Wednesday 29 October 2014

Leaving for Antarctic

We arrived in Punta Arenas in Chile on the 22nd of October after leaving Dunedin. Since we crossed the International Date Line, we arrived about the same date and time we left which felt slightly strange. Our home for the next month, the US Research Vessel Nathaniel B Palmer was already waiting for us at the pier. 

This large ice breaker will take us to the Western Antarctic Peninsula where we will take samples to measure the concentration of iron and many other metals. The concentrations of metals are incredibly low, comparable to 1 paper clip dissolved in 15 Olympic swimming pools. This means you have to be extremely careful to not contaminate the samples, which is not easy on a metal ship. Additionally, there is plenty iron in the human body, including in skin particles or hairs. 

To keep our samples clean, we had to build our own clean air laboratory on board, called a ‘bubble’. This is made from PVC tubes, plastic and lots of tape. Filtered air that contains no dust or other particles is blown into this, making the plastic walls bulge out which made people call it the bubble. Inside we have ‘flow benches’ that blow clean air in and keep all contamination out of our samples. 

Building the bubble with PVC tubes, plastic sheets and lots of tape! On the right you can see the filter through which the clean air is blown in and on the bottom left one of the flow benches.
In the next blog we will show some pictures of how we dress up in suits inside the bubble and of the (hopefully by then) working set up for the iron measurements.  

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