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Exploration of the Antarctic Sea Floor, Underwater Images of Icebergs and Sampling Phytoplankton in Antarctic Fjords

October 27 2017
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This expedition will use a variety of tools, including the Trident, to study phytoplankton in Antarctic Fjords, photograph glaciers and icebergs, and to search for new species on the Antarctic sea floor.

October 27 2017

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Preparation Stage

Packing for this expedition is a daunting task. I knew form the beginning that I would greatly exceed baggage allowances so I asked some of my fellow expedition members of they would kindly take one bag for me. That still left me with too much. But, oh well, that is part of getting everything there!


I weighed all the bags and they came about to around 325lbs. The remotely controlled surface vessel takes up almost three of the bags, plus I have 8 cameras including lenses, chargers, extra batteries etc. Here is a list of cameras:

Canon 1Dx Canon 5D Mark III Canon 5D Mark IV Sony A7r II Sony RX100 III Sony RX100 IV GoPro 4 GoPro 5 Boxfish Research 360 camera (almost 30lbs in its case!) Rylo 360 camera

Now, let's add the Trident with the 100m spool of cable, tools for assembly and fixing, camera clamps for attaching cameras to various thing, spare hardware such as nuts, bolts, etc., tape/glue. Just use your imagination on the "support' stuff you need to pack, there is no Home Depot in Antarctica!

And, I'm bringing a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone, extra batteries, case, etc. And, BTW, all of the batteries, all 8lbs of them, must be carried as carry-on luggage since they are lipos.

Oh yes, I almost forgot clothes. After all, this is Antarctica I'm talking about! Jackets, heavy and well insulated boots, layers of shirts and pants, hats, more layers of clothes. Every medicine and first aid items.....

I have a surfboard bag containing the two custom flotation devices for the surface boat. They are made out of surfboard foam but with the metal support pieces it starts to add up. So, nine bags total. Am I nuts? Yes. Will I have a blast? Yes!

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OCEANS 360: Part of this expedition will be to gather high resolution 360 degree underwater footage of the Antarctic oceans. This sill be done as part of the Oceans 360 project.


The problem: The world’s oceans and the living creatures that inhabit it continue to deteriorate. Coral bleaching is spreading at an alarming rate, vast plums of floating garbage are continually being discovered, and once abundant fish stocks are disappearing.

When oceans are in trouble, humans are too. Millions of people around the globe depend on the oceans for food. Fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthesis of phytoplankton. As the oceans warm, phytoplankton populations will be significantly affected and the populations of creatures that depend on phytoplankton will decline.

Educating people: It is imperative that we help people understand the issues involved in a way that engages them. Showing people the beauty and the fragility of the oceans, and using awe-inspiring technology, will leave them with a better appreciation of the issues involved and a desire to conserve the world’s oceans.

The plan: The Lions of Gir Foundation (named after the near extinct Asiatic lions of the Gir Forest of India) plans to produce very high resolution, short duration, 360 videos shot underwater by scientists and underwater photographers for use by STEM programs, classroom science education programs, museums, and aquariums around the globe.

The videos will be provided at no charge to educational institutions to be seen by as many people as possible. The camera will be loaned to scientists and photographers at no charge for this project. The 360 videos can be viewed online, on mobile devices, or by using inexpensive 360 viewers.

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One of the goals of this expedition is to collect phytoplankton for DNA and microscopic analysis from Antarctic fjords. The project is called, FjordPhyto.


FjordPhyto is a project gathering information on the community of phytoplankton species living within the fjords of the west Antarctic Peninsula. Phytoplankton are microscopic, drifting plants that make up the foundation of the food system, supporting whales, seals, and penguins. They play a critical role in drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and contribute to over half of the Earth's oxygen -- more than the trees and plants on land combined!

Fjords along the west Antarctic Peninsula are known to be hotspots of biodiversity. However, melting glaciers are bringing freshwater into fjords and bays, potentially altering these ecosystems beginning at the level of phytoplankton.

Help scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD) document the phytoplankton community living within the fjords and expand our current knowledge of fjord ecosystems with FjordPhyto.

Participants will help Citizen Science Coordinators collect phytoplankton using nets towed behind Zodiacs. On board the main ship, sample will be split into two parts. Part I: Participants will hand filter samples through a filtration set-up and filter will be folded and preserved in appropriate solution provided. Samples will be frozen for shipping to researchers at Scripps. Part II: Participants will view sample under microscopes and take images using a smartphone. Images will be uploaded to the iNaturalist database and contribute observations to the FjordPhyto project.

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This is so cool. I'm glad that more researchers are catching on to the power of citizen science.

In addition to the Trident, I will also have a remotely controlled surface vessel. This boat carries both a Canon 5D in an underwater housing and a Boxfish underwater 360 high resolution camera.


This surface vessel is controlled with a standard remote control transmitter technology. It is designed to be used within line of sight, although transmission capabilities are 1km +. The main camera, a Canon 5D Mark III, is housed in a Nauticam underwater housing and is controlled by two servos that enable the camera to shoot above, at water line, and below the surface.

The image from the Canon 5D is transmitted by a closed WiFi network to a ground station that sends the image to an iPad or similar device. The user gets a live image and complete control of the camera.

This unsinkable vessel can also carry additional cameras and instrumentation and is outfitted with a hydrophone, underwater 360-degree camera, and a GoPro.

Specifications: Weight: 22.6kg Size: 1.5m x 1.2m Power: Two, Blue Robotics T200 thrusters powered by lithium polymer batteries

Expedition Background

I'll be heading up a private expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula from January 4-18, 2017. 12 of us will be on board the Hanse Explorer for 14 days. On this trip we will have a variety of equipment to record the current state of glacial retreat, ice formation, and we will be gathering and preserving phytoplankton for DNA studies.


The phytoplankton study is being done in conjunction with the PhytoFjord project at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The phytoplankton will be gathered in Antarctic Fjords to see how accelerated glacial melt, due to ocean warming, is effecting these essential microorganisms that lie at the base of the food chain and produce 50% of the oxygen on Earth.

As part of the phytoplankton work, the surrounding glaciers will be photographed. Above the ground, we use a UAV, at the water level a remotely-controlled surface vessel, the ORCA 1, outfitted with various cameras including a Boxfish 360º camera, GoPros, and a remotely operate Canon 5D in an underwater housing will be used to document the geology and the ice structure.

For the underwater shots we will use the Trident. In addition, the Trident images we gather of glaciers, and of the underside of icebergs we will photograph, will be used by glaciologists to examine the surface of the ice to build a database on how the warming ocean is effecting the texture, and thus the melt rate, of the ice.

In addition, the Trident will be used to scan the Antarctic ocean floor for new species. The seabeds around Antarctica are sparsely explored so we will be gathering video footage for later analysis with the hopes of finding undocumented species.

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Excellent! Can't wait to follow along with this expedition, Steve.