Monday, 25 March 2013

Day 10 - Mooring up with the Penguins

The tenth day sees the barometric pressure rise gradually, the waves ease into the morning and even some glimmers of sun light appear. We are now close to 60S, the official delineation of the Antarctic. You can feel it too. The air temperature is seldom above 1 or 2 (I know this doesn’t sound so bad for all those in the UK at the moment...perhaps you should plan you next holiday for the Antarctic!).

Today we made a detour to the east of our straight line to pick up a mooring. For us oceanographers, a mooring is a collection of instruments, which are attached to an anchor at one end (to keep it in place) and buoys at the other end (to keep it upright). 3 years ago a group from Florida State University in the US deployed a mooring with a ‘sound source’ so they could send signals to other free floating instruments they had in the area. In the spirit of collaboration and since we ‘happen to be in the area’ we are picking it up for them. 

Photo: Paul and a Crew member haul up the buoyancy of the mooring. ( I think they look like the heads of Lego-man construction workers)
The mooring sits below the surface so we have to motor to the GPS location they dropped it at. Then we press a big red button in a large metal briefcase which sends out a message. We then wait and hope for two things:

a -  That a device attached to the anchor receives our message and lets the top of the mooring float to the surface and

b -  That we haven’t switched briefcases with Dr Evil and have just blown up Manhattan with a giant “laser-beam”.

a) occurs so we trust b) doesn’t. (Let us know otherwise!). The crew then find, grapple and haul up the mooring before we motor back to resume measuring the Circumpolar Current and the path of the blob.

Photo: Unidentified Whale.

All the excitement of the moorings attracts a flock of Chinstrap Penguins. They pop their heads out of the water and jump in and out too see what this big red thing is doing in their neighbourhood. Although our trip so far wouldn’t quite warrant a David Attenborough voice over, we have seen a reasonable amount of wildlife. Just this morning we saw a pod of whales (well two whales..) off in the distance. Whales being whales we only really see their spray and can’t quite identify them (perhaps any whale buffs out there can?).

Photo: Chinstrap Penguins (no prizes for guessing how they got their name).

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