Dr Helen Bostock, marine geologist at NIWA, writes:
Planning for this voyage started many years ago –it was originally pencilled into the RV Tangaroa voyage schedule 5 years ago. It is latest in a series of Australian and French voyages to visit this region and monitor the environmental changes.
Finally, about a year ago, funding was secured and the voyage was confirmed. For the last 6 months, Mike Williams (the voyage leader) and I (the deputy leader), along with our overseas colleagues, have been living and breathing the Mertz Polynya voyage.
We started by putting together a detailed science plan with our overseas collaborators.
First, we estimate the time it will take for the initial “wish list” of stations – including the time to steam between stations and deploying the gear. The ship works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but this first draft is always too ambitious. So we cut back the number of stations and the area we want to cover to produce a more realistic Plan A. In reality, this Plan A is still too ambitious as we assume that we will have perfect sea conditions, a highly unlikely scenario in the famously stormy Southern Ocean.
We also have to worry about sea ice as we approach the coast of Antarctica. The RV Tangaroa is not an ice breaker – it only has an ice-strengthened hull. So over the last few weeks we have been obsessively looking at the latest sea ice reports produced from the cloud free satellite images. The sea ice is still present over the Mertz area, so we are currently coming up with Plan B and Plan C just in case.
As we are going to be sailing through New Zealand, Australian and international waters we have had to apply for 3 times the normal number of permits – approximately 10 different permits for sampling water, mud and plankton.
Next, we have to work out who we need to run all the scientific gear and undertake the sampling and analyses. This requires technical specialists, meaning that the majority of the science party is made up of experienced technicians. We also take a few lucky students to give them some hands on experience and train up the next generation of scientists and technicians.
And now, here we are with only a day to go!
We are very busy packing our bags and getting all the technical gear together, along with spares of everything. We have also started mobilising (the term used for loading the ship) – this is a bit like packing for your big summer camping holiday, as there is a certain order in which things need to be mobilised (or it won’t all fit!). The only difference is that we use forklifts and cranes, and everyone is dressed up in hard hats, steel cap boots and fluorescent vests.
Stay tuned for more updates for more updates from the oceans next week!