R/V Laurence McKinley Gould
The Research Vessel Laurence McKinley Gould, or LMG for short, is the sister ship to the larger R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer. Both are United States icebreakers, or at least “ice reinforced” in the case of the LMG. This vessel is well equipped for research expeditions in Antarctic waters, but also serves as a supply ship for US stations in Antarctica. Palmer Station sits on Anvers Island, one of the first points of land when traveling south from the tip of South America, across the Southern Ocean toward the West Antarctic Peninsula. If you can survive the infamous Drake Passage, known for some of the roughest seas in the world, you are rewarded with snowy mountains, icebergs and plenty of wildlife. However, life on a ship is not all gorgeous days and whale watching. Texas A&M scientists and students from the Department of Oceanography experienced this in austral summer 2016. In their makeshift lab they often worked on collecting and filtering water for experiments around the clock. The science does not wait for anyone and when they arrived at a new station, they had to be ready at all hours of the day to collect samples, often in very cold and wet conditions. In 2016 they encountered more sea ice coverage than is typical for the summer near Antarctica, which slowed the boat down considerably. This was, of course, a major factor for limiting historical scientific settlements in Antarctica. Ice coverage blocks ship passage, and cold weather makes even flying airplanes to Antarctica nearly impossible. At some Antarctic research stations, new food and supply shipments cease in April and don’t return until October. Even on a ship, supplies are carefully planned out for length of voyage and some emergency stores in case the ship gets stuck in the ice or has to make an unplanned detour. The ice coverage was good news for the Texas A&M scientists’ sleep schedules but bad for science, as they weren’t able to collect as many significant surface ocean samples as they needed because of ice cover. Part of polar research is being prepared for the unexpected and they managed to use their sample time wisely for their experiments investigating the potential for iron limitation of microscopic photosynthetic activity. We stand to gain much in our understanding of the global carbon cycle from these types of studies in critical regions such as the great Southern Ocean. This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to ocean.tamu.edu and click “On the Ocean”.
Script Author: Laramie Jensen
Photos of Antarctica as taken from the R/V LMG