From Expedition 10: Palmer Station, on the Western Antarctic Peninsula is the smallest of three research stations the U. S. maintains in Antarctica.
By Kate Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Approaching from seathe only way to get therethe town is hard to see at first. Far from home, it clings to rock at the waters edge and at the foot of a glacier. There are just a few buildings, dock, and fuel tanks. This tiny town is Palmer Station, on the Western Antarctic Peninsulathe smallest of three research stations the U. S. maintains in Antarctica.
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This town has a single purpose, and everyone here is a part of it: scientific research on the Antarctic coastal ecosystem, especially long-term research to track changes in this delicately balanced, vulnerable system. Scientists apply for research grants to come here and study this area.
Tracey Baldwin, Palmer Station Lab Manager, is one of eight people who take care of the station and the needs of visiting researchers. She is two months into her six-month shift, but said, it only takes about two weeks for newcomers to settle in.
One wall of her office is papered with prints and photos; the other holds a whiteboard for notes, and the outside door bears a magnetic word board and a jumble of separate words. Her doorway is hung with artificial feather boas in black and purple, and entering her space, you brush against the soft fringe.
People dont decorate their bedrooms at all here, she said. Its pretty much just for sleeping. In the summer, when we have visiting researchers, you dont have a private room. Your office, though, is personal. The culture here, she said, is to be with others. People collect in the common room or the recreation rooms, said. They dont hole up in their rooms.
The lab managers job is shared, alternating time spent in Antarctica. The lab manager ensures that the well-equipped biology laboratory runs smoothly. She makes sure the instruments work, orders lab supplies, and ensures the scientists have what they needwhether its a chemical or a boat to take to a nearby island.
Tracey wears a radio at her belt, and keeps it turned on. An important part of her job is keeping in touch with any scientists who are outside the station, or in boats, observing birds or sampling, I keep track of where field samplers are, with the Station boat, she said. Weather conditions change quickly, and as summer wanes it gets dark earlier, so now 8:15 p.m. is too late for the boat to be out. I make sure they get back on time.
The station includes a living area, a dining area, offices, a dormitory, a laboratory, and a boathouse. It shelters a winter population of about 20, soaring to 44 in the summer, made up of about six research groups. Even this makes some residents feel cramped! So behind the station, away from the lights and sounds of the six small buildings, people set up tents in summer. There, on rocks overlooking the place where the glacier meets the bay, they can see and hear the glacier calving and watch birds undisturbed. This is the backyard.
The climate here is mildfor Antarcticabecause the surrounding ocean moderates the temperatures. Summer highs can reach 55 degrees F (13 degrees C). Ships can dock at Palmer Station all year, so it is not as isolated other research stations on the continent, and research ships come and go regularly.
Tourist ships come also. In summer, one or two cruise liners a week are permitted to dock, carrying up to 150 people each. Forty-five at a time can tour the station and walk on the glacier. Palmer has a small store, open occasionally, where tourists can buy souvenirs such as t-shirts, mugs, and hats. The money from the store goes to the Palmer Station recreation fund, says Tracey. We have better recreation facilities than other stations because we have tourists.
Local wildlife, and icebergs that move slowly past the harbor entrance, regularly visit Palmer too. The original station was built near here in 1965, and the current one in 1970. Its an ideal location for studying and observing wildlife, including penguins, sea birds, and seals. An Adélie penguin rookery on Torgeson Island is only a five-minute boat trip away; other seabirds nest in the area. Seals sometimes lie outside the door, said Tracey. Weve had four or five in two months. Twice this year huge elephant seals, separated from their group, tried to get to them through the Station. By U.S. policy, no one may disturb wildlife, so they had to shoo the seals away by holding up blankets and shaking them.
Sometimes when a larger liner comes by, Tracey and Station Manager Joe Petit run out to it in the Zodiac (inflatable boat), to talk about the environment and research going on at Palmer Station. Its a good forum for us, she said. Taxpayer dollars support this facility, this is an opportunity for us to tell people about what we do and why we are here: for research, to learn about this system before it changes.
Its already changing here near Palmer, said Joe. Each year there are fewer penguins at the rookery. They may be moving south, where there is more ice.
Dive and Discover's Expedition 10 will explore one of the coldest, most remote places on our planetthe Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. Using scuba diving and other sampling techniques, scientists will study the mysteries of salpstransparent jelly-like creatures that are important to the entire Antarctic food chain.
In the Austral summerJanuary to Marchthe waters around Antarctica support huge populations of tiny plant-like phytoplankton that provide food for fish, squid, penguins, seals, and whales. The key animals in this food web are euphausiids, also known as krill. These abundant, shrimp-like crustaceans feast on phytoplankton and other small plankton, and are the favorite food of larger predators, like penguins and whales.
But, there is another major player in the Southern Ocean food chainthe salps. They are often overlooked, but are sometimes so numerous they seem to take the place of krill populations. Salps are gelatinous, tube-shaped animals that live in all oceans. Like krill, salps eat phytoplankton, so they often compete for the same food. Salps feed by pumping water through their hollow bodies and sieving phytoplankton out with an internal filter net.
In the last thirty years, scientists have observed an overall decrease in the numbers of krill and an increase in numbers of salps in the waters surrounding Antarctica. The shift in abundances of these animals may be related to changes in the amount of sea ice around Antarctica, which is in turn affected by global climate. More ice may favor the krill, because they can feed on algae growing under the ice. Less ice may favor salps, which swim and feed in open water.To discover whether this is true, we need more information about the behavior and life cycle of both salps and krill. Scientists know much more about Antarctic krill than about Antarctic salps, mainly because krill are easier to catch and study than the fragile, jelly-like salps.
Other research projects will also be a part of Expedition 10. They include a study of whale genetics, based on samples of old whale bones left at an abandoned whaling station on Deception Island, and biological studies on feeding and growth by a different gelatinous animala ctenophore, or comb-jellythat preys on young krill.
Join our team as we dive below cold Antarctic waters and discover the mysteries of salps, surrounded by the stunning beauty of the frozen southern continent.
March 10, 2006
by Kate Madin
Expedition 10 and this cruise are winding downonly two more days before we have to start packing. From the vans storing the LAPIS and diving gear to the test tubes and all the preserved samplesall of it must be packed before we start across the Drake Passage where seas can be too rough to work.
What have we accomplished during this hectic time? The researchers will spend months analyzing data and then will publish results of their studies in journals or share them with other scientists at scientific meetings. But they have some early results and ideas from this cruise.
We have done three kinds of work here:
- explorationlooking for what is in this little-known ecosystemwith nets, dives, and LAPIS
- observing the salps migration, size, and reproduction
- laboratory work
- feeding experiments, measurements of plant pigments in salps stomachs, and metabolic rates.
Pat Kremer studied how much food was in salps guts and how long it took them to digest it. For me, she said, one of the important accomplishments of this cruise was the determination of the salps digestive timethe time it takes to consume food, digest it, and move it out of their bodies as fecal pellets. This means we can tell how much food the larger population of salps takes in. This can help reveal the populations feeding impact on the ecosystem here.
Jun Nishikawa used the net tows to tell where the salps were over the course of a 24-hour day. He found that the salps migrated up toward the surface and back down to lower depths, and they changed their migration patterns when characteristics of the water (temperature, salinity, or oxygen levels at different depths) changed. The salps seem more flexible here, he said.
Graduate students did research for their degrees and took samples for future projects. Volunteers took on lab experiments, diving, and record keeping. Divers dove and collected salps for experiments. Everyone worked well together. Its been a successful science cruise.
Thanks and Acknowledgements
This expedition was made possible by a research grant from the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation. Support for Dive and Discover on this cruise came from the National Science Foundation, the Ocean Life Institute and the Deep Ocean Exploration Institute at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and the WHOI Communications Group. We are all very grateful to the technicians from the Raytheon Polar Services Corporation and the crew of the ARSV Laurence M. Gould for their outstanding and friendly support and assistance in every aspect of our project. We also thank all the schools, teachers, students, and interested readers who visited the Dive and Discover Expedition 10 site each day.
The Goulds Chief Engineer Paul Waters, from North Carolina, loves his work, and intimately knows all the ships systems. This interview took place during a tour through the engine room.
A ship looks deceptively simple. Its easy to think of it as a hull, a deck, and an engine to power it. To function, though, a ship depends on the smooth interaction of many systems. The chief engineer is responsible for seeing that all the ships physical, mechanical, and electrical systems work, and for maintaining life support systemsfuel, fresh and salt water, plumbing, wiring, air filtration and circulation, and more. The Goulds Chief Engineer Paul Waters, from North Carolina, loves his work, and intimately knows all the ships systems. This interview took place during a tour through the engine room.
The first thing I noticed about the engine room is how clean and bright it is. Second Mate David Morse tells people this is the cleanest engine room Ive ever seen, on any ship, anywhere. How can you keep it so clean?
The engine room is noisy, but its clean. We have really good oilers (men who work in the engine room). They dont mind working here, cleaning, because its already clean. Were constantly cleaning, every single day.
Everythings color-coded so we automatically know what is in what pipe. The blue pipes are potable (drinkable) water. Green is seawater lines. Brown is the sewage line. Those black ones are drain linesdirty oil is black. The orange ones are hydraulic lines; theres hydraulic fluid in all of them. Redthats the fire systemthe CO2 gas extinguishers. All the yellow means fuel lines, and the engines are yellow. Light green is the compressed air system.
What are the clear and colored glass cylinders hanging up in back of the room?
Those are lightstheyre the alarms. You cant hear the sirens down here, so they flash to alert you. The red is fire, and amber is the control room. But the clear one means get outyou have ten seconds to get out of the area and go above to your muster station (in case of an abandon ship order.)
We have generators, and the two main propulsion engines, painted yellow. There are 49 pumps on the ship, of seven different typesthey all have to be maintained regularly. We have 700 miles of electrical wire, 42 filters in the fresh water purification system, and seven welding stations spaced around the engine rooms. In the workshop: lathes, worktable, drill pressso we can make just about anything we need. We have storage rooms full of spare parts for every part on the ship.
How did you become a chief engineer?
You work your way up. You start as an oiler for a few years. It
takes lots of years to gain the knowledge and experience you need to
handle a ship like this.
What about the control room, with the lighted console?
Oh, thats for paperwork! Thats where I do the log book. When Im not doing that, Im down here all of the time, looking, checkinglooking for any problems, or leaks. I can tell by listening if theres something wrong, if theres something different about the engine.
(Through a tunnel-like corridor is the room where the ships two rudders terminate inside the ship. The sides of the room reflect the curve of the hull, and it seems very close to the cold water.)
Its white and clean, in here, too.
Lots of ships you see are rusted out down here in this room. Itll be gray paint, and everything dirty, because no one takes care of it. This ship is different. Were always down here, checking every part of the systems. No one has to tell us to. We replace things before they cause a problem.
(He pointed to a massive light green chunk of metal with a central hole through it, and corrosion in the hole.)
Thats a check valve for the front water cooling system. No one told us to look at it. No one knew there was a problem; there were no symptoms. But we changed it out. We want to catch things before they happen.
Tell me about your own history, how you came to be here
Home is in North Carolina. but Ive always worked outoutside the region. Ive worked in Antarctica, Louisiana, logging in Oregonbut I always go home to the North Carolina mountains. I once went from here to Southeast Asia working in the engine room of a shipit was so hot! I lost about 20 pounds, all in sweat. Engine rooms are hot places, but this one has cool air circulating from outside, so the heat isnt a problem.
Do you like it here?
Oh, I love it here. The Antarcticyou see this beautiful coastline. You get the chance to meet scientists. And we try to make it nice for you on the ship. If anythings wrong in your room or lab, let us know, and well get it fixed.
Chief Scientist Larry Madin, who has studied salps for over thirty years, examines a microscope photograph of salp anatomy. (Photo by K. Madin, WHOI)
You are here in the Southern Ocean to study salps. What are salps?
Salps are tube-shaped, soft, transparent animals that swim through the ocean, straining out plant food as they go. Salps have always been really interesting to me because they are perfect for the environment they live in: perfectly adapted for swimming and filtering their food out of the water. With a single action of pumping their muscles, they eat, swim, and breathe. Salps and other gelatinous zooplanktonjelly-like animalsare exotic, beautiful, and graceful. They look like something from outer space or another worldwhich they are, in a way.
How did you first find out that salps existed?
I first saw a salp during a class I took as an undergraduate. At the time I didnt know what I was going to study yet.
This salp was dead, pickled, and in a jardefinitely not at its best. But Id never seen anything like it before, and I was curious about how it worked. The professor didnt know anything about them either, and I was intrigued by that. That class helped me decide to study zooplankton.
In graduate school my advisor, Bill Hamner, began to study zooplankton in their natural environment, by scuba diving in the open ocean. At the time, that was an unheard-of approach. Thats when I learned to divebecause if you want to know what these animals do, you have to go where they live.
How many research cruises have you been on?
Thats a good questionsomewhere along the line I stopped adding them up! Probably 65 cruises over the years, and about 1000 dives during thoseall blue water dives.
Can you tell us about blue water diving?
Blue water diving is scuba diving, but away from the coast, out in the open ocean, where the bottom is deeper than one hundred meters. Regular diving is like swimmingyou can see what you swim over: solid ground, rocks, or coral. Where we dive, you cant see the bottom. You cant see anything but blue water all around you, even up, and you have a sense of being suspended in infinity, looking for the transparent plankton that we study.
What is plankton, and why should people study it?
Salps are part of the planktondrifters that dont swim strongly. Plankton plants and animals are the most abundant life in the ocean. They support the entire ocean food chain. Everything else eats them, or eats animals that eat them. Wed have no fish or whales without plankton.
Phytoplankton (plant plankton) create food by photosynthesis, and release oxygen, supplying half the oxygen in our atmosphere. They also take up carbon dioxide, which could be important if increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing global climate change.
Zooplankton are the link between phytoplankton and fish in the ocean food web. Salps develop huge populations that can eat most of the phytoplankton out of the water, affecting the amount of food there is for other animals. We dont have a very good understanding of plankton or ocean food webs, and every cruise helps us find out more.
As chief scientist on the cruise, Larry Madin has a lot to attend to. He sometimes misses dinner and eats at his desk in the lab! (Photo by Kate Madin, WHOI)
As Chief Scientist, I organize the activities of the cruise and make the work plan for each day. I work with the ships captain and crew to decide where we want to take the ship to look for salps, and when and where we want to do scuba dives, both day and night. I also help the other scientists get what they need to do their workmaking sure they have space, equipment, and assistance. Theres a lot of planning to do, and the Chief Scientist is the intermediate between the scientists, the captain and crew, and the Marine Projects Coordinator (MPC)a special person on the ship who is experienced with polar operations, knows this ship and its capabilities well, and assists us with the ships facilities.
We humans are facing complicated problems related to how we live in the environment. We cant solve them without knowing whats causing them; and we cant know whats causing them without understanding how natural systems work. Science is about just that: finding out how the world works, in a direct way, by doing experiments.
The oceans are most of the planet, and we know very little about them. The real world of the oceans is totally different from the world most people experiencethe world they see around them. The ocean is a vast, featureless, three-dimensional space, and the animals that live in it are perfectly at home in those conditions.
Biological oceanographer Patricia Kremer studies how gelatinous animals make their livings in the ocean system. She measures feeding, growth, metabolism (energy use), and population growth in fragile but abundant jelly animals. Her work has taken her to the Atlantic, Indian, and Southern oceans, where she collects the animals by scuba diving. On this cruise in Antarctic coastal waters, she will stay on the L. M. Gould and concentrate on lab work
At the rail of the L.M. Gould as it leaves Punta Arenas, Chile and heads toward Antarctica, biological oceanographer Pat Kremer discusses the cruise plan with Chief Scientist Larry Madin. Kremer will investigate how plankton animals called salps feed, grow, and reproduce in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. (Photo by K. Madin, WHOI)
The seawater here is about two degrees below freezing, and all the divers have to wear dry suits. They are a lot harder to get into than a wetsuit, they weigh much more, and it requires an extra level of certification to do dry suit diving. Ill miss diving, but I can get more done in the lab if Im not out in the dive boat every dayand night.
But some of the total highs, too, are the night dives. Everyone turns off the dive lights for a minute and we play in the bioluminescence (light produced by organisms in the water). You never want to leave; its just like magic.
Sometimes on a dive, suddenly everything is perfect, you feel like you belong in the sea. You look around and everything is right: your buoyancy and weight, the clarity of the water, the animals youre looking at. There is a feeling of weightlessness and infinity; you feel like a jellyfish, at one with the water.
How did you become interested in salps, such odd and obscure animals?
At graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, I studied ctenophores (also called comb jelliesredatory transparent jellylike animals.) Not much was known of gelatinous zooplankton in those days. The field was wide open, and that attracted me. It was exciting to ask questions that hadnt been asked before about how they make their living.
Which was first, your interest in the ocean, or your interest in science?
The ocean came first. I grew up overlooking the Pacific; it was always there; and was part of who I was. In high school I had a chance to participate in an NSF-sponsored summer program on oceanography, marine biology and math. After that summer I knew I wanted to be an oceanographer instead of a marine biologist. I went to Stanford University as an undergraduate, partly because Stanford had a marine station. I spent time there, and it was the first chance I had to do researchthen I knew I liked research.
Is there a difference between marine biology and biological oceanography?
If youre a marine biologist, the biology of creatures in the ocean is your primary interest. If youre a biological oceanographer, youre interested in the ecological system that includes the biology, physics, and chemistry of the ocean, a broader view of whats going on.
Im basically in charge of what goes on in the lab, kind of the conductor of the orchestra! Because Im not diving and collecting, Ill do the triage: the divers go out, collect zooplankton animals individually, put them in jars, and bring them back to the ship. When the collection comes in, Im in charge of dividing the jars up and giving them to the various projects. I will also do experiments, but its vital to keep the whole group organized. Last year, we were here in early December, just the beginning of summer. This year the cruise is toward end of the Antarctic summer, and we expect to see differences, because of the life cycle of salps. Well compare food availability and feeding early and late in the season. Best of all, this time we have 15 peoplea full complement all working our project.
Do you like going to sea?
I love it—absolutely love it! That’s one reason I went into oceanography. I would have been very disappointed to not go to sea. One thing that makes me enthusiastic is that I don’t get seasick, so it’s easy for me to work. Some colleagues get really sick at sea, and I always wonder how they stay in oceanography.
What’s the best moments you’ve had at sea?
The very best part is when you get your lab all set up on the ship just the way you want, and there’s your whole world in a small space. There’s no commute time, no distractions, someone else is cooking for you, and you can do nothing but work and there are plenty of animals.
And the worst?
The low point is when you steam to many different places and haven’t been able to find the animals. Then I don’t know what to do with myself. What a privilege you have, to be able to go to sea, to make the trip, and then you can’t be productive because the zooplankton animals aren’t where you expect and you can’t find them—but that’s jelly work for you!
The scariest time I ever had was on a night dive with Larry in the Arabian Sea. (When we dive, we are hooked to each other with ropes called ‘tethers.&rsquo One of the divers, why I don’t know, unhooked from his tether and went drifting off into the blackness alone. Larry went after him, and when we got back after the dive, my heart was pounding because I realized how dangerous that was.
Kelly Rakow is a graduate student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Engineering, working on her PhD degree in biological oceanography. Now she is doing her graduate work on salps with Larry Madin, but she used to have an unusual job—raising jellyfish!
In the narrow microscope room of the Gould, graduate student Kelly Rakow examines many small samples in plastic trays called “well plates,” to see how long salps take to digest food, and how fast they are eating. (Photo by Kate Madin, WHOI)
We’ve now been on the L.M. Gould for over two weeks. Do you like being at sea?
I enjoy cruises. They are like nothing else. But I’m not really a boat person. I didn’t grow up around boats, and it’s just not in my blood.
How do you feel about diving?
Diving is what got me interested in marine science. I started diving when I was 13, at a camp on Catalina Island (California). Because I started so young, I’m very comfortable in the water, and that’s an advantage. I’ve been diving in many environments, and I actually enjoy the extra challenge of diving in this extreme environment. I like blue water diving much better than over the shallow bottom. It’s easier, actually, in the water, as long as your buoyancy is adjusted correctly so you aren’t too heavy or light. In warm water, it’s very peaceful. Here in Antarctica, though, it’s exciting!
Do you find night diving scary?
Well, it can be. Not because I’m concerned about sharks or leopard seals, but because it’s more difficult and more complicated—there’s definitely more excitement. There are all these things to worry about: night, the dry suit, the cold. It would be enough to think about for just a recreational dive. On top of it you have to work—you have to collect animals, and deliver! That’s a lot to think about at one time.
What are you doing on the cruise?
I’m one of the divers, so I go diving and collect salps, and help other people with the nets collecting, counting and measuring salps, and keeping track of how they digest their food. The important part for me is starting my research project on salps, starting to find out what will work with the salps and how to do what I want to do with them, which is to study how water flows around the salp when its swimming, how it brings diatoms to the salp to feed on, and how the feeding net works.
I was interested in jellies (gelatinous ocean animals) when I was in college, and I volunteered at the New England Aquarium, in the jellies culture facility, where they grow jellyfish for the displays. I guess I was in the right place at the right time, because the jelly curator was about to leave then, so right out of college I took that job at the New England Aquarium.
I was there three years, and I fell in love with jellies. I was surrounded by live jellies in tanks, where you could watch them move, not washed up on a beach. I had questions about them all the time, and I felt like trying to answer some of those questions so I got a master’s degree with Monty Graham at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. I worked on moon jellies (a kind of jellyfish) in the Gulf of Mexico, on swimming mechanics, and behavior in currents.
I went on two research cruises in the North Atlantic with Larry and Pat: these were the first blue water dives I’d ever done. That was when I realized I wanted to be a biological oceanographer. I was definitely hooked on blue water diving! Now I’m Larry’s student, in the second year of my studies at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This cruise is a great opportunity to work some research plans out, because salps can’t be collected at Woods Hole.
There must be places to get salps other than Antarctica.
It’s a challenge. The animals are not easy to get, so I’ll probably go on some more cruises in the Atlantic. The equipment to study what I want (the way water flows around swimming salps) is expensive, fancy, and not portable, but my long-term goal is to study water flows in the salps’ environment, underwater.
Other than science, what things do you like to do?
It depends on the time of year. Woods Hole (where I live) is a very seasonal place. I run, play soccer, kayak, and I like fishing. These are all summer things.
Is there more you’d like to add about this experience in Antarctica?
Going to Antarctica was on my “life list” of things I wanted to do, long before I knew about this cruise. It’s amazing to be able to do this so early in my career! It’s a wonderful opportunity.
The Gould’s Chief Engineer Paul Waters, from North Carolina, loves his work, and intimately knows all the ship’s systems. This interview took place during a tour through the engine room.
Paul Waters, Chief Engineer on the L. M. Gould
Chief Engineer Paul Waters explains the color-coded fuel and seawater lines in the engine room of the Gould. (Photo by Kate Madin, WHOI)
A ship looks deceptively simple. It’s easy to think of it as a hull, a deck, and an engine to power it. To function, though, a ship depends on the smooth interaction of many systems. The chief engineer is responsible for seeing that all the ship’s physical, mechanical, and electrical systems work, and for maintaining “life support” systems—fuel, fresh and salt water, plumbing, wiring, air filtration and circulation, and more. The Gould’s Chief Engineer Paul Waters, from North Carolina, loves his work, and intimately knows all the ship’s systems. This interview took place during a tour through the engine room.
The first thing I noticed about the engine room is how clean and bright it is. Second Mate David Morse tells people “this is the cleanest engine room I’ve ever seen, on any ship, anywhere.” How can you keep it so clean?
The engine room is noisy, but it’s clean. We have really good oilers (men who work in the engine room). They don’t mind working here, cleaning, because it’s already clean. We’re constantly cleaning, every single day.
The room is a bright white, but almost everything in the room is painted with cheerful primary colors. There are pipes in different colors running all over the walls and ceiling. Why is that?
Everything’s color-coded so we automatically know what is in what pipe. The blue pipes are potable (drinkable) water. Green is seawater lines. Brown is the sewage line. Those black ones are drain lines–dirty oil is black. The orange ones are hydraulic lines; there’s hydraulic fluid in all of them. Red—that’s the fire system—the CO2 gas extinguishers. All the yellow means fuel lines, and the engines are yellow. Light green is the compressed air system.
What are the clear and colored glass cylinders hanging up in back of the room?
Those are lights—they’re the alarms. You can’t hear the sirens down here, so they flash to alert you. The red is fire, and amber is the control room. But the clear one means get out—you have ten seconds to get out of the area and go above to your muster station (in case of an ‘abandon ship’ order.)
Besides the control room, there are about five rooms that make the “engine room.” What are some of the systems you deal with down here?
We have generators, and the two main propulsion engines, painted yellow. There are 49 pumps on the ship, of seven different types—they all have to be maintained regularly. We have 700 miles of electrical wire, 42 filters in the fresh water purification system, and seven welding stations spaced around the engine rooms. In the workshop: lathes, worktable, drill press—so we can make just about anything we need. We have storage rooms full of spare parts for every part on the ship.
How did you become a chief engineer?
You work your way up. You start as an oiler for a few years. It takes lots of years to gain the knowledge and experience you need to handle a ship like this.
What about the control room, with the lighted console?
Oh, that’s for paperwork! That’s where I do the log book. When I’m not doing that, I’m down here all of the time, looking, checking—looking for any problems, or leaks. I can tell by listening if there’s something wrong, if there’s something different about the engine.
(Through a tunnel-like corridor is the room where the ship’s two rudders terminate inside the ship. The sides of the room reflect the curve of the hull, and it seems very close to the cold water.)
It’s white and clean, in here, too.
Lots of ships you see are rusted out down here in this room. It’ll be gray paint, and everything dirty, because no one takes care of it. This ship is different. We’re always down here, checking every part of the systems. No one has to tell us to. We replace things before they cause a problem.
(He pointed to a massive light green chunk of metal with a central hole through it, and corrosion in the hole.)
That’s a check valve for the front water cooling system. No one told us to look at it. No one knew there was a problem; there were no symptoms. But we changed it out. We want to catch things before they happen.
Tell me about your own history, how you came to be here
Home is in North Carolina. but I’ve always worked “out”—outside the region. I’ve worked in Antarctica, Louisiana, logging in Oregon—but I always go home to the North Carolina mountains. I once went from here to Southeast Asia working in the engine room of a ship–it was so hot! I lost about 20 pounds, all in sweat. Engine rooms are hot places, but this one has cool air circulating from outside, so the heat isn’t a problem.
Do you like it here?
Oh, I love it here. The Antarctic—you see this beautiful coastline. You get the chance to meet scientists. And we try to make it nice for you on the ship. If anything’s wrong in your room or lab, let us know, and we’ll get it fixed.
Paul has been doing this ten months a year for twelve years. He promised he’d ease off in the next few years and go to sea less. But he loves his work.
Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air does, so you cool much more rapidly in water.
By Jeff Godfrey, Diving Safety Officer, University of Connecticut
and Kate Madin
If you have ever overstayed a dip in the ocean, or dawdled too long in the bathtub, you know that being in the water can be a chilling experience. Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air does, so you cool much more rapidly in water.
The human body’s internal temperature has to stay within a narrow range around 37° C (98.6° F) to function normally. Reducing a person’s core temperature by more then 1° C (1.8° F) can cause physical and mental impairment, increasing the chance of injury and death. A body temperature below 35° C (95° F) is known as “hypothermia,” a life-threatening condition.
Scuba divers, who are often underwater for an hour or more, need ways to keep warm, even in tropical water. For most conditions, divers use wetsuits—body coverings that insulate the diver to reduce heat loss. But in really cold water, a wetsuit isn’t enough, and a person can quickly become fatally cold.
To keep warm, divers surround themselves with something that insulates from the cold. While water conducts heat very well, air does not, which makes air a great insulator.
Divers in very cold water must wear heavy, bulky drysuits to withstand the temperature. Here, Kerri Scolardi and another diver collected krill that were grouped under sea ice in Antarctica. (Photo by Stian Alesandrini)
The first effective protection from cold water was the foam neoprene wetsuit, a body covering made from a flexible foam material containing small air bubbles. Wetsuits, as the name suggests, insulate a diver even when wet.
The wetsuit has limitations, though. It can’t insulate well in very cold water, and as a diver goes deeper, water pressure increases, squeezing the wetsuit’s bubbles smaller and reducing its insulating ability. So in deeper or colder water, divers need something better—suits that keep them dry.
The “drysuit” is a waterproof, watertight covering, worn over long underwear, with air inside the suit for insulation. The key to staying warm is wearing the right layers underneath. Modern drysuit underwear insulates well even when wet. Cold-water divers often wear two layers— a thin inner layer, and an outer layer, usually a heavy jumpsuit of insulating fabric.
Divers lose a lot of heat from their heads, so they wear hoods for insulation. In very cold water, divers often wear a special “ice hood” that covers more of their faces. Even then, the parts of the diver’s face exposed to cold water—lips, cheeks, and nose—get numb. To solve this, some wear a full-face mask, completely covering the face.
Hands, too, get cold quickly and lose feeling and strength. Repeated exposure to cold can damage the nerves, so keeping hands warm is important. “Dry gloves” attach to the suit and allow warm air to pass from the suit to the hands. If your hands start getting cold you can raise them over your head and the air in your suit rises, refilling the gloves with warm air.
Putting on the gear for a cold-water dive is often harder work then the dive itself. Drysuits, dry gloves, full-face masks, and hoods are heavy and bulky, and the diver has to put it all on while above water. The insulating air in the drysuit also makes divers buoyant, so they float. To counteract this, they wear lead weights on a weight belt. In cold water, when divers wear thicker underwear and have more air in their suits, they often wear more than 30 pounds in extra weight. Add to this the weight of the suit, fins, scuba tank, regulator (the device that delivers air to the diver) plus the buoyancy compensator (“BC,” an inflatable vest), cold-water gear can weigh more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms).
Once in the water, there can be more problems. In extremely cold water, the scuba regulator air valve can freeze when the moisture in the diver’s breath touches the cold regulator. Regulators usually freeze in the “open” position, so the diver gets too much air— better then not getting any! Because of this problem, many coldwater divers use two independent scuba regulators for extra safety. The valve that adds air to the diver’s suit and buoyancy compensator also can freeze open, which can cause an untrained diver to float uncontrollably to the surface.
Despite the potential problems with freezing equipment, bulky suits, and cold faces and hands, a well-trained and equipped scientific diver can safely dive and work in the coldest places on earth, such as Antarctica.
Please stay tuned for Part Two.....