Southern Ocean GasEx Blog

Dispatches from the Southern Ocean Gas Exchange Experiment

Back on Track

Posted by sogasex on March 17, 2008

By Christopher Sabine (NOAA/PMEL) and David Ho (LDEO)

Although we seem to be the only ship around for hundreds of miles, we are definitely not alone. The NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown regularly receives weather forecasts and severe storm advisories from the US Navy as they keep track of our every move in the Southern Ocean. On Thursday we received a warning from the Navy of high wind and wave conditions approaching our study area, the exact conditions for which we have been planning and waiting. However, the ship experienced a combination of mechanical and software failures on items that were overdue for maintenance that could impact the ship’s ability to handle rough seas. The Captain of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown is the final arbiter when it comes to the safety of the ship, and it was decided to move the ship to a safer location; in this case, we moved closer to South Georgia Island where the ship could duck behind the island to avoid the wind and waves if necessary. Those of you watching the ship tracker web site may have noticed the sudden departure from the primary study site late Thursday night. It was difficult for the scientists to leave the tracer patch and the drifting equipment behind, but safety always comes first.

During the 350 mile trek to South Georgia Island, we passed by some magnificent icebergs. They came from a huge iceberg that broke off of Antarctica in April 2005 and has been slowly breaking up as it drifts north. Two of the bergs can still easily be seen from space. South Georgia Island, Shackleton’s final resting place, was magnificent to behold even though we remained several miles offshore.

While waiting off of South Georgia Island, we took the opportunity to get some much needed rest, perform necessary maintenance on various scientific equipment, and continue to make whatever measurements we could. In the meantime, we informed the organizations that are funding SO GasEx about our predicament: We have the perfect weather conditions but the ship might be unable to perform under those conditions. We were ready to abort if necessary, and regroup in the future to attempt this very important experiment. Even though it was the weekend, this issue quickly reached the highest levels of NOAA Research and Fleet leadership. After much discussion between the different parties, it was decided that since the ship was able to restore the software failure it was indeed fit for service under high wind conditions; after two days sorting out the details and waiting for the weather to break, we finally got the all clear to head back to our study site and are on our way north.

Our first objective is to return to the MAPCO2 buoy. Luckily we have been getting regular position updates via satellite link to the ship. We have been able to remotely monitor the storm effects on the seawater CO2 and other properties. We cannot, however, monitor the tracer patch remotely. We are all anxiously awaiting our arrival at the buoy to see if we can still find the patch after being away for over four days, but it feels good to be back on track for the experiment.

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One of the large icebergs we encountered in the vicinity of South Georgia Island

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View of South Georgia Island from the ship

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Sarah Purkey and Mike Rebozo catching a last glimpse of the icebergs as we head north back to our study site

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