Antarctica Part VI- Scale

While I have spent a lot of time on the ocean – working on boats, doing research, and just playing – this is by far the largest ship I’ve worked on, and the research that is being done in this environment far outweighs in sheer size the work that I’ve done in the past. During my time at the Five Finger Lighthouse my crew ran a boat small enough to be carried up the intertidal and onto shore as needed. The ship that I’m sailing on today can break through ice thicker than the R/V Noble Steed was long. To stand next to the R/V Araon as she basks proudly in the center of the frozen Ross Sea…? Well, it gives one a new sense of maritime dimension.


Me walking across the sea ice leaving the Jang Bogo Antarctic Station on my way to the R/V Araon. ~9:30 PM.

However, no matter how many metaphors I write, examples I give, or how many sentences I write, there is no good way to express just how vast this part of the world is (remember it took weeks to get here).  Just when I thought I was beginning to understand the immensity of my situation I was privileged enough to go on a helicopter ride with Senior Pilot Ricky Park. The view of the Araon from above made this daunting ship look like a toy compared to the Antarctic landscape, and that was from just a few thousand feet.




View of the Antarctic Continent as we were leaving Terra Nova Bay and headed for our oceanographic cruise through the Ross Sea

The oceanographic work we are conducting is accordingly scaled up.  We are deploying moorings a half a kilometer long, recovering instruments from 1000 m down (that’s 3300 feet!), and we are collecting sea water with a rosette larger than the ship elevator (not to mention that the ship has an elevator).  Our instruments have been soaking, listening, for a year now.  We are hoping to get them back.  The data these instruments collect is from an environment even less hospitable than the one I see out my porthole windows.  But that pictures will be painted best with sound, not pictures, and for that we’ll have to wait.



Possibly the most spectacular scenery for preparing moorings. We were fortunate to have calm seas and clear skies for both mooring deployments.

Your Antarctic Correspondent,


Antarctica Part IV: The continent

After a nine day sail the R/V Araon arrived in Jang Bogo Research Station! As a first time visitor to Antarctica the view not only took my breath away, but dumbfounded me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and admittedly I haven’t found the words yet to describe it- the sheer scale of the landscape leaves me at a complete loss.  Luckily ORCAA sent me with a camera, which should speak a little more clearly than I can these days.


Ross Sea Ice two days sail from the continent

After a short stop in Terra Nova Bay on Saturday to bid our Italian colleagues goodbye, the Araon spent ~48 hours breaking through 1-2m thick ice (the noise was deafening and impressive). The ship, as I’ve mentioned before, is state of the art and extremely efficient at it’s job- breaking ice.  The frozen sea stretches in front of us dauntingly, but the ship is not phased as she bows over the ice which creaks and breaks under the weight of the ship, blazing our path toward the continent.

After quite some time on the ship I think both passengers and crew were eager to step onto the ice and  set foot on the continent of Antarctica.  Admittedly, the only thing which seemed to satiate the passengers onboard the ship were the frequent sightings of Adelie penguins, and a very long encounter with an emperor penguin that curiously watched as we stopped to rearrange our cargo deck.

An Emperor Penguin curiously watches the R/V Araon, making its way across the ice over a half an hour to approach for a closer look

An Emperor Penguin curiously watches the R/V Araon, making its way across the ice over a half an hour to approach for a closer look

While I can’t underplay the thrill of watching penguins from the ship, it did not compare to the excitement of reaching the continent itself.

The Jang Bogo research station is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever seen.  It is outfitted to comfortably hold multiple research teams investigating a range of environmental features including space weather, geophysics and seismology, geology, and oceanography.  It is also outfitted with an indoor greenhouse where salad greens are grown for consumption throughout the year, a state of the art gym (with climbing wall), an espresso bar, multiple lounges and conference rooms, wet and dry lab space, and considerable charm.

The team currently in residence at Jang Bogo are extremely gracious, and generously toured me through the facility within moments of stepping foot inside the door.  The facility, which officially opened its doors last February, is nearing completion, and various research projects are currently underway. Many of the researchers currently at the base will accompany us on the return journey to Christchurch, NZ.

For now, the crew has been working round the clock (the never setting sun allows for very high productivity- human and primary) to unload supplies, scientific cargo, and fuel for the base.  Tomorrow our helicopter pilots will begin flying missions as various ice dynamic studies progress, and in two days time we will set sail for our oceanographic cruise.

More to come.

Your Antarctic Correspondent,


Michelle sailing through the Ross Sea en route to Jang Bogo Antarctic Base

Michelle sailing through the Ross Sea en route to Jang Bogo Antarctic Base




What Does Sound Look Like?

Before I can begin running analysis on the data we collected over the summer it first must be processed.  While I may have dreamed of attending to data in the field (and to a degree  that was done) the bulk of the data processing is being done retroactively. Preparing sound files for analysis is easily the most labor intensive part of this research phase.

We collected over 300 sound files, and a minimum of 248 of them require fine scale attention.  This means that  every vocalization our interns heard in the field while floating  in Noble Stead must be listened to again during the verifying process, again as I measure its parameters, and yet again as it is placed into a broad vocal category.  Sounds were initially categorized by ear as we intuitively began to recognize certain call types.  They are further categorized, however, not by ear but by sight.  For each sound listened to (once, twice, three times listened to) I create what’s called a spectogram- or a picture of the sound.  This picture allows us to see the shape of the sound, the duration, the frequency, and the modulations.  Obviously, things that look the same should sound the same.
So, what do humpback whale calls look like?  Like this-


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