll reach our first study site and start science operations!

-Emily Kaiser

Some critters from my iphone camera

The Shevenell Lab Returns to the Ross Sea


Hello Expedition Antarctica! My name is Emily Kaiser and I am a 3rd year PhD student in Dr. Amelia Shevenell’s Antarctic Paleoclimate Lab. In my research, I am focusing on constraining when ice retreated in locations around Antarctica and what mechanisms forced ice retreat following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; ~25,000 years ago!). During the LGM, large ice sheets existed across North America (e.g., the Laurentide Ice Sheet) and were (we think, in some places) at their maximum extent around the Antarctic margins. I am interested in this time period because it is the most recent large-scale ice retreat event. Today, Antarctica’s ice sheets are continuing to lose mass at an accelerating pace, contributing to the observed global sea level rise. The two main factors driving ice retreat today are rising atmospheric temperatures and warmer water masses interacting with marine-terminating ice. Since the instrumental records of Antarctic ice mass loss and subsequent sea level rise are limited to the instrumental era, we turn to the geologic records to expand our view of how ice sheets responded to past climate changes. Our paleo data can then be incorporated into climate models to more accurately project the effects of future climate change.

I am a member of the scientific team on board the RV/IB (read: research vessel/ icebreaker) Nathaniel B. Palmer sailing down to the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Our expedition is supported by the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) that oversees and supports all US-funded scientific research in Antarctica. Specifically, this cruise is funded by a National Science Foundation grant awarded to geophysicist Dr. Phil Bart from Louisiana State University (LSU), who is the Chief Scientist on the cruise. Our cruise is scheduled to be 73 days long and split into two legs: NBP23-01 and NBP23-02. For the first leg, NBP23-01, we are sharing ship time with a group of microbiologists and environmental scientists. In mid-January, we are docking at McMurdo (the largest US base) where the group we are currently sailing with will disembark and a new set of scientists will join us for NBP23-02. I’m going spotlight NBP23-01 for now and will share info about the second leg when we’re docked at McMurdo. Here’s a hint: 🐧.

Our floating laboratory and home until March, the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer docked in Lyttleton, NZ.

Fun fact: In 2018, Dr. Shevenell and PhD student Imogen Browne sailed to the Ross Sea with the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) onboard the Joides Resolution. They were interested in recoveringsediments deposited in the Miocene (~23-5 million years ago!) to help us understand larger scale ice sheet evolution. Many paleoclimatologists think about the Miocene because atmospheric CO2 levels were similar to levels we are seeing today. You can read more about their cruise on this blog!

Where we’re heading! We started our journey in Lyttleton, NZ and are currently navigating around a storm in the Southern Ocean. Overnight, we experienced almost 30 ft waves as we approached 54°S.

Cruise Goals and Objectives

The goal of our research cruise is to explore the timing and mechanisms forcing retreat of the Ross Ice Shelf (RIS) following the Last Glacial Maximum. To achieve our research goal, we need to incorporate a suite of geologic tools: seafloor mapping, sub-bottom profiling, and sediment coring. I will spotlight each objective further as we begin science operations over the next week – but here is a quick look at what we’re aiming for!

Objective 1: Map the Gap

While we can use satellites to resolve the general seafloor beneath the Ross Sea, we need a finer scale resolution to see features either carved out by past ice flow or deposited during ice retreat. On this cruise, we are utilizing a multibeam echosounder to explore the seafloor geomorphology. This instrument emits sounds that bounce off the seafloor and return to a receiver on the boat. In the Electronics Lab on the Palmer, we will stitch these surveys together to compile a map of our survey site. In the bathymetric map shared here, the rainbow lines represent previous multibeam surveys while the grey shading represents satellite-derived. In addition to filling in gaps in our knowledge of Ross Sea bathymetry, our project will also contribute towards goals set by the Seabed 2030 Project – with a goal of mapping 100% of the sea floor by 2030.

Bathymetric map of the Ross Sea. The grey shading is bathymetry derived from satellite altimetry. The colored lines represent existing multibeam coverage on the shelf. Notice all the gaps in data? Our 1st cruise objective is to “map that gap!”. Figure courtesy of Matthew Danielson, LSU.

Objective 2: What lies below the seafloor?

Seismic surveys have an important scientific purpose: exploring what lies beneath the seabed. Unlike the multibeam echosounder that reflects sound waves off the seafloor, seismic surveys use a sound wave that reflects from subsurface horizons. Since each type of sediment has unique physical properties, we can use data coming back to the acoustic receiver to determine sediment type, layer thickness, and buried features we cannot see from the multibeam echosounder. 

 Seismic surveys require a special permit and follow mitigations to protect marine life. Thus, we are sailing with a group of trained Protected Species Observers (PSO for short), who are on watch 24 hours/day monitoring the presence/absence of local marine life. While transiting to the Ross Sea, we have had PSO briefings and trainings so we are ready to begin science operations when we arrive at our study site. We are following very strict protocols to require the PSOs conduct continuous visual monitoring of marine life around the ship.  Their observations inform us when we can safely conduct surveys survey and when we are required to stop operations.

Fun fact: Two of the PSOs onboard graduated from the University of South Florida! Go Bulls!

Schematic of the seismic survey set up. The ship tows the source and a long line of receivers. Illustration from NOPSEMA.

Objective 3: Sediment coring

Once we complete multibeam and seismic surveys, we use that data to decide where we want to sediment core. The idea behind sediment cores is to collect undisturbed packages of sediment in the order they were deposited. With that logic, the sediment at the top of the core is the youngest and oldest material at the bottom of the core. There are a few different tools that we use to obtain sediment cores such as benthic grab samples, gravity coring, and piston coring. While all three of these techniques recover sediments, each one has a specific purpose. For example, grab samples are a great tool to see what is living just above and just below the seafloor. If you want to get a longer sediment record, you would use a gravity corer or a piston corer.

Once we bring the cores up from the seafloor, we put most of them into cold storage for future sampling. However, some core types and analyses require that we sample some of the cores onboard. The first step to sampling a sediment core is the visual description. We document things such as: sediment color, sediment type, abundance of microfossils, presence of any large rocks, etc. Then, each scientist goes in to take samples from the core for their post-cruise research. For example, I am interested in sampling these cores for radiocarbon dating and paleotemperature reconstructions. Other folks are interested in sampling for microfossils, sediment redox chemistry, methane concentrations, and more! 

Types of Cores. The three examples shown here are some of the ways we are planning on coring. Figures from Project Oceanography.

Objective 4: Preserving cores for future generations! 

The final cruise objective begins once we reach the shore. At the end of our cruise, we will disembark, and the cores will be shipped to the Antarctic Core Collection at Oregon State University for other scientists – and the future generations of scientists – to use! If you’d like to hear more about the core repository, check out my post from our visit earlier this year!

What’s next for NBP23-01? As we sail further south and into the Southern Ocean, we expect the seas to be rough for a little bit. But there’s another obstacle we need to cross once we’re closer to the Antarctic – sea ice! I’ll write again once we begin ice breaking!

2/9/2014 – Pure Dredgery

Katy writes:

Kelsey and Gene rocking out

Kelsey and Gene rocking out

We started for the Totten Glacier area, our main study area, at around 11:45am GMT on Wednesday, February 7th. Our shift on Thursday the 8th began with processing the dredges, starting with our most recent dredge that targeted the Eocene-Oligocene boundary for the second time (importance of that temporal boundary is discussed below). First, we cleaned each rock individually from small pebble to boulder size. We arranged them on a table in the dry lab into the three rock categories (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) and then roughly subcategorized those groups. Once the rocks were dried and laid out on the table, Gene helped us finalize our sorting, and discussed what we found. The sedimentary rocks are the most important because they can tell us about past depositional environments. After we finalized our categories, we counted, photographed, and packaged the samples (1,029 total!). This took us about 9 hours to complete, leaving four dredges left to process (with each dredge having 7 to 394 total samples, which all went a lot quicker!)

Sunrise on the back deck

Sunrise on the back deck

That same day, we had a science talk regarding our dredging and seismic results, along with overall Cenozoic climate change trends. Amelia discussed the trend of overall cooling that we have seen over the Cenozoic. This was determined using oxygen-18 isotope records, establishing an ice volume record throughout the Cenozoic. In 2000, magnesium-calcium paleothermometry was used to isolate sea water temperatures from the ice volume record, showing a 12°C overall cooling since the Mesozoic. From these curves, clear climate transitions were shown at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary (~34 million years ago), the Middle Miocene (~14 Ma), and the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary (~5 Ma). It is still being debated what is causing this cooling, but two current hypotheses are 1) ocean heat transport due to the opening and closing of oceanic gateways and 2) overall decreasing atmospheric CO2 due to changes in seafloor spreading, uplift, and weathering. Continue reading

2/10/2014 – Entering Totten

Michelle writes:

1-P1010313We are just about 6 nautical miles from the edge of the Totten ice band and should be able to break through the sea ice into some ice-free water adjacent to the coast by this evening. Our watch shifts now demand a higher level of attention because we are in un-chartered waters; there is no pre-existing data from this area. Every seafloor feature that shows up on the screen on the Knudsen bathymetric profiler has never been seen before. NBP14-02 will be the first cruise to survey the seafloor and collect geological and physical measurements of the sediment and ocean currents.

Now, all planning is in overdrive. At the transition between shifts, there is usually a PI meeting at the navigation table or in the Chief Scientist’s room. These meetings include deciding which sites to hit first, which group will run their instruments and in what order. As we steam toward Totten Glacier, the researchers running the seismic instruments are planning their lines (the distance between two waypoints on which they will make their measurements).


These images are very important because they will be high-resolution images of the ocean bottom and the sub-bottom down to about 400 m. That is tens of millions of years of a sediment record in one picture. The seismic images show the various layers and points of contact between geologic periods. For example, we may be able to see the boundary between the Eocene and Oligocene. Continue reading

2/3/2014 – Mertz Glacier Science Plan

Tasha writes:

Today marks the beginning of our sixth day underway and the crossing into the beginning of an entirely new world. We crossed 60 degrees south and have committed to continuing our travel directly south to the Mertz glacier; we expect to make it to the edge of the continental shelf on the morning of the 4th. To prepare us for our arrival in East Antarctica and for the beginning of a flurry of science that will be taking place, we listened to a couple of brief science talks about past science and our current objectives at the Mertz glacier.

And after that, we didn't let the penguins drive the boat any more...

And after that, we didn’t let the penguins drive the boat any more…

One of our objectives will be to acquire geophysical (seismic) survey data that will satisfy the requirements for future deep sediment drilling in the area. Seismic surveys will be conducted using two air guns that transmit sound pulses to the sea floor. This energy is powerful enough to penetrate 1 or 2 kilometers down into the sediment and underlying bedrock basement. When the sound waves encounter density changes in the stratigraphic layers (e.g. transitions from clay to bedrock), some of the energy reflects back up to the surface of the ocean where we have a seismic streamer (array of hydrophone receivers) that will detect the sound and record it.

Vessel telemetry, 3.5 kHz sub-bottom profiler, multibeam sonar, and other assorted toys

Vessel telemetry, 3.5 kHz sub-bottom profiler, multibeam sonar, and other assorted toys

We then translate the recorded sound to an image that will be used to create a map of the sediment layers below the seafloor. The map is based solely on the time it took for the sound to travel from the guns into the sediment and back to the receivers. These maps of the sub-bottom have many applications. Continue reading

10/30/2013 – Slow and Steady

Tasha writes:

I was excited to see what kind of machinery the Gould had working for us behind the scenes, so at dinner last night I asked the Chief Engineer, Mike, if he would be willing to give us a tour of engineering. He agreed and today many of the scientists went down after breakfast to check out the engine rooms. I used to be in the Navy and love learning about all things that make a ship work so please excuse my nerdiness in the following explanation of the engineering systems.

[Vessel specifications and some schematic drawings can be found via our Links page.]

Not winning any races

Not winning any races

In Control Central, where the watch-standing engineer monitors and controls the entire engineering plant, Mike walked us through the general components of his systems. There are two main diesel Caterpillar engines on-board with 2,300 horsepower each and a max combined speed of 10.2 knots for the Gould – not the speediest vessel out here. Her typical cruising speed is right around 10 knots, and in heavy currents that could result in speeds of 18 knots over ground running with the currents or 3 knots against (things could take a while). Continue reading

10/30/2013 – Gravity, Nausea, and Cape Shirreff

Michelle writes:

Let’s talk about gravity. I have been made keenly aware of this force for the past 40 hours because my equilibrium is out of whack and I am seasick. Here are some fun ways gravity is proving to be a whole new experience aboard the Gould.

  1. The stairs either rise up to meet me, or fall out beneath my feet.
  2. I have to time when I open doors, otherwise I am fighting a losing battle.
  3. I am suddenly walking on both sides of the hallway.
  4. I watched an orange roll back and forth across the mess hall floor.
  5. Getting out of the top bunk can be a lesson in being a ninja … or I can just fall out.

Watch a movie here while feeling sick

Watch a movie here while feeling sick

Apart from being sick, I am enjoying the ride. And even the sickness has dissipated thanks to some new medication. Moreover, everyone is really helpful in trying to get a fellow passenger cured. Amy (one of our senior scientists) checks in to make sure I am doing okay. Amelia (my advisor and the chief scientist for this cruise) let me crash in her room because it is more centrally located, unlike mine, which is near the bow. And Tasha brings me food from the dinner or lunch I may have missed. This just goes to show we truly are a little community. It’s hard to feel too bad when you have people looking out for you.

Work out here while feeling sick? (Not recommended.)

Work out here while feeling sick? (Not recommended.)

Okay, enough pity party, here’s what’s new. Continue reading

10/29/2013 – Ship Life

Tasha writes:

Ship life appeals to a person with a sense for adventure, the outdoors, and physical work. These are some reasons why some people thrive on going to sea:

  • You often set sail to some new or exotic destination.
  • The work schedule is maybe six weeks on with about two months completely off.
  • It’s incredibly peaceful when you have beautiful weather or when the ocean is so still it looks like glass (on very rare occasions).
  • Especially if you love the water, it’s nice to find a cozy steel hideaway out on the weather decks (outside) where you can sit and look out on the horizon, watch the water splash out from the ship, and watch the waves roll by. It’s mesmerizing.
  • Nothing compares to the sunrises, sunsets, and starry night skies out on the open ocean.
  • No cruise is ever the same so life stays exciting.

First hero shot of LMG13-11: Michelle enjoys the view from the 03 deck

First hero shot of LMG13-11: Michelle enjoys the view from the 03 deck

Things I don’t particularly enjoy about going to sea:

  • Bad weather. Seasoned veterans find rough seas and being able to walk on the bulkheads (walls) fun, but bad weather can make me absolutely miserable at sea. I get seasick and the Drake Passage crossing to get to the Antarctic Peninsula tends to have some of the roughest seas in the world so I, like many others onboard, stay in my rack (bed) for most of the days with rough seas until I get my sea legs (get used to the motion and stop getting sick). It’s very difficult to get any work done. Continue reading

10/28/2013 – Rockin’ and Rollin’: Entering the Drake Passage

Michelle writes:

Today we sailed down the Atlantic coast of Argentina and were treated to some spectacular views. When were close enough to the coast, we could see the land known as Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). From what I can see these are jagged islands capped with snow. To me, they look like something out of a Tolkien novel. It was sunny all day so the water is a deep sapphire blue. It was also warm enough to go out in a light jacket and many people took advantage of the weather to sit outside and read a book, or take some pictures.

One does not simply *sail* into Mordor

One does not simply *sail* into Mordor

Our days are not too busy yet. This leaves time for leisure: reading, watching a movie, playing a game, or just talking. A lot of the talking happens in the mess area where we eat.  In talking to crew and scientists, I am finding that people come from all over the United States (and the world, for that matter) to work on the ship or at the Antarctic Stations. I have met people from Maine, Texas, Colorado, and New York to name a few places. Not only are these people from different places, they also travel to many different places. Some of the MT’s (marine technicians) I talked to today spend part of their year in Antarctica, then go up to places like Canada and off the coast of Africa for more work. Everyone I have had the pleasure of talking to had an interesting story to tell, which makes our dinner conversations lively.

The swell is picking up down here. There is a noticeable increase in the rolling as we passed between the tip of Argentina and Isla de los Estados (in English: “Staten Island”). Continue reading

10/16/2012: Transit to Palmer Station

Well, we missed the 08:00 docking time at Palmer Station. And we didn’t just miss it by a little. We missed it by 9 hours! Why did we arrive at 17:00? Well, because of this:


As we emerged from the southern Gerlache Strait, we encountered pack ice that had blown into the region over the last several days. These wind forced the sea ice up against the southern and western coasts of Anvers Island, where Palmer Station is located. We crept along through the pack at about 3 knots. The Captain, Earnest, and our Ice Pilot, Val, did some of the best ice navigating that anyone on the ship had ever seen. They were downright impressive, especially since the LM Gould is only ice strengthened, and is not an icebreaker. We will make sure that NSF and Edison Chouest know how amazingly talented these guys are. Just to put this in perspective, this is the worst sea ice I have ever seen since I have been coming here. Gene said that this was the worst he had seen since 1987.


Science alert (and a stolen photo from Garrett): The formation and retreat of the sea ice around Antarctica is one of the largest annual physical changes on Earth. Sea ice not only impacts regional and global climate, by influencing Earth’s albedo (reflectivity), but it plays a critical role in Southern Ocean biogeochemical cycles and marine ecosystems. Spring is an important season for the Antarctic ecosystem. As the daylight hours increase, the region is bathed by sunshine, which provides heat to melt the sea ice and is required for photosynthesis. The combination of increased sunshine and the availability of nutrients from ocean waters and melting sea ice triggers large blooms of microalgae. Continue reading