Two ships, one mission
Research cruise pairs U.S., Swedish vessels on 3,000-mile-long journey
Posted November 26, 2010
It’s not the fastest route to reach McMurdo Station . But for several dozen scientists traveling aboard two research vessels over the next two months, the trip is all about the journey and not the final destination.
The Swedish icebreaker Oden and U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer will cross about 3,000 miles of ocean between Punta Arenas, Chile, and McMurdo Station. Scientists aboard the vessels will study everything from invasive crabs creeping up the continental slope to decades-old pollutants infiltrating the polar food web.
Yager is the lead principal investigator on the ship-based project called Amundsen Sea Polynya International Research Expedition (ASPIRE). The ASPIRE project brings together a multidisciplinary group of mostly Americans and Swedish scientists to study an area of open ocean surrounded by ice that is the most biologically active polynya in the Southern Ocean.
The Palmer is scheduled to leave Punta Arenas at the end of November, carrying both the ASPIRE team and a second group interested in learning more about invasive crabs that appear to be moving into more shallow areas, possibly threatening organisms on the continental shelf that have evolved without such predators over tens of millions of years.
The ship will first make its way to Marguerite Bay in the middle of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a species of king crabs has been previously spotted on the continental slope. The Palmer will then head farther south, eventually rendezvousing with the Oden to swap scientists.
The team hunting for invasive crabs, a project led by Richard Aronson and James McClintock , will continue their work within the sea ice on the Oden. Meanwhile, the Palmer will enter the 24,000-square-mile polynya in the Amundsen Sea.
It’s a rare pairing of two polar research vessels, according to Addie Coyac, a science planning manager for Raytheon Polar Services (RPSC) , the prime contractor to the National Science Foundation (NSF) , which funds and manages the USAP.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek/Antarctic Photo Library
The research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer at the pier in Punta Arenas, Chile. Across the way is a British research ship.
Primarily an icebreaker capable of cutting through about 2 meters of ice at 3 knots, the Oden serves as the muscle on this expedition. While the two ships will work on separate projects for the most part, the Oden will be available to escort the Palmer into the polynya should the surrounding sea ice prove too stout. The Palmer is also an icebreaker but not of the Swedish ship’s strength.
“It will be interesting to see what the ice does this year and how it works out,” Coyac said.
Since 2007, the NSF has had an agreement with the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and the Swedish Maritime Administration to use the Oden to break a channel in the sea ice to McMurdo Station. The channel allows cargo and fuel ships to access the research station at the end of each austral summer to resupply it with everything from construction material to food to fuel for power plants, ships and planes.
The ship’s unique hull design (it is shaped like a flat-bottomed skiff) allows it to break ice not by smashing into it, but rather by riding up onto it and using the ship’s weight to crack it. In addition, a pump system quickly moves hundreds of tons of water within the Oden from one side to the other, rocking the ship in heavy ice so that the reamers break the ice at the sides of the ship.
The Oden is also a research vessel, so American and Swedish scientists have used it previously for various projects. However, this year researchers were encouraged to submit collaborative proposals, meaning both ships will carry large contingents of U.S. and Swedish investigators working on similar projects.