Weddell Seal Expedition: Halley Station and Signy Island

Patrick Robinson at Signy Island--After completing most of the science work for the expedition, the ship stopped at Halley Station (a British research base on the Brunt ice shelf) to pick up about 25 people and drop off supplies for the folks who will remain there during the winter.  This station is unique because it is built on a thick ice shelf rather than land.  The buildings must be raised on stilts to prevent the inevitable accumulation of snow from burying them over the course of several years.

Weddell Seal Expedition: Tagging the final seal

Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica--Yesterday, we were in search of our 10th and final seal and found an ice floe with several seals.  We prepared our gear and went out onto the ice to get a closer look.  Unfortunately, the seals were a bit too young for our study (we are tagging adult animals).  So, we hiked back to the ship and continued our search.  We continued scanning through binoculars from the bridge for the remainder of the day, but saw only crabeater seals.



Weddell Seal Expedition: A look at the data

Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica--We tagged three additional Weddell seals yesterday to bring our total up to nine and the seals are already sending us interesting data.  The seals have already collected more than four times the number of CTD profiles collected by the ship!  Here is a sample of the various data sent back to us from the tags:



Weddell Seal Expedition: Tagging Weddell Seals

Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica-- The Weddell seal tagging is off to a great start.  We have been quite busy over the past 2 days and have already deployed 6 of the 10 tags!   This is how we do it: After we have located a seal from the bridge of the ship, we assemble a team of people to go out onto the ice.  We don our cold-weather gear and bring our tagging supplies to the main deck of the ship.  To get to the ice, we have to be lowered by a crane (I will admit, this part is actually quite fun!). 

Weddell Seal Expedition: Searching for Seals

Patrick Robinson in the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica--After two weeks of transit and oceanography work, we are now ready to begin searching for Weddell seals.  We are in the southeastern Weddell sea in an area where chief scientist Keith Nicholls spotted animals on previous expeditions.  Weddell seals prefer areas of dense sea ice over the continental shelf in waters between 400-700 meters depth. The seals spend most of their time in the water diving and foraging, but we are looking for animals that have hauled out on the sea ice to rest. 

Weddell Seal Expedition: CTD casts

Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica-- The main purpose of this RRS Shackleton expedition is to study the oceanography of the Weddell Sea.  To do this, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey deploy instruments on mooring lines (see previous blog posting), but also complete point samples by lowering instruments deep into the ocean from the ship.  The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) recorder as well as current profilers are the basic tools of oceanographers and provide information about a profile of the water column.

Weddell Seal Expedition: Life on a Research Ship

Patrick Robinson on the eastern Weddell Sea--The science that goes on during a research cruise is always exciting, but what is it like living aboard a research vessel for weeks at a time?




Weddell Seal Expedition: Recovering Oceanographic Moorings

Patrick Robinson from somewhere near the South Orkney Islands -- Today, chief scientist Keith Nicholls and his team from the British Antarctic Survey recovered a pair of oceanographic moorings that were deployed two years ago.  First, we traveled to the exact location the mooring was deployed.  The mooring line and instruments sit well below the surface and stretch all the way to the bottom, some 3,000 meters below.  



Weddell Seal Expedition: A Quick Stop in the South Orkney Islands

Patrick Robinson at Signy Island, South Orkneys -- We made it through the drake passage with very calm seas and have arrived at our first stop, a British research base on Signy Island (part of a small group of islands called the South Orkneys).  We are dropping off a few biologists and will return for them after the oceanographic and seal-tagging work in a few weeks.  

Weddell seal expedition: departing from the Falklands

Patrick Robinson at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands--The crew and scientists have all arrived in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands to board the RRS Shackleton and start a 2-month research cruise down to the Antarctic.  If all goes well, we will be deploying 10 tags on Weddell seals in the Weddell Sea to study their movements, diving behavior, and the oceanographic environment. 


So far, we have been preparing our gear, stocking up on last-minute supplies, and strapping everything down for the rough journey ahead.


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