Southern Ocean GasEx Blog

Dispatches from the Southern Ocean Gas Exchange Experiment

So close and yet so far…

Posted by sogasex on April 9, 2008

By Chris Sabine, NOAA/PMEL

As mentioned in the last few blogs, we finished our last CTD cast on Friday and started the 1300 mile trek to Montevideo, Uruguay where we will unload the ship and head our separate ways. For those of us used to traveling at the speed of a car or plane, the transit home can literally feel like the “slow boat to China”. When we first left station the ship was making a blazing 12.5 nautical miles per hour (or knots for you sailors). We had high hope of getting into port before our 9 am Thursday schedule, but that all changed on Sunday night.

We had spent the last two weeks before leaving the study site desperately hoping for high winds and rough seas; something, anything to finish off the Southern Ocean Gas Exchange experiment with flair. But it was not to be. We had decent 15-20 knot winds but not the big storm we had all dreamed about as we were writing our proposals. Despite that, we were reasonably satisfied and looking forward to a relatively quick trip home.

Sunday night, however, we drove into that perfect storm and just the kind of conditions we had been hoping for back at the study site. First the wind kicked up to 40 knots then 50 knots. Initially the seas were calm and the wind was just blowing the tops off of the small ocean swells we had been plowing through with ease. Over time, however, the sea started building and the 1000 miles of open ocean between us and Montevideo seemed to grow wider and more angry. With the ship’s vent problems (see the back on track blog), we were forced to slow our progress so we did not get too many bubbles into the ship’s cooling water systems. By late Sunday night the 12 knots had turned into 1 knot and our hopes of getting in early were whisked away on the wind.

Our experience with these wind events over the last month or so had been that they blow through quickly, but apparently this low pressure system liked what it saw and decided to hang around. Monday we ranged from essentially no speed over ground to as much as 4 knots for a couple of hours. Winds were 30-40 knots and the seas were 15-20 feet with the occasional 30 footer just to test that everything was tied down properly. Our hopes of getting in early had changed to hopes of getting in on time but even those looked doubtful as night fell with very little progress towards shore.

Tuesday brought a new promise as we were making 3.5 knots when I woke up. It didn’t really hit me how sad that was until I found myself on the treadmill running twice as fast as the ship. On Tuesday the winds were a little better, 20-30 knots but it was still impressive to sit in the staging bay looking out over the fantail and watch the waves break over the side and stern of this ship. At least the atmospheric flux guys are getting some measurements out of this. Most of us have completed all the packing we can do for now and are desperately trying to think of ways to entertain ourselves. It is difficult to focus on anything when the whole world is tossing and turning. At least we all have our sea legs so seasickness is not too much of a problem.

Now it is Wednesday. The winds have dropped a little more and the seas are starting to calm as well. We still have a little less than 500 miles to go, but we are hopeful that we are through the worst of it and conditions will only improve from here. I suppose only time will tell.

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Crew and scientists on the fantail tying down items battered by the rough seas

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The CTD against a backdrop of whitecap covered ocean that we rarely saw at the study site

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