All’s well that Weddell

The weather on Monday was cloudy, which is perfect for our measurements, so we rushed out for another chance at the study site.

This time we actually saw a Weddell seal! First wildlife we’ve seen in person yet. Perhaps we’ll manage a penguin next. The seal was hauled out on the ice near our study site–an unusual thing this time of year, because of the cold. It was a good twenty or thirty degrees (Celsius) colder above the ice than in the water beneath it, so I imagine that emerging from a hole in the ice and hauling out into the chilly air was rather like leaving a warm bath and running right out into a brisk and breezy fall evening.

The seal, visible in the distance behind Steve.

There’s another study group here looking for Weddell seals, so we gave them a call on our radio and they rushed out to take a look. They have the proper permits to be able to approach Antarctic wildlife, and they walked out alongside the seal and determined that it was a yearling male, too small for their purposes. They’re attaching instruments to the seals–cameras and other things that will give them information about the seals’ hunting behavior–so they need an adult-sized seal for things to work properly. They told us that the seal had probably been driven out of a breathing hole by larger males; breathing holes are a scarce resource, and I guess a yearling seal just doesn’t have the oomph to compete with half-ton adults.

The seal, galumphing (I'm told that's the technical term for the inchwormish way seals get across the ice.)

Scientifically, the day was interesting; we experimented with creating new sea ice by pouring out jugs of seawater onto a surface we’d shoveled clean. The surface wasn’t ideal, but we did discover that we could see a very distinct brightening of the new surface ice when it reached the temperature where the salt crystallized in the brine pockets.

The analytic spectrometer. Just before sunset the sun dipped below the cloud cover, turning our nice diffuse light into a direct beam, so we had to stop taking measurements until it set.

We got back just a couple of hours before a rather nice storm hit the station, with so much snow blowing that you could barely see a building across the street. It was fun in town, but I’m certainly glad we didn’t have to drive back in it.

Another day out on the ice tomorrow–more exploration this time, if the weather is appropriate (that is to say, cloudy but not too stormy.)


One Response to “All’s well that Weddell”

  1. Christina Says:

    How did you keep the seawater from freezing before you poured it out onto the ice? Thermal bags? What was the temperature, anyway? -20 or -30?

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