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Blog: Our first icebergs - 15 February

We began the day at 64° south and our daily emergency drill during the transit was, appropriately, a lesson in how to endure the cold. The air temperature was -0.3°C and everyone turned up to the muster point wearing several layers of wool and bright orange mullion suits. The task was to stay outside for 50 minutes to see how well our clothing would help us to combat the cold. Icicles are starting to appear on the hand railings and the reality of working in the cold is starting to sink in.

Anatomy of mullion suit: some of the items of clothing and kit we will be wearing on deck to stay safe and warm while we work.

[Photo: Sadie Mills, NIWA]

Today we deployed another weather balloon, CTD and bongo plankton net, and another set of oceanographic drifters. We are still in the open ocean, yet we happened to sample a very productive area, with large phytoplankton and a zooplankton community dominated by copepods and larval krill.

Zooplankton: a jar of preserved zooplankton, dominated by copepods and larval krill, ready for analysis back on land.

[Photo: Moira Decima, NIWA]

While we have already crossed the polar front, the waters we are transiting through are still influenced by this oceanographic feature, where the convergence of two water masses leads to mixing and enhanced phytoplankton production, which in turn fuels the growth and development of large zooplankton, such as Antarctic krill.

At dinner time we were in for a treat… a small “bergy bit” or lump of ice floated past the mess room window.

While eating dinner today this hunk of ice, known as a “bergy bit”, floated past the window of the mess causing a lot of excitement. It’s not big enough to be classed as an iceberg—for that it needs to be between 5-15 m tall and 15-16 m long before it is a small iceberg.

[Photo: Arne Pallentin, NIWA]

Then—even more exciting—we sailed past our first iceberg just before dark. While there are surely many more to come, the team was very happy with this first sighting. We had a fun time up on the bridge admiring the blue beauty in awe, and taking a lot of photographs.

Four hours later at 9 pm, at 65 38.35’S° South we sailed past our first true iceberg of the voyage.

[Photo: Moira Decima, NIWA]

Research subject: Antarctica