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Josh's Australian Antarctic expedition 1 - sea voyage

You remember Josh Scarrow the very fortunate masters student who is joining an Australian Antarctic expedition over the next 5 months

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Have been aboard the Aurora Australis since Sunday afternoon. We’re chugging along at a steady ten knots or so, into a nice rolling swell of 2-4 metres. I haven’t felt any seasickness symptoms at all, although have been victim to overeating due to the incredible quality and quantity of food served up so far; the survival instincts of a poor student are difficult to override. There are several green looking people around, and some stay confined to their bunks 24/7.


 The last week has been extremely busy; kitting appointments, quad-bike training, numerous safety briefings and inductions all day at the AAD in Kingston, followed by late nights at the team house in Coningham, poring over maps/imagery and discussing sampling strategies and logistics. Despite having only met each other a week ago, we feel like a team, and I’m confident we’ll not only get along well, but get the job done. Our science field leader is Adrian Corvinho (32), a geologist who has spent multiple seasons in the PCMs, and is incredibly enthusiastic to revisit the area. He tells us the rocks exposed at the Mawson Escarpment are some of the oldest on the planet, in the vicinity of 3.5 billion years! Fiona Shanhun (soil scientist at Lincoln, formerly from Waikato) is next senior (30) amongst us scientists, and has spent several field seasons in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. It’s a small world in the Antarctic community; Fiona’s partner Peter was a teammate in my previous season in the Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains. Ze German PhD student, Paul Czechowski (28) is my fellow biologist. He’s done some pretty cool work with tardigrades from Dronning Maud Land, and has also worked on ancient DNA from mammoth and whale bones. It’s up to Paul and I to ensure the geo’s don’t contaminate our precious soil samples, could be difficult as geologists are generally dirty creatures. The fourth team member is Tessa Williams (21) from Canterbury, another person oddly fascinated with rocks… Nick Morgan, our Field Training Officer (FTO), has the considerable task of keeping us safe and alive throughout our two and a half months in the field. Nick works as a mountain guide based out of Wanaka when he’s not down south. We’re a relatively young team, but everyone’s pumped to get into the field and get to work. Competition will be fierce to find the first springtail, as these tiny invertebrates have not yet been reported from the PCMs, despite being found in most other regions of the continent.

Ship life is great, I’ve been spending a lot of time up in the bridge, talking with crew members and keeping an eye out for birds. Nabuo, a Japanese penguin ecologist and bird watcher, pointed me in the direction of my first Wandering Albatross. What a sight! Without the slightest movement of it’s huge wings (~3 m from tip to tip), the graceful giant soared effortlessly across our bow, and quickly disappeared into the distance, hidden by the infinite rolling  white-capped swells that stretch as far as the eye can see. Numerous petrels and shearwaters have also been sighted; it is hard to imagine these birds aren’t riding the pressure waves (in the air) in front of the swells simply for the joy of it. The swell seems to be picking up gradually as we penetrate further into the Southern Ocean. We have been told to expect it to get rougher around Thursday; this will be interesting to say the least, as I’ve heard of swells from 10-14 m occurring in the past. Due to the requirement to break through ice further south, the Aurora is fairly flat-bottomed, lacking a keel. This of course leads to a reduction in stability, and she pitches and rolls rather nicely even in these fairly gentle seas at present. We can expect deck angles of up to 45° when it gets really rough! Personally, I enjoy the movement, but it remains to be seen how I’ll cope when we hit the big stuff. In around 4-5 days we should start seeing icebergs, can’t wait. The ship boasts an impressive library and DVD collection to keep us entertained, and there are seminars scheduled after dinner each night in the theatre. A small group of die-hard kiwis huddled in the theatre on Sunday evening as we left Hobart, nervously following the game. We managed to listen to the first half by streaming radio sport, but the second half was reduced to text updates on the NZ herald website as we moved further away from mobile internet reception. The quietest and most tense rugby I’ve ever ‘watched’ was no good for the blood pressure, especially when reception threatened to fail in the dying moments of the game. Nevertheless we managed to hear the end result. Well done Richie and the boys, the black flag is being proudly displayed

throughout the trip.
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