By Henrik Christiansen |
On sixth of December, research icebreaker “Polarstern” began its journey from Cape Town towards Antarctica for the now 30th time. Besides resupplying the German Antarctic station Neumayer III a large multidisciplinary science program is scheduled.
The ship is brimming with crew and scientists making preparations: instruments are unpacked, laboratories installed, scientific gear is tested, and station and work plans are created. For me, as a newbie, this is also a good opportunity to familiarize with everything aboard. The main target of this cruise is the southern Weddell Sea in front of the Ronne-Filchner ice shelf. This area is highly important for the formation of deep water and likewise rarely investigated biologically (here you can read more about the objectives of the current cruise).
In order to work in Antarctic waters, however, one first needs to reach them. Easier said than done. The area we are just passing through – between 50° and 60° south – is often described as ‘Furious Fifties’. The name arose from the strong and persistent westerly winds that blow here.
Hence, some aboard have turned up at the ship’s doctor to get medicine against seasickness. An entirely prophylactic act, of course. Others are not affected whatsoever by the wind. For example Albert. In fact, it seems the higher the waves and the stormier the weather, the merrier he is. Possibly that is because of his large wings and dense feathers. Albert is actually a wandering albatross, spanning around 3 meter from one wing to the other he is one of the largest birds on earth. He and his mates have been accompanying us for a while now. They seem to enjoy being near the ship. Perhaps because of the wind currents that emerge around Polarstern, which make for good gliding.
We will leave the Furious Fifties behind soon (current weekly reports), but that’s not all: next up are the ‘Screaming Sixties’… There, apparently one low-pressure area trails another relentlessly. Maybe Albert and his conspecifics will stay with us a little longer. The closer we get towards the Antarctic continent, the more ice we will face as well. That creates new troubles. On the one hand, we want to progress as fast and direct as possible, on the other hand we do not want to burn too much fuel. Luckily, Polarstern is a mighty ship and thanks to the very experienced crew, we will hopefully find a way past storms and ice up until Neumayer station. Upon arrival we will fetch some extra passengers, but more about that at a later stage.
Best wishes from Polarstern,
Henrik Christiansen, University of Leuven