2024 01 17 NZ team on 16th leg1

Our team on the first leg of the voyage. Photo: Liv Cornelissen.

Ross Sea Voyage Update #3: Terra Nova Bay

21 January 2024

We arrived in the Terra Nova Bay area on the afternoon of 14 January. The weather has been very calm with a mix of sunny days and some foggy days but little wind. (Spoiler alert: There will be wind. Lots of it. This is Antarctica.)

TheRV Laura Bassi headed to the Italian Mario Zuchelli Station and immediately swung into re-supply mode. A major function of the voyage is to get the large stores in and out of the station.  This operation was certainly efficient, with a barge bringing containers back-and-forth to the base’s wharf.

2024 01 15 MZS Craig Stevens

Mario Zuchelli Station in Terra Nova Bay. Photo: Craig Stevens.

2024 01 15 offloading at MZS Craig Stevens

Off-loading supplies from the RV Laura Bassi to re-supply the Italian Antarctic station. Photo: Craig Stevens.

Barge Liv C

A barge moved supplies, containers and personnel back-and-forth to the base’s wharf. Photo: Liv Cornelissen.

After the re-supply, the science started to accelerate:

  • in the region right by the base, the Italian navy conducted some multibeam work and recovered the first of the Italian hydrographic moorings
  • south, into Terra Nova Bay proper, an intense Italian spatial survey of the water column was led by previous NIWA collaborator Giannetta Fusco
  • we launched an ocean glider from the Italian programme and more surface drifters.

Seabed coring

We are sampling the seabed because the upper part of the sediment layers provides a range of clues as to how the environment has operated over the past 1000 years or more.

For the voyage, we mobilised the University of Otago’s three-m gravity coring device, and Tommaso Tesi (University of Bologna) generously lent us a multicoring system. Unfortunately, no priority sites on the transit into Terra Nova Bay could be accessed due to ice cover. As Plan B, we contacted colleague Ester Colizza (University of Trieste) for a list of previous Italian sampling in the vicinity, allowing us to locate a suitable target in the area. We were able to confirm this location using the ship’s TOPAS sub-bottom profiler with great support from the geophysics team provided by the ship's operator, Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS).

On 19 January, the University of Otago sediment sampling crew - Christina Riesselman, Meghan Duffy and Luisa Fontanot - successfully deployed both corers with excellent results: 4 full multicore barrels at ~30 cm each, plus a 2.8 m gravity core. The shakedown prior to Christina’s return to NZ provided an important opportunity for the bridge, deck crew, party chief and coring team to develop an operational protocol and weather window for the deployment and recovery of the corer systems.

This early coring success, and the high degree of collaboration and support we have received from across the Italian programme, gives us every confidence of doing our best for the primary coring targets later in the voyage.

This is a long-term goal of ASP Project Two: Ocean Mechanics as it seeks to identify how changes in ocean processes, especially sea ice, might look in sediment cores. This gives us a window on the past that will enable us to visualize the coming changes.

Preparing multicorer Christina R

Preparing the multi-corer. Photo: Christina Riesselman.

Deploying multicorer Christina R

Deploying the multi-corer. Photo: Christina Riesselman.

Mooring deployments

We spent an afternoon recovering our NZ-DIT-D mooring, which has been operating almost continuously since 2017 (with ~annual redeployments) to look at the deep water in the main trough in the region. This location is where polynya-produced, high-salinity shelf water will convect to the seafloor and then drain away, both to ice shelf cavities and also north to the global system where they form the basis for Antarctic Bottom Water.

The lack of wind has actually been to our detriment, as a large patch of sea ice is lingering right where we have some planned activities. A bit more wind would flush this away. 

We opportunistically attempted to recover a NIWA fisheries acoustic mooring deployed in Terra Nova Bay in 2021. We were able to trigger both releases, but the mooring unfortunately stayed on the seafloor – we were able to confirm this with an acoustic sounder.  It may yet come free, and we have a position beacon on the float.

There is still some more work to do in Terra Nova Bay before we pick up the rest of our team that are flying into Mario Zuchelli and head over to the Ross Sea Polynya region. Your faithful correspondent also had a birthday on board which was celebrated in style with three different cakes!

Sea ice Craig Stevens

A rough patch of sea ice – right where we had research activities planned. Photo: Craig Stevens.

2024 01 16 Penguins on Drygalski Craig Stevens

Penguins on the Drygalski Ice Tongue. And, no, we don't know how they get up there. Photo: Craig Stevens.

This update was sent from the ship by New Zealand voyage leader Prof Craig Stevens and revised by the New Zealand-based communications team.

Growing Antarctic careers

We are creating inter-generational knowledge in real time.

The New Zealand-Italy research voyage provides an opportunity for Early Career Researchers (ECR) and postgraduate students. The New Zealand contingent includes five ECRs and four PhD students.

MAC3 Impact Philanthropies have provided funding to facilitate New Zealand and Italian ECRs with a passion for Antarctica to use the 2024 Ross Sea Voyage to grow their Antarctic research careers. The recipients will put this support, after the voyage is completed, towards expenses for research time, for undertaking additional lab analyses, producing high quality publications, media engagement and conference travel.

The joint voyage provides an exciting opportunity to build a cohort of Antarctic ECRs.