Kilkeel Primary School and The Wise Owl 2017-8 Antarctic Season
17th December 2017: Our final attempt to reach Rothera this year sadly failed and the James Clark Ross came out of the ice and into open water, to turn northwards and complete some final science work before heading for Punta Arenas in Chile. All being well the ship should arrive on the morning of the 21st, when a full crew change will take place. I am due to fly out on the 23rd and if all goes to plan arrive home later on Christmas Eve. This, sadly, means that this will be my last update from the ship for 2017. Both myself and The Wise Owl will be back in February.
Until then, a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all at Kilkeel Primary School
10th December 2017: I had hoped that the update this week would feature the visit of the James Clark Ross to Rothera Base on Adelaide Island, but sadly we remain some 80 miles from the base with a band of impenetrable ice between us and them.
The highlight of my week, if not my trip, was to talk with many of you on Thursday morning and then to get two wonderful pictures from the event on Friday was lovely.
I do apologise that I could not talk with each of you but due to the situation with getting to Rothera things started to happen that meant I had to abandon the call and do some proper work! Myself and The Wise Owl were a little less impressed when Mr Quinn decided to send us some weekend homework, however it is the least that we can do to answer the last few questions and with little to report on over the past week, it helps with the writing of this update. These are at the end of today's update.
This image, when enlarged, shows some of the survey work that we have carried out whilst waiting to attempt to get to Rothera and the interesting think is to note the scarring on the seabed, which has been created by icebergs. The dark blue area is at a depth of about 500m, which means that the icebergs that did this would have been very large indeed.
Questions for Mike
Do whales live in packs and how many live in a pack?
Some whales do travel in packs, killer whales for example. Other whales do also travel in groups and I once saw a huge number (more than 50) minke whales. Groups tend to be more common if feeding I think. Often one only sees two or three whales (humpback and fin whale for example)
Have you ever been bitten by a fur seal?
NO!! A fur seal is something that you should avoid getting bitten by, they are very keen to bite (the males especially) and they carry a lot of nasty diseases in their mouth that can cause lots of problems if not treated swiftly.
What do you do to find out how much plastic is in the water?
There are a number of ways. Recently on here we just filter the sea water collected during the CTD casts. This is done using a very fine filter as the scientists have been looking for micro-plastics, that you can’t see with the naked eye. However we do see plastic bags, mooring buoys and rubbish (not so much in Antarctica but certainly in the Atlantic).
What was the funniest thing that ever happened on the ship?
There have been may funny things happen on board the ship. Having a good sense of humour is very important and it is good to be able to laugh at things, whether it is something someone has either done or said.
What is the worst weather you have ever experienced and what damage did it cause?
The worst weather I can recall was many years ago off South Georgia with a Force 12 and huge seas. The ship just rode the waves slowly and no damage was done. In less harsh conditions the ship can roll heavily and I have seen all the breakfast tables cleared of tea, coffee, sugar, butter etc on to the carpet following one very bad roll just before breakfast.
Has anyone on the ship ever died or fell over board?
I am very pleased to say that no one has ever died on board the ship. We did once have someone fall into the water from the cargo tender whilst at Bird Island but he did not hurt himself in any way, other than perhaps his pride.
What is your favourite part about being in Antarctica and why?
This is a difficult question to answer. Being in such a remote yet wonderful place is a privilege that I am very lucky to have enjoyed over many years. The views, the wildlife and the people make it all a wonderful experience. Travelling with The Wise Owl is good fun!!
What inspires you to keep doing your job?
I like the challenge of working in a difficult environment. One never knows what is actually going to happen, especially this past week. A good example of this is our planned visit to Rothera base, which so far has not been possible due to the current ice conditions. If everything went to plan and was easy, I suspect the job would not be as enjoyable.
How many in a pod of orcas?
Orcas can be in pods of up to 20
What is biggest pod you’ve seen.
Probably about ten or twelve, I don’t think I have ever counted
What’ s your fav. Device on the ship and why.
Another difficult question. Probably the coffee machine that I get a beautiful cup of coffee from every morning. However I also like all my radio equipment and really enjoy both talking to the bases (which does not happen too often) and to radio enthusiasts around the world, which I try to do daily using Morse Code.
Have you ever discovered new species.
Not personally but the scientists are doing so on a regular basis, especially when working in some of the less visited parts of the Antarctic.
How far is it all round Antarctica and how long would it take to travel.
If we take the circle around Antarctica to be at 60º South, then this is 30º from the South Pole and each degree equals 60 nautical miles. Therefore it is equal to 1,800nm. This will be the radius of a circle. If we the assume that the world is perfectly round then the circumference of that circle at 60 degrees south will be 2 x x the radius which means 2 x 3.1412 x 1800 = 11,308nm. If we then assume that the ship travels an average of 10kts (nautical miles per hour) this means it would take 1,130 hours. At this point The Wise Owl thinks that you should be able to calculate how many days that will be.
3rd December 2017: By the time you have all fallen out of your beds and made your way to school on Monday morning, The Wise Owl will have crossed the Antarctic Circle and be in the land of twenty-four hours of daylight. As I write the update the ship still has about 6o nautical miles to go before crossing the line. It will be in a similar position that we expect to encounter the pack ice that is between us and Rothera Base, on Adelaide Island - our next destination.
Saturday was not a very nice day on board with strong winds and a very lumpy sea. I took this picture, via our webcam, yesterday evening and if you look at the horizon you can see that we are not very upright. Eating dinner proved to be an interesting experience.
With the James Clark Ross shrouded in fog today there is really very little to see and so The Wise Owl headed below for a look around the Engine Room. Here he is in the Main Alternator Room, where we have four engines and generators. In total the ship can produce about 8.2MW of power, which really means we are a small power station. Most of this is required for powering the large electric motors that turn the propeller.
The Wise Owl warming himself on one of the large engines. This engine can produce 3MW of power.
In the background is the aft end of the prop motor (there is a second motor, forward of this) and from this comes the shaft that is connected to the propeller. The prop motor is a large DC motor, similar in design to the small motor you would find in a remote controlled car or an electric train set, but much bigger!
Moving aft from the prop motor is the shaft tunnel and here The Wise Owl is looking at the propeller shaft. At the far end of the picture the shaft goes through a special gland and is connected to the propeller. We are under the water line at this point. This is a very quiet space, with just the sound of the shaft rotating. At the moment the James Clark Ross is travelling at about 12kts in fairly good sea conditions and the shaft is rotating at 140rpm.
The view out of the window is not good today with a lot of fog. At times we can only see a few hundred metres, sometimes less, and the Deck Officers who are driving are using the ship's radar to indicate where there is ice. Here The Wise Owl is checking to see that we are not going to hit any! The ship is in the centre of the dotted circle and the long line shows the heading that we are on and that there is no ice directly ahead for a number of miles. The ship is having to constantly change course by a few degrees to avoid the ice shown.
Next week will be the last update from the ship and, all being well, will feature our time at Rothera Base.
26th November 2017: This report is being written a few hours after the James Clark Ross left King George Island and continues the passage south. Sadly we have sailed into a a rather big blow and the wind has been over 40kts for most of the afternoon and evening, which in turn means that The Wise Owl is struggling to say on his perch (I don't think he really needs the lifejacket and won't be helping with his balance. With the way the sea is the ship is pitching rather than rolling and this means that we are shipping a lot of water over the Forecastle (the pointy bit at the front of the ship).
I took this picture just before dinner when I thought it was bad outside. Since eating and coming to my cabin to write this update it has got worse and we are shipping more and more water. With the air temperature at about -3º and the wind at over 40kts (I have just looked and it is gusting to 50kts from time to time) it has been interesting to watch ice forming on the foredeck and rigging. Even allowing for the sheer volume of water that is washing over the are, the ice still manages to form. This is not something that we are worried about as it won't get so bad as to affect our stability but hopefully will be enough for some great photos tomorrow.
Since last writing the James Clark Ross has embarked a new set of scientists, some of whom have brought with them exciting equipment, and it has sailed south across the Drakes Passage to King George Island, stopping to work in Marian Cove.
The Wise Owl with King Sejong base in the background. This is a South Korean Base and just opposite is the Chilean base of Marsh. King George Island has nine countries based here as it is easy to get to and accessible all year round by both sea and air. This afternoon as we were leaving there was a large cruise ship and a Chilean naval vessel also departing. I am not sure that the passengers on the cruise ship will be enjoying the Antarctic just now! At about 62º South we are not truely in Antarctica and whilst the sun does drop below the horizon for a few hours it does not get fully dark now. The Wise Owl wondered if you knew where the Antarctic Circle was located and what happens if he were across the line on mid-summer and mid-winter's day?
The Wise Owl sitting on what I think is probably the most exciting piece of science equipment I have ever come across. This is a Wave Glider (well the top half really). When deployed there is a wing arrangement that hangs some seven metres below this section, which floats on the surface. The motion of the waves is transmitted via the tether to the wigs below and this then flies through the water at up to two knots. Whilst this might not sound fast, as it is not requiring a power source for propulsion, it can stay out at sea for upwards of a year. The solar panels are used top up a battery that will power the scientific instruments on board and the satellite transmitter for communicating with the scientists. It can be controlled remotely and will steer between points and these have 'flown' across the Pacific ocean between the USA and Japan and the USA and Australia! It is a brilliant bit of kit.
The Wise Owl meeting Oana, Dafydd and Louise, three of our young scientists on board the James Clark Ross. This picture is taken in the Main Lab and some of the work carried out here is looking for plastics in the ocean as there is now a growing concern as to the effects these will have on our oceans and wildlife.
The Wise Owl with one of the five gliders on board the ship. This one is being deployed by a Swedish institute and will spend several months collecting some very accurate data about the water column in the form of conductivity, temperature and depth. This data is important for the scientist to determine what is happening to our oceans.
The Wise Owl seems to think that you will enjoy this picture as he is sure that you all like playing with mud! We have been using a special device, called a multi-corer, which collects up to twelve samples of mud from the sea bed. It is very messy work but the Wet Lab is designed for this sort of work and is easily cleaned.
One of the reasons we knew the bottom was muddy is because we had a look! Using a special camera system we are able to get some snapshots of what is on the seabed, in particular what beasties live there. In the case of Marian Cove, there was rather a lot including sponges, sea urchins, brittle star, sea squire and crinoid.
This is another picture taken using the Shallow Underwater Camera System and is of a seastar that is about half a square metre in size.
Our itinerary is a bit flexible just now and I am not sure the exact order of events for the coming week but do know that we might have a BAS Twin Otter aircraft flying over us as part of the glider deployment.
19th November 2017: The James Clark Ross is all fast alongside the jetty at FIPASS in Stanley Harbour, Falkland Islands. As I sit in my cabin the wind is howling and all sorts of things out on deck are rattling, which no doubt will keep me awake tonight. We had had gusts of 50kts and the wind has not dropped below 35kts, so not the nicest of days for us to be working out on deck.
This update is going to cover the visit by the ship to South Georgia and I am delighted to say that I managed to get ashore with The Wise Owl for long enough to take a few photos.
Sadly the ship could not park alongside the jetty at King Edward Point for our visit to the base and had to anchor out in King Edward Bay. This meant that all the cargo that was being sent ashore and the waste that was being removed, had to be transported by the cargo tender. Here The Wise Owl is in the cab and the cargo tender has a cage of frozen cargo and some drinks going ashore. It took a day and a half to get everything ashore as the discharge process was fairly slow.
A female elephant seal shouting a loud 'HELLO' to The Wise Owl on his arrival ashore at King Edward Point. This is the location of the base and a short walk from the old whaling station at Grytviken.
The male elephant seal is much large than the female. One think that they both have in common is the revolting noises that they make whilst sleeping, which they were doing a lot of during our time ashore. A male can weigh up to 5,000kg and the female as much as 900kg.
More sleeping seals and a lone gentoo penguin. When looking around the island one would think that the seals had been scattered from above and just landed in random places.
The Wise Owl with a king penguin in the background. Sadly the penguin is, just like the seals, having a bit of a rest and so is not very clear.
The Wise Owl in hi element as he has found a proper perch! This has the James Clark Ross at anchor in King Edward Bay with Grytviken in the background.
Still on his perch and this time with a closer view of the old whaling station and more seals slumbering on the path.
The Wise Owl seemed very happy upon his perch and not too keep to move on.
The museum at Grytviken is located in what used to be the home of the manager of the whaling station. Whaling was carried out at a number of locations around the island of South Georgia but in the mid 1960's the stations closed and were abandoned a few years later. The International Whaling Commission was formed and a world wide ban was imposed on commercial whaling. The abandoned stations have fallen into a poor state of repair, with weather conditions that one gets on South Georgia, and at Grytviken many of the buildings have been dismantled to make the area safe for the large number of visitors that come here.
The Wise Owl is sitting on a harpoon gun, which was used to kill the whales before processing. In the background is some of the machinery used to process the whales, which provided a number of products from whale meat to oils that were once used for street lighting. Whale products were also an important ingredient in the manufacture of margarine!
Sadly my visit ashore was very short and I did not get a chance to visit the grave of Ernest Shackleton, the great explorer who died and was buried here. The weather was not too good during our time here, but as we sailed out of Cumberland Bay and headed west for the Falkland Islands to clouds broke and the sun shone brightly.
The James Clark Ross all fast in the Falkland Islands. The ship is now preparing for the next science cruise and if all goes according to plan will head south, across the Drakes Passage (a sometimes very rough area of sea) to the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship has loaded a number of gliders, similar to the now famous Boaty McBoatface glider, and these will be deployed as the ship heads south. Finally, if ice conditions allow, the ship will arrive at Rothera base to carry out their main relief. I am unsure of where we will be this time next week but am confident that it will be exciting for all on board.
12th November 2017: After the chilly start to our Antarctic summer work at Signy Island, the James Clark Ross headed to the north and Bird Island. This is the smallest of the British Antarctic Survey bases with only eight people on the island in the summer and four during the winter. I think that it is also the smelliest base that we have and can be smelt from on board the ship some one mile from the island.
Welcome to Bird Island! The Wise Owl on the jetty at Bird Island. He has been here before and knows his way around. He also knows what he needs to keep a safe distance from too.
This is as close as he wanted to get to the fur seals that were on the beach. At the moment there are not too many here, but in the next few weeks the numbers will increase dramatically and there will be a lot of fighting for space. A fully grown male fur sea weighs about 160Kg, whilst the female is much lighter at about 50Kg. Male fur seals like to bite!
A male fur seal on the beach of Bird Island. A distinguishing feature of the fur seal are it's ears, which can easily be seen. Even a small bite from one of these animals is serious because they carry a lot of nasty bacteria in their mouths and it is possible to get a very bad infection from just a scratch. The trick with working in the vicinity of fur seals is to carry a BIG stick! No, we don't hit the seals as that would only make them want to bite us even more, it is used to almost tickle under the chin which makes the seal back down......hopefully.
This is tussock grass, which is found all over the island. Sadly it is excellent and hiding the fur seals who are not content with having a beach to live on but insist on climbing up the hills and lay in wait behind and in the tussock grass so that even when at a high elevation from sea level one has to keep a sharp eye out for them.
Whilst not as big as a fur seal the brown skua is bigger than The Wise Owl and these two took a very keen interest in him whilst I was taking the photo. Had I been a second longer then I fear that The Wise Owl would not be back on board the JCR today. These birds have little fear of man, or for that matter anything else, and will scavenge for food (they do rather like sausages) and often will take penguin eggs and young chicks.
This year was the first time that The Wise Owl managed to leave the base behind and explore some of the wildlife that is on the island. Being called Bird Island it is no surprise that much of the wildlife here are birds, some of whom can fly and others that can't. Here the Wise Owl is in the middle of a gentoo penguin colony. The Gentoo penguin us a fairly small bird which weighs between 4.5 and 8.5Kg.
Gentoo penguins normally hatch two eggs and if conditions are right both should survive. Here a chick is being fed. This chick, and all the others that we saw, are only one or two days old.
An adult on the nest with a single chick and one egg still to hatch.
Ahhhhhh! A gentoo chick at Bird Island
Still at the penguin colony we seem to have been photo-bombed by this snowy sheathbill. Another inquisitive bird that will try to eat whatever is in front of it, regardless of whether it is food or not.
Not very well hidden amongst the gentoo penguins were three king penguins. These were on the beach moulting, a time that can be stressful for them as during the moult they are unable to feed and need to conserve as much energy as possible. Finding a nice quiet beach (it is in fact a very noisy beach but there are few things to bother them) makes for an ideal place to moult.
The highlight for both The Wise Owl and I was getting up the hillside, avoiding the fur seals on the way, and meeting what must be the largest chick one could ever meet. This is a wandering albatross chick. When fully grown it will weigh up to 11.3Kg and have a wingspan of up to 3.5m, making it the largest wingspan on a flying bird. Stunning to watch in flight and beautiful to get close to a chick.
A closer look at this beautiful bird. It was happy to sit on the nest whilst we were there. It's parents will return to the nest every two to three days to feed it. A concern these days is with plastics getting into the food chain. Recently here on Bird Island a plastic shotgun cartridge was found, this having been swallowed by the adult bird whilst out at sea and then fed to the chick. More and more plastic is being found in Antarctica and is deemed to be a threat to the wildlife. The Wise Owl would like to remind you all never to throw any rubbish in the street, put it in the correct bin, otherwise it might be harmful to an animal near to home or far far away.
The RRS James Clark Ross as seen from Bird Island, with some penguins in the foreground.
Following the base relief, where we have sent stores for the next twelve months ashore and pumped some 80 tonnes of fuel to the base, the James Clark Ross will now head east down the coast of South Georgia to arrive on Monday morning at King Edward Point, the site of another base. The relief here should be easier as the ship can park in sheltered waters to carry out the work. Upon completion we will then head west, passing Bird Island on the way, to head for the Falkland Islands where we will prepare for the next leg of our journey which will take us south down the Antarctic Peninsula (and I hope some stunning scenery) to Rothera Base.
7th November 2017: Since the last update a lot has happened on board the RRS James Clark Ross. The ship had to sail around the coast of the Falkland Islands to East Cove, Mare Harbour, the military port, to take bunkers. Bunkers is the word used for fuel and we have a very large tank (in fact we have a number of fuel tanks on either side of the ship and it is important that when bunkering and using fuel that a close eye is kept on what is in each tank so that we don't heel to one side or another or topple over.
The Wise Owl kept an eye on the bunkering operation and calculated that we loaded some 500 cubic metres (the way in which the fuel is measured) which is about 500 tonnes. In litres it would be 500,000 and so the Wise Owl was wondering how may cars could be fuelled with this amount, if the average car holds 50 litres in it's tank?
Once the fuel was loaded the ship departed immediately for the South Orkney Islands, in particular Signy Island. This is the location of a small base, which has a maximum capacity of eight people and has been closed for six or seven months. When we did arrive the air temperature was about -7ºC and with a wind of about 30kts it was very chilly outside.
The Forecastle of the James Clark Ross on arrival Signy Island on Saturday. The ice build up is due to shipping spray during the passage and with the air temperature being so cold it then freezes and this builds up over time. This is not the worst that I have seen it and aside from getting in the way of things, did not present any danger to the ship or those on board.
The Wise Owl overlooking Signy Island on arrival last Saturday. I think that he has found a new perch as it gives him a good view. As you can see the weather was a bit overcast and dull and very, very cold. The Wise Owl did not stay outside for long that day.
Upon arrival small inflatable boats were sent ashore to see just how things looked at the base. It was not too bad, with not too much snow (although later it was discovered there was a lot of ice below the snow which had to be cleared away) and before long a team was ashore getting the base open.
This picture, by Pete Bucktrout of BAS, shows the snow conditions after the walkway was dug out.
This picture, also by Pete Bucktrout of BAS, shows the view looking over the base.
Sadly due an issue with pack ice being driven up into the bay in which the JCR was parked, my planned visit ashore with the Wise Owl did not take place. This was a great shame as the weather was dingle, with now wind, a blue sky and lots of sunshine.
The Wise Owl back on his perch (which is in fact a compass repeater on the Bridge Wing) with the pack ice closing in behind the ship.
I hope that you are excited by this picture as The Wise Owl was, for this has Coronation Island in the background and some wonderful lenticular clouds forming about the mountains.
The James Clark Ross is now on passage to Bird Island and South Georgia (the two are separated by a very short stretch of water) and we are due to arrive at Bird Island on Wednesday. I am hopeful that the Wise Owl will be able to get ashore and meet some of the locals.
I could not finish this update without a penguin picture. Here an Adélie penguin is on an ice floe, with his shadow to keep him company.
One final question from The Wise Owl. Fresh water will freeze at what temperature? Does sea water freeze at the same temperature and if not, what do you think it will freeze at?
30th October 2017: The Wise Owl and I have arrived in the Falkland Islands, following a rather interesting journey. As mentioned in the last update the plan involved a number of flights to get us from Scotland to here. At the time of writing the previous update I was not aware that our journey from the capitol of Chile, Santiago, south to Punta Arenas, would involve a very brief stop at a town called Puerto Montt. This was a small town some thirty years ago that I spent three months working in for a charity organisation. The stop involved a brief period to allow a change of some passengers and then to refuel. At 16:30 on Friday afternoon the aircraft headed for the runway to suddenly turn around and head back to the terminal due to a technical fault.
Our arrival in the Falkland Islands was to some very miserable weather, it was cold, wet and very windy. This is not unusual for here and often one can experience all four seasons in a single day. The weather can be very odd at times. I am delighted to say that on Monday, today, it was much improved and so I was able to take The Wise Owl ashore for a brief look at the jetty.
With a light breeze this evening there was little chance of The Wise Owl going for a swim in Stanley Harbour! Behind him is the Lady Elizabeth, probably the most famous wreck in the Falkland Islands. There are a lot of wrecks in the islands, no doubt not helped by the wild weather and strong westerly winds.
I found a convenient car to perch The Wise Owl on so that I could get a picture of him with the James Clark Ross in the background.
From the Falkland Islands the ship will head to Signy Island, part of the South Orkney Islands. The base there has been closed for the winter and is only open during the summer months. We won't know how easy it will be to get up and running until we arrive as every season it is different and we may, or may not, have to deal with sea ice, snow covering the base, or just wild weather. I think that that next update might just cover our arrival there.
October 2017: I am delighted to report that the Wise Owl has made the short journey from Kilkeel to Perth, which is where I live, in Scotland. This is easy part, the next stage of the trip is much longer one and fraught with danger, well for The Wise Owl at least as he will be travelling in my suitcase and who knows where that could end up.
The Wise Owl getting a grand send off from Kilkeel Primary School.
I do rather like the penguin that you have also managed to get into the pictures. Pics Mr Quinn
I would like to say that it was lovely to meet many of you earlier in the year and making me feel so welcome when I returned The Wise Owl to the school. I learnt a lot in my short time at the school.
The James Clark Ross left the UK a few weeks ago for the long passage south, moving at a leisurely 10 knots (a little under 12MPH). But as the ship sails day and night it soon covers vast distances. The distance from the UK to the Falkland Islands is in the region of 8,000 Nautical Miles. She departed on 28th September and is due to arrive on the 27th October, a day before the Wise Owl will arrive.
Our journey will involve a number of flights, from Edinburgh to London Heathrow, then across to Madrid to catch a flight to Sao Paulo (Brazil). From there another flight across to Santiago, the capital of Chile before a hop down the Andes to Punta Arenas. All being well this should take about 24 hours (a lot of flying and numerous security checks before each flight). A night in a hotel in Punta Arenas and finally the final flight across the South Atlantic to arrive at Mount Pleasant Airport in the Falkland Islands. From there it is an hour on a coach to get us to Stanley (not Port Stanley as often seen in the press) and hopefully directly on to the ship. If everything goes to plan I hope to be on board late in the afternoon. During the flights I will also have to change time zones and suspect that when we arrive I will be, initially, four hours behind Kilkeel. However in the early hours of Sunday 29th October you will all be putting your clocks back an hour to GMT and so there will just be a three hour difference for the remainder of the trip.
The next update will be posted after our arrival in the Falkland Islands and once we are settled back into life on board the ship.