The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 6 – Launching buoys

Posted by Janet - 13 December 2013

Argo release

We sail on, through the fog.  Our ship is a cocoon, a bubble surrounded by mist. It’s still and calm and eerily lifeless outside – appropriately mysterious for Friday 13th. I’m writing just after an excellent lunch – I’ve left the warmth of company, food and the dining room to sit outside, rugged up in my jacket, balaclava, and gloves against a temperature of less than 2 degrees. It’s gorgeous despite the cold, and a delight to be enveloped in nature, in the vast expanse of the southern ocean.

The stillness and calm is a bit unnerving – the albatross which have circled the ship every day and night so far have abandoned us. Have they just lost us in the fog? Kerry Jane, our resident bird expert reports having only seen two birds in total so far today. Or is it that the albatross in particular prefer the wind. It’s been so special to have had them constantly with us, soaring aloft on thermals with minimal effort, a tiny flick of their wings to change course, sweeping down to skim the waves with the tips of their wings, then wheel around us effortlessly, elegantly.

We sail on. We crossed 60 degrees south this morning so are officially in Antarctica. The competition for where and when we see our first iceberg closed at lunchtime – it will be sometime over the next day. The speculation fits with the mood of the ship: quiet anticipation, wondering how the next few days will unfold. When will we meet the ice? What will it be like navigating through? Will we be able to make Commonwealth Bay?

Quite a contrast to yesterday when most people, scientists and passengers alike, were involved in the oceanographic program in at least some way, helping to throw things over the side over a twenty four hour period as we crossed the circumpolar front.

The hardware included expensive argo buoys which will keep tracking temperature and salinity for the next three years; pairs of drifting buoys which will be tracked to reveal the intricacies of eddies and currents, and XBT temperature sensors. I helped launch three of the latter over the side at various times yesterday– they consist of a temperature sensor attached to a thin copper wire which extends down to 700m or more.

It brought back memories of launching and tracking pilot balloons as a meteorology student many years ago – nice to return to my scientific roots! The next stage of the oceanographic program involves observing and reporting on sea ice extent and type, which will help to ground truth satellite images. I’m sticking my hand up for that too of course: the combination of active involvement in real science, working and living and getting to know some great people and being inspired by and immersed in the wild is what is making this trip very special!