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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Science at Sea

We are about 48 hours into our 5 days of science on the Laurence M
Gould. Wait a minute, let me give some background…

Our science has two components: 1) a nearshore focus that is trying to
quantify the amount of melt water and groundwater discharging to the
coastal ocean; AND 2) an offshore component that is focused on
evaluating the cross-shelf mixing of the freshwater discharged near the
coast (linking the nearshore with the offshore). So, our group has
spent ~7 weeks working in the nearshore at Palmer Station. Our time on
the LMG is focused on the offshore component. Although I will spend
almost 5 weeks on the Gould, I am only working on my science for ~5
days. We have about 8 days of transit between Punta Arenas and the
Antarctic and the LMG also has at least two additional operations that
it is completing besides the research of our group (i. another science
group focused on collecting organic rich soils from several islands
along the peninsula; ii. Collecting environmental samples from East
Base, an historic land mark around 68 degrees south). So, we all are
essentially sharing our time on the Gould.

OK, so that sort of puts our cruise in a broader context, logistically.
Again, we are 2 days into our 5 day cruise. The first picture is a
Google earth image of our cruise track (red line)…it shows the ships
current location (the orange ship), Palmer Station (yellow star), and
stations where samples were collected (white circles). So, we have been
working in two fjords (Beascochea and Baralari) and are now headed north
to Flanders Bay (a 5 hour steam and a fjord we sampled last year). We
will then start sampling stations moving away from shore on the
continental shelf (see picture of one of our lab benches on the LMG).
That's the basic plan…

Well, the best laid plan… We have not been without some problems
and delays along the way. Our cruise is primarily dependent on a
single instrument (or a composite of instruments) called the rosette
(see picture of complete rosette). The rosette has two primary
components, a CTD package and a bank of 30 liter (~7 gallons) niskin
bottles. The CTD measures conductivity (a proxy for salinity or the
amount of salts dissolved in the water), temperature, with depth. This
package also includes sensors to measure dissolved oxygen, fluorescence
(a proxy for the number of primary producers, known broadly as
phytoplankton in the ocean), and transmissivity (or essentially how
clear the water appears). Niskin bottles are containers used to collect
water samples from whatever depth the operator decides. So, we can
lower the rosette through the water column, all the while seeing
realtime how this list of parameters changes with depth. Then, with the
push of a button, we can close a niskin bottle, collecting a sample at
that specific depth of interest.

Well, we have been having some serious problems with the rosette so far
this cruise. The main problem is the communication with the niskin
bottles…so we can't tell them when to close. That's a problem
when you want to collect water from depth. Of course the show must go
on and when you are at sea, you MUST be flexible and deal with the hand
you are dealt…it's not like we can simply run out to Radio Shack and
buy a new one. At this point, we have stripped the rosette down (it is
now a naked rosette…see picture). We still want to get the
information from the CTD, so we have removed all the niskin bottles. If
you don't and send them to depth while they are closed, the bottles
(made of thick plastic) will simply implode! So, the naked rosette goes
down and gives us some understanding of the water column structure, then
we sample surface waters with our own pump (1 meter depth) and from the
ships intake (6 meter depth; see picture of Jared filling tank with
water from ship's intake). It is allowing us to measure our tracers
shallow in the water column and still have some idea of what the whole
water column looks like. At this point, it is the best we can do!

So, that's the water sampling (simply put anyway)…beyond that, we
are also collecting sediments from the ocean floor at each site (see
picture of coring from aft A-frame). This will help us determine
whether the tracers we are using to track groundwater and meltwater also
have a benthic (ocean bottom) source. These sediment samples are simply
being collected and stored…the analysis will be done when we return to
our home institutions.

Hope that gives you some idea what we are doing and how we do it…feel
free to post any questions you might have.

Reide aka Chief Scientist

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Arriving at Palmer Station - Students Perspective

This blog was written by Ian Conery and David Young, both are masters
students at ECU Geological Sciences:

After a day and half of violent seas, we certainly welcomed the wind
and waves easing which made it much simpler to get around the ship.
During the rougher waters of the Drake Passage, everyday tasks become
more challenging, such as putting in contact lenses and sleeping in a
top bunk without side railings! Fortunately no one got sick and morale
around the ship was great throughout.

The views became absolutely beautiful when we approached Smith Island,
our first glimpse of the Antarctic continent. Despite some fog, we were
still blown away by the enormity of the glaciers and mountains. It is
difficult to grasp the scale of the landscape until actually
experiencing it in person. After sailing through the spectacular
Gerlache and Neumever Straits with Minke whales, energetic penguins,
seals and plenty of birds, we arrived at Palmer station around 2pm. The
remainder of our team that has been working hard at Palmer station since
early January was eagerly waiting to welcome us.

Very shortly after we stepped foot on land, our team was excited to
get us out on the water in the zodiac and we headed to the dynamic
sampling location called Point 8 for some measurements. Fur and
elephant seals and penguins were scattered throughout the site. It was
a surreal feeling working in close proximity to these wild animals while
making sure our presence did not have any impact. When we arrived back
at Palmer station we were able to relax in their lounge and enjoy some
darts and ping pong.

This morning there was some free time as we were waiting for the
ship's crew to unload cargo for Palmer station. We took advantage of
that time as we took a hike up the glacier directly behind the station.
We only made it up about a quarter of the way, but took in all the views
and the reality of scaling a glacier. After, the entire team worked on
building the hydrology lab aboard the ship for our upcoming week where
we will be taking samples at several fjords and offshore transects. We
are very excited to start collecting data and enjoy our ultimate purpose
here, SCIENCE! Thanks to the captain and crew of the R/V Gould for a
safe crossing and also to Drs. Corbett and Null for giving us this
incredible opportunity!

David and Ian

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Transiting to Antarctica

We left Punta Arenas on Thursday, February 13 around mid-day. We were
saying goodbye to this continent for 5 weeks and looking forward to
seeing our next…Antarctica. We traveled for about 12 hours through
the Straits of Magellan. Ian and Dave spotted some interesting dolphin
with coloring very similar to an Orca. Can anyone name it? Leave a
comment…see who is first.

We have stayed busy getting as much prepared for our science days as we
can and running through a couple safety drills. Although we would love
to set up our labs for sampling, most of our gear and the remainder of
our crew are actually already at Palmer Station (see previous posts), so
there isn't much we can do. Once we arrive at Palmer, we will quickly
transfer all of our sampling gear onto the ship. However, we did
prepare a clean room…the "bubble"…for sampling ocean waters for
iron (Fe). Iron is found at very low concentrations in the ocean, so
sampling must be done with extreme care to prevent contamination from
the ship, sampling gear, or even particles in the air. So, the bubble
is used as a clean space. It is essentially a space, including lab
bench, which is completely encased in plastic. The air that is blown
into the bubble first passes through a very fine filter to remove all
particles. So, the bubble is under positive pressure, preventing any
ambient air from entering the space and keeping the area clean.

The weather was very calm, even after coming out of the Straits.
However, that quickly changed as we rounded Cape Horn. The wind built
to about 50 knots (~60 mph) and the waves rose to 20-25 feet. We have
been rocking and rolling for about 18 hours now. In fact, the LMG had
to steer into the waves (toward the West) for several hours during the
middle of the night, altering our course, rather then take the waves
broadside. We have been told that the waves should subside in the next
24 hours. Time will tell…

Although the LMG is 230 feet long and built for seas found in the
Southern Ocean, it still is not easy to do much when the waves are at
such a state. It is often difficult to simply stay in your bunk, let
alone walk through the narrow halls and stairwells. As you often hear,
one hand for the boat and one for yourself. This is certainly true
during rough conditions…you always want to be holding on to something,
preparing for the next RRROOOOLLLLLLL. That said, everyone seems to be
managing quite well and not one of us has succumbed to motion

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Arrived in Punta Arenas

After ~20 hours of traveling, we arrived in Punta Arenas (see photo of the cityscape from my hotel window).  We had time to relax, see the town, get some dinner, and a good nights rest before getting ready for the voyage south.  In preparation, we went to the park in the city center…there is a large statue of Magellan.  One of the toes on the statue has been shined through the many people that touch/rub it.  Why, you ask???  Well, the saying goes, for good luck crossing the Drake Passage, you should rub the toe of Magellan.  I rubbed all of his toes for extra good luck!  In fact, I almost kissed them…

Today, we were issued our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear (picture of the group trying on gear)…fleece, parka, gloves, etc.  The US Antarctic Program (USAP) provides all this gear at no cost.  We are outfitted and ready to face the cold.

At that point, we moved all of our gear onto the 230 ft research vessel Laurence M Gould.  This is the second time I have sailed on the Gould, so I am familiar with the layout and science operations (makes it easier to get acclimated/oriented). As chief scientist, I am lucky to have a really spacious state room.  I was surprised to see that some of our maps we used last year had been framed and mounted on the walls of the Chief Scientist's office.  What a warm welcome!

So, we are now living aboard the LMG and prepping to set sail tomorrow morning.  Wish us luck crossing the Drake…

The Drake Passage is named after Sir Francis Drake, a 16th century English privateer.  This body of water separates the southern tip of South America (Cape Horn) and the  South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.  It is known to be one of the roughest places in the ocean…with waves reaching 40 ft often.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let the fun begin...

David Young, Ian Conery, and I (Reide) have made it to the airport in Norfolk. Thank you Sandy and Beth for providing safe transport!! The weather is about as cold as what we expect to have when we finally make it to our destination...the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). In fact, it has been snowing here...and more is expected. We will fly to Punta Arenas, Chile...about 24 hours when it's all said and done. From there we will board the research vessel Laurence M Gould. Then on the 13th we set sail, crossing the infamous Drake Passage on our way south. Wish us luck and keep checking back for updates on out travels and research.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Life on Palmer Station

Posted by Dr. Rick Peterson (Coastal Carolina University):


The past couple days here at Palmer Station have been quite exciting.  On Sunday night, we had a Super Bowl party.  Most everyone from station got together in the lounge with lots of food and followed Super Bowl updates. We don't get TV down here, but were able to keep up with updates of the game.  Though the game didn't turn out like most on station had hoped, it was still a fun evening of food, fellowship, and football!

Then on Monday, the R/V Laurence M. Gould arrived back at station.  After originally dropping us off here at station on January 5th, the ship, scientists, and support staff have sailed around the area on a month-long cruise for the Palmer Station Long-Term Ecological Research project. After a month at sea, everyone on board was happy to set foot back on solid ground. We had a nice dinner with everyone, then an open-mic night in the lounge where folks performed and entertained each other.

On Tuesday morning, the Gould set sail back for Chile.  Seven of our friends from station headed back with them.  With only 42 people on station, you quickly develop a community atmosphere with the folks living and working around you, and it was sad to see them go.  In such close quarters, we eat, sleep, work, and even bathe in close proximity with each other, so friendships quickly form.  It was a somber morning bidding everyone farewell. 

A tradition here at Palmer Station is for people to take a "Polar Plunge" when the Gould pulls away from the dock. As our only form of transportation away from station, when the ship pulls away, you know you are stuck here for a while.  The tradition is for people to jump in the water and swim after the boat as a final attempt to get back on.  The water temperature is very close to freezing, so the swim doesn't extend too far from shore!

After the departure of our seven friends, we gained another later that morning.  While collecting samples offshore, we were visited by a Leopard Seal (see pictures and fun facts below).  It is a rare treat to see one of these seals down here, and this one was particularly playful and curious about us and our zodiac. It was a bit unnerving being that close to one of the top predators down here!

As for us, we are firmly in the routine of our sampling season.  We each have fallen into our own jobs and are operating quite well as a unit. In a couple weeks, the Gould returns to station with the rest of our team, and we're eagerly awaiting their arrival!

Antarctic Fun Fact: The Leopard Seal is second to only the killer whale among all of Antarctica's top predators. With bodies ranging from 8 to 12 feet long and weighing between 400 and 1400 lbs, these seals are quite muscular with very sharp teeth.  They typically feed on penguins and krill, but will also eat other seals as well.  Though rare, Leopard Seals have been known to attack humans.