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News clippings from one of Eileen Hofmann's first research excursions to the Antarctic refer to scientists working in comfort aboard the then-brand-new ice-breaking research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer.

It's a good thing.

During Hofmann's trip back to Antarctica this spring, which coincided with the Antarctic fall, researchers struggled to complete their work in 8-12-foot seas and howling winds exceeding 40 knots.

"Those aren't good working conditions. We worked on the most difficult cruise I've ever been on, in my opinion," Hofmann said. "You learn to be adaptable."

Hofmann and her husband, John Klinck, both professors of oceanography, traveled to Antarctica on separate trips this spring and summer as part of the international Southern Ocean Global Ecosystems Dynamics (GLOBEC) survey.

Aboard the Palmer, up to 50 researchers and a 22-person crew live in two-person cabins equipped with private bathrooms, TVs, VCRs, a telephone and a LAN jack for personal computers. There is a 24-hour mess hall and a workout room.

Despite the amenities and the 7,600-ton vessel's ability to break three feet of ice at three knots, however, scientists on these recent trips discovered that there are limits to the degree of shelter the Palmer can provide in particularly inhospitable weather conditions.

Cold weather and high seas limited researchers' time on deck during Hofmann's trip.

"You just don't do it," she said. "It's not worth the risk. We used expendable equipment as towed probes. You still acquire data, but in a different way.

"You don't stop. [Weather] limits some activities, but not everything you can do. There are times when you sort of have to heave to and wait for the wind to blow on through."

As part of her research, Hofmann, who chairs the Southern Ocean GLOBEC steering committee, studied the part of the Antarctic food chain occupied by shrimp-like animals called krill. During this year's trip she found changes in the feeding behavior of penguins, which have begun eating fish instead of krill. She hopes that the research conducted after her departure will clarify the cause of this phenomenon.

It was six weeks after Hofmann's return when Klinck boarded the Palmer for his trip to Antarctica. His voyage came during the austral winter when the formerly rough seas had become encrusted in ice. He was met by winds that blew from 20 to 40 knots, sub-zero air temperatures and wind chills in the minus-50 range.

Slowed by ice cover on the west side of the Antarctic peninsula, the scientists stopped at only three-fourths of the research stations they had planned to visit during the five-week excursion.

Klinck studied water temperatures and salt and chlorophyll content, while associates charted nutrients in the icy Antarctic waters. "We're all measuring our piece of the bigger puzzle," he explained.

Despite the poor weather conditions, the scientists managed to gather enough data to illustrate the exchange between relatively warm and nutrient-rich oceanic water and that closer to the continent.

Klinck still recalls, though, how the broken ice slowed the vessel dramatically and made it so noisy below deck that those in the ship's galley had trouble hearing one another talk. Floating ice also clogged the Palmer's nets and made it impossible to tow some of the research equipment.

"That's life at sea," he said. "You take what you get."

More information about the survey is available at www.ccpo.odu.edu/Research/globec_menu.html.

This article was posted on: November 27, 2001

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