Welcome to the web site for Sediment and Solute Transport on Rivers and Margins (SSTORM) Research Group! Reide Corbett and J.P. Walsh from East Carolina University and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute lead the team.
Check out our research in/on wetlands, estuaries, barrier islands, shelves and groundwater.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

So Long to the R/V LMG

As we near our port the science crew that remains on the R/V Laurence
M. Gould is preparing to disembark the ship. We should arrive in Punta
Arenas around midnight, and will clear customs at that time. Once we
disembark the ship we will begin our journey home. It will be sad to
leave what has become home over the last two weeks.

Overall we had amazing weather on this voyage. At times we saw swells
in the 6-8ft range but nothing larger, and while there were cold and
snowy days, we also had a lot of sunshine. As a crew we accomplished
our science goals. We performed 92 CTD casts over the five days of
sampling. We collected 300L per cast, so we sampled 27,600L of water
total. That is 54,000lbs of water that was carried across the deck of
the R/V LMG in buckets. That is 6,750lbs of water per person, if each
person carried the same amount of water. We were so efficient that we
were able to add new sites to our transects to gain additional
information about what is happening in the water off of Anvers Island.

Attached above are pictures of some of the highlights for the first
part of the project. While this is the last post from the R/V LMG,
please stay tuned, as Dr. Corbett and scientists on Palmer Station will
continue to blog about their experiences from the Antarctic Continent.
Have a Merry Christmas!

- David Sybert
University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute Educator

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Palmer Station - A new adventure

As our friends and colleagues head back to Punta Arenas, four of us remain at Palmer Station.  It has been a very busy 3 days since we arrived.  We spent the first day and a half being oriented to the facility…safety concerns, meal hours, cleaning, boating, etc.  We are about as isolated from the world as you can imagine…so, safety is f the utmost concern.  If you hurt yourself here, you are a long way from a hospital…so that should always be in the back of one's mind while working here.


So, with some great training by the staff here, we started our first sampling near Palmer Station yesterday afternoon.  We continued that this morning…working out some problems with sampling gear and space in the relatively small Zodiacs.


Over the next several posts I hope to "orient" you to Palmer Station…sort of a day in the life, so stay tuned…


I thought I would share with you a few photos from our field day today…beyond the scientific samples we took today; it was quite a day to snap a few pictures of the local wildlife. We saw humpback whales feeding on krill, seals lazing around on the shore, penguins swimming swiftly through the water, and birds everywhere…what a day for the animal enthusiast.



Friday, December 21, 2012

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the Drake Passage

Probably the most notorious area in all the oceans, the Drake Passage
is the part of the Southern Ocean between the southern tip of South
America and the Antarctic Peninsula. Violent storm systems can develop
quickly and/or move through this area creating brutal conditions.
Massive waves, powerful winds and complex currents can create the worst
nightmare for mariners. The Passage is named after Sir France Drake,
although he was not the first one to cross it.

Ever since watching a famous old black-and-white documentary called "
'Round the Horn" narrated by sailor Irving Johnson, I have had the
greatest respect for the ocean and particularly the Drake. I encourage
you to maybe google and read up on the Drake to learn more and see some
pictures and video, maybe even watch 'Round the Horn. Trust me-
you'll be scared in your own living room.

So far, the weather during our research expedition has been incredible,
with amazingly calm seas and often sunny skies. Many of the crew have
indicated that we've had the best, most consistent weather they have
ever seen. And the Drake has been kind. There are small waves at the
moment (~5-6 ft) passing from the side of us ("on our beam"), so the
ship is rolling some as we motor full-steam ahead (11.5 kn or about 12
mph). To give you a better idea of what I mean by "rolling", I'll
describe a little (and see pics). As one tries to walk down a
passageway, they will be forced to one side of the ship and then the
other, and when going up or down stairs, you better be holding on.
There is a commonly stated expression "Have one hand for you and one
hand for the ship", because you never know when the ship will take a
large roll.

Today, most scientists have been in their cabins, resting, enjoying
some reading or movies. After dinner tonight, we played a large game of
Balderdash. Because of the risk of a "rogue wave" (a large sudden
wave created be waves combining), people are discouraged from venturing
out on the main deck and all doors are "dogged shut", meaning they have
steel latches around them which are secured tight. Also, everything
must be tied down well, because if the weather worsens, things will go

The forecast is looking good, but you never know. And ocean-going
folks tend to be an especially superstitious, so I won't jinx the trip
by even suggesting it will be easy. But let's hope it stays
manageable. When it gets bad, doing the simplest tasks becomes very
difficult... walking around requires much effort and, if eating (if
you're not sick), your plate of food and drink is likely to go airborne.
Hopefully, we avoid that. I'll let you know how it went in a couple

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Questions and Answers

Here are answers to the questions recenly asked. I had to ask around
some but I think we got them all. Thanks for asking!

Question : How large is the glider? weight? Are there any dormant
volcanoes on the Antarctic Continent?
Answer: The glider was about 75lbs and five feet long. I am told most
of the weight comes from large batteries in the glider. It also houses
instruments that measure salinity, bathymetry, and currents, among other
parameters. And yes, there is an active volcano at Deception Island.

Question: Did the temperature of the water have anything to do with
glider malfunction?
We don't believe water temperature played a role in the malfunction of
the glider. A wing that is used to stabilize the glider broke off at
some point, and it is thought that currents or tides caused it to wash
up onto a rocky beach. It was still broadcasting a signal, it just was
no longer moving through the water as planned.

Question: How close can the ship get to shore?
Answer: The ship can navigate in waters no less than 6 meters due to
its draft (how much ship is below the water line). However the captain
doesn't take it closer than 100 meters due to uncharted pinnacles and
the unknown about much of the bathymetry of this area (what the bottom
looks like).

Question: Can temperature of water in this part of the ocean have any
weight on productivity of concentration of nutrients? What is average
temperature this time of year?
Answer: A process like upwelling would affect the water temperature
and also affects the amount of nutrients found in that water. Colder,
nutrient rich waters can be pushed up by currents and the shape of
icebergs. We have found that surface waters have averaged 1C, waters
from the middle of the water column have averaged -.5C and the bottom
waters, which should not change much has been 2C. The Southern Ocean is
very productive for primary producers.

David Sybert aboard R/V Laurence M Gould

Palmer, Protected Areas and Penguins

Half of the science team is on the way back to Drake Passage, having
left Palmer Station around 9 a.m. Dr. Corbett and three graduate
students remained on Palmer and will be picked up by the R/V LMG in
early February. During their time at the station they may be visited
occasionally by cruise ships and research vessels, but for the most part
they are on the Antarctic Continent without a quick way off. There are
only small zodiacs at the station, no airfield and it's a 3-day steam
to Chile. They will rely on each other and the facilities at Palmer
Station to work in this harsh, isolated environment.

The isolation of the station and distance to populated areas helps to
reduce human influences on the natural environments that are being
studied. Protected areas that are used for research surround Palmer
Station. No nation owns Antarctica, and the Antarctic Treat reserves
the area south of 60 degrees South as a zone for the peaceful conduct of
research. Forty-eight countries have signed the treaty, and they work
to maximize research results and minimize logistics requirements. When
we left Palmer there were thirty-nine scientists living on the station.
Some scientists visit for a short time, and others stay for many

While at Palmer Station we were lucky to have the opportunity to
explore some of the surrounding areas. We visited a penguin colony, saw
elephant seals, hiked to the top of a glacier, witnessed ice calving off
of an iceberg and took a quick swim in the Southern Ocean. We were
pretty busy considering we were on station for less than 20 hours.

The penguin colony we visited was found on an island where one side was
designated as a protected area with no human influence and the other
side was open. Many of the other islands around the station are also
protected and no humans are allowed to set foot on them unless they have
proper permits to conduct research on the island. This protection helps
keep the areas natural and reduces human influences on native plants and
animals. At the penguin colony we saw Chinstrap Penguins, which have
white sides of face, chin and throat broken up by a black band or
"chinstrap", Adelie Penguins, which are black and white and Gentoo
penguins, which have white patches over the eyes joined across the crown
by a narrow bar. Some of these penguins had chicks they were keeping
warm, and others were still sitting on their eggs. We were careful to
keep our distance and not disturb them, but it was amazing to be so
close to wild penguins during different stages of their life cycle.

David Sybert, Aboard the R/V Gould
UNC-CSI Educator

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Flanders Bay and Arriving at Palmer Station

Yesterday we had some of the most spectacular scenery of the trip! We
were sampling very close to the coastline in Flanders Bay, and were
around icebergs and majestic mountains most of the day and night. Last
night marks our final overnight science shift and we have just pulled
into Palmer Station!

We will spend the rest of the day packing up the science equipment used
on the ship for the last week and moving it onto the station. One part
of the expedition has ended with another just beginning. Dr. Corbett
and the three graduate students will be staying here for the next six
weeks. Coming into port at Palmer Station is very impressive. A huge
glacier directly above it dwarfs the small outpost. The research team
staying here will sample nearshore environments in an attempt to
quantify the amount of groundwater entering the system there. They will
use many of the same techniques we have been using on board the R/V
Laurence M. Gould, but they will be working from 16-foot zodiacs. In
less than an hour we will take a boating safety course and may get to
use the zodiacs tonight to visit a penguin colony.

Those of us heading back to the United States will leave Palmer Station
in the morning for the 3 day Drake Passage Crossing. We plan on
continuing to sample a few locations along the coast of Antarctica on
the way back. The R/V LMG is expected to dock at Punta Arenas on
Christmas Eve. I am hoping the weather continues to be calm for a
comfortable crossing home.

-David Sybert
UNC-CSI Educator


Today, we were able to assist scientists from Rutgers University by rescuing one of their gliders. A glider is a torpedo-looking device which flies through the water using buoyancy to drive its propulsion and measures properties of the ocean (e.g., temperature, salinity). These systems can be programmed by a user to carry out missions to examine a remote part of the ocean without a ship. But, sometimes they don't go as planned...

The zodiac was deployed from the starboard side (right as one looks forward) of the vessel, and a crew of four boarded it to go look for the glider at its last reported GPS position.

After a short ride to the picturesque coast of Cape Renaud and a little searching, the search party recovered the glider and brought it back to the ship.  Dr. Reide Corbett, Chief Scientist and search team member from East Carolina University and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, reports that it was sitting on a rocky ledge of a small island about 1 m above sea level.  It was damaged some, but mostly intact.

Although ship time is expensive, and we did not have to divert our time for this endeavor; it was the right thing to do as the marine community depends on this kind of good-natured assistance. We are glad we were able to find the glider and know the Rutgers scientists are too!  Another excellent job completed by the talented crew of the Gould!(picture of Chance, MT)

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Identifying Freshwater Sources and Dissolved Iron Input along the Western Antarctic Peninsula

We are now 4 days into our 5 days of science time aboard the ARSV Laurence M Gould.  The overarching goal of this project is to quantify the rate and chemical signature of the freshwater discharging into the coastal area near Anvers Island, on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.  As part of this project and while we are aboard the Gould, we hope to evaluate the rate at which water is mixing from the shoreline to the open ocean (what we call the “continental shelf”).  This lateral mixing from the coastal zone to waters offshore will transport land-derived chemical components such as iron (Fe).  Iron is referred to as a “micronutrient”, which means it is needed by marine phytoplankton (small plants) in very small amounts.  As it turns out, iron is thought to be “bio-limiting” in the Southern Ocean, i.e., there is often not enough iron in the ocean for phytoplankton to grow.


To quantify the mixing of iron across the shelf, and ultimately the actual source of  the water, such as ice sheet melting and groundwater, we are using different chemical elements (actually, naturally occurring radioactive and stable isotopes) as tracers of water movement.  The variation in concentration and isotopic signature of these tracers in samples collected across the shelf will provide information on the age and the source (fresh vs. ocean) of the water.


We have set up several transects that run perpendicular from the shoreline across the continental shelf (see the picture of one of our charts that we are currently using…the colors represent differences in depth, known as bathymetry; where red is shallow, blue is deep, and gray is land)  Note in this photo the sites labeled with marker, site names, and the orientation).  To prepare for the cruise, we had selected ~20 stations that we planned to sample.  However, this will typically change slightly while at see…sometimes additional sites will be added, but other times weather or mechanical failures might shorten the amount of time and prevent sampling all the stations.  Fortunately for us, we have a great crew and perfect weather, so we have been actively adding sites to our sampling grid…providing additional insight into the “cross-shelf mixing”.


At each station, we collect large volumes of water for analysis of these water tracers.  The water is filtered and analyzed in the laboratories on the ship or stored for analysis back at our home institutions.  We are currently analyzing samples on the ship for the element radium (Ra), specifically the short-lived Ra-224 (see second picture of the analysis).  We are also measuring the radioactive gas radon (Rn), the isotope Rn-222 (see the third picture).  The source of these tracers will either be from the sediments on the ocean floor or from groundwater onshore.  We will also collect sediments from each station to determine if these are a significant source of the tracers. Other samples to be analyzed back home, including those for nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus), helium (He), and isotopes of oxygen (O-18) and hydrogen (H-2), will help decipher the source of the water.


Once we get to Palmer Station, our work will focus on many of these same tracers, but our major scientific goal will be slightly different.  Again, our offshore work is primarily focused on evaluating mixing across the shelf.  Our research at Palmer Station will focus on determining the amount of freshwater entering the coastal ocean and its source, groundwater or direct run off from ice sheet melting.  See more about Palmer Station soon…


Sunrise, Nutrients and a Treadmill

This morning was another gorgeous sunrise. The pictures of the sunrise
above are from 3:15 a.m. As the sun starts to come up it creates the
most amazing colors against the blues and whites of the icebergs. This
morning is very brisk with the air temperature at -1C and the wind chill
at –6C. We still have really amazing weather with minimal seas and
wind. These conditions have helped us get ahead of schedule for our

One of the samples that we take with every CTD cast is for nutrients.
Nutrients are fundamental requirements primary producers use to assemble
cell material. They are important sources of fuel for the basis of the
food chain. To sample for nutrients we collect a small water sample
from the CTD Rosette while wearing gloves and a clean tube in an effort
to keep the sample as pure as possible. The sample is collected in 60mL
syringes and pumped through a filter that will catch any sediment or
large organisms. The filtered water is stored in a 60mL bottle and
placed in a -80C freezer. The analysis of nutrients will not take
place on the ship, and the samples will be shipped back to the United
States where they can be processed in a lab with the proper equipment.
As part of this research we hope to better understand what nutrients are
available in the coastal waters off of the Western Antarctic Peninsula,
and how those waters move.

In our Smith Mac grab sample we had some interesting animals again. We
are working to find out what they are exactly, but one looks a lot like
a heart urchin and the other some type of worm. They were found over
400 meters down.

Before my science shift last night I had the unique experience of
running on a treadmill while the ship was underway. The rolling of the
ship added a bit of challenge to what I normally find as a somewhat
boring task, and the view of icebergs passing by while running also
helped keep it interesting. We should be headed into Palmer Station
tomorrow, and I am ready to set foot on the Antarctic Continent.

-David Sybert
UNC-CSI Educator

Monday, December 17, 2012

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the ARSV Laurence M. Gould

Unfortunately, we won't be home for the holidays. But, the spirit of
the season isn't lost here. To make the ship feel warm and bright, we
have been decking the halls and singing carols as we work. Seriously!
The fact of the matter is that everyone on board misses friends and
family, but it seems we are all enjoying time with our temporary family
and are thankful to be here on this exciting adventure, and especially
thankful for great weather! In fact, it's a little easier to get in
the spirit here because it's cold, occasionally snowing, and there's
a lot of snow and ice covering the land. It will be a white Christmas
in Antarctica! Check out the pictures of our variety of homemade
decorations, including some fun winter scenes for our walls and our
small, but colorful tree! One of us even added a tatoo to get on
Santa's good side.

And a special thanks to Kim Null who sent along fabulous filled
stockings and lights to help illuminate the lab. Although at home in
California, she is here in Christmas spirit! We all can't wait to open
our stockings!

Happy holidays to all! ...and to all a good night.