JR161: Food webs in the Antarctic



Cruise Diary

Saturday 28 October, 08:18 GMT (05:20 local time)
Scotia Sea: Lat -57.78986 N Long -50.31066 W

Early morning on day 5 of the cruise JR161 aboard the British Antarctic Research Ship RSS James Clark Ross
Conditions: Moderate swell overcast, Air Temp: -1.35 °C, Sea Temp: 0.15 °C 

Tom writes: 

"We left the UK on the night of 19 October, flying from RAF Brize Norton to Stanley in the Falkland Islands on an RAF Jumbo. The highlight of the flight was being escorted into Stanley by two Tornado fighter jets (I was sorely tempted to give the pilots ‘the bird’ as in Top Gun…but thought better of it).

We spent the first few days in Stanley setting up the ship. Setting up was a busy time – having packed most of the equipment to be used on the cruise back in August, it was a case of finding the right boxes in the hold of the ship and nervously unpacking, hoping you hadn’t forgotten anything and that all the equipment was still in working order.  Fortunately, most stuff had arrived intact, which, having seen the limited range of items available in Stanley’s three shops, was no bad thing.

Two weather warnings were received while we were in Stanley: one was more normal, that the winds were strong and the sea was likely to be heavy from the outset; and the second was more unusual, that the hole in the ozone layer was directly above us.  So, when the sky did clear it was with some trepidation, and lots of sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, that we ventured for a walk on the Falklands to see some penguin colonies. These were only slightly more entertaining than the busloads of American tourists in matching Gore-Tex jackets with ‘Discover-Antarctica’ written across the back.

Fighter-Jet escort to Falklands

White Sand beach in the Falklands

We sailed on the afternoon of Wednesday 25 October and, true to the weather prediction, the first few days at sea were pretty rough and sleep was hard to come by for fear of falling out of your bunk.  Fortunately, these first few days were spent sailing to the first process station of our cruise and involved little real science.  This process station was selected as a low-productivity area of the Scotia Sea and will act as a control station for some of the high-productivity regions we will visit later in the cruise.  We have four days at this station – enough time for all the scientists to collect samples and control data for the various experiments with which we hope to determine the differences in food webs in high- and low-productivity regions. 

Our work is focused on the base of this food chain, looking at nutrient availability and abundance and the physiology of phytoplankton populations.  These two factors determine how much energy enters the food chain.  Specifically, we are trying to relate the concentrations of iron in the water to the abundance and productivity of phytoplankton, and this involves making direct measurements of the water column and setting up on-deck incubation experiments.  During the on-deck experiments, we incubate water under controlled (ambient) light and temperature conditions and measure the response of the phytoplankton communities to the artificial addition of iron.  We predict that the phytoplankton in this low-productivity region will respond positively to this manipulation, whereas phytoplankton in the high-productivity regions may not. Only time will tell if our predictions are correct.  Other scientists aboard are focusing higher up the food chain – deploying nets to catch everything from zooplankton, krill and fish.

The next stage of the cruise is a transect to Signy Island Research Station. Aboard the ship we have six scientists and technicians who will spend the Antarctic summer living and working at this science base, conducting wildlife surveys and performing maintenance work on the Signy Island Research Station.  The James Clark Ross will be the first ship to visit the base since last season, and everyone onboard will be needed to clear snow from the base, prepare it for the season and move supplies from the ship. We expect to spend four days at Signy, which will be a welcome break from living on the ship.  Our exact arrival time at Signy is dependent on the ice conditions that may prevent access for a day or two – we are all looking forward to the first time we get to see sea ice on the cruise."



Incubation boxes on the deck of ship - note blue filters
and flowing sea water to control temperature and light conditions.

More soon - please visit us again in a few days' time for the next installment....

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October 2006
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