Research Ship Returns from 17,000-Mile Journey

Vessel Completes 17,000-Mile Journey

Research Vessel Returns

A sign in Palmer Station, Antarctica, to which an arrow for Moss Landing was added by the Point Sur’s crew (Rebecca Shoop photo).

Cruise to support scientific operations near Palmer Station is a first for a National Science Foundation vessel of the R/V Point Sur’s “regional class” size.

Media Contact: Brynn Hooton-Kaufman, 831-771-4464MOSS LANDING, Calif. –

The Research Vessel Point Sur cruised into her home port of Moss Landing Harbor this Thur., May 2, returning from a research voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula.  The National Science Foundation vessel operated by Moss Landing Marine Laboratories has been gone more than five months, supporting research in the Southern and Pacific Oceans during a trip that was unprecedented by an NSF vessel of her size.

The 135-foot R/V Point Sur departed Moss Landing on Nov. 29 on a trip that took her more than 17,000 miles, and is one that is more commonly made by vessels that are 200 or 300 feet in length.  The Point Sur, as she is affectionately known by the MLML community, was chosen by NSF for the mission for her cost-effective, flexible size and her prior achievements working in the Aleutian Island Chain and Bering Sea in Alaska.

Ice Sheets

The Point Sur began her voyage with a month-long transit to Punta Arenas, Chile where final preparations were made, and geologists from the University of South Carolina boarded as the first science party of the trip.  The geologists made use of the Point Sur’s voyage to collect data to help determine if ice sheets deposited large quantities of sediment around Antarctica during the Cretaceous Period.  Principal Investigator David Barbeau chronicled the team’s progress from afar in Brooklyn on his blog, Antarctic Ice Dodgers 2013.  Breathtaking photographs on the blog depict the team venturing to sites to identify rocks and collect samples, and journal-like posts document the Point Sur crew’s valiant efforts to support the team and keep scientists safe.   On Jan. 18, Barbeau posted pictures of the Point Sur’s crew towing small icebergs away from his team’s pickup location on an island, writing, “…the (Antarctic Ice) Dodgers are indeed amongst fine people.”

The Point Sur arrived at Palmer Station on Anvers Island, Antarctica on Jan. 26, nearly 18 months after planning for the journey began.  At Palmer Station the science party from University of South Carolina disembarked, and the Point Sur was joined by members of the Palmer Antarctica Long Term Ecological Research Project (LTER), whose work has been conducted for more than 20 years.  The Point Sur transported the LTER scientists to the western side of Anvers Island to survey penguin colonies, reaching an area that had not been surveyed by land since the mid 1980s.

Tagging Whales

The Point Sur continued juggling science parties throughout her time in Antarctica, supporting a whale research group from Duke University who were able to tag so many whales that they ran out of tagging supplies.  Also before leaving Palmer Station, the vessel was able to host a scientific diving operation from the University of Alabama, studying a kelp-like brown seaweed called Ascoseira.  In his blog post titled “Long Stemmed Seaweeds, Magnificent Cliffs, with Memories of Old Heroes,” scientist Chuck Amsler writes of reaching his research site at Lemaire, “possibly the most beautiful spot on the entire Antarctic Peninsula if not the continent as a whole,” not reachable by Zodiacs launched from Palmer Station, and therefore only made possible on this trip by transport by the Point Sur.

In early March the Point Sur departed Palmer Station, beginning the two-month return trip home.  Again she was bestowed with safe travel across the Drake’s Passage, one of the most dangerous waterways of the oceans.   She has continued supporting science parties up the coast of the Americas, providing to all researchers resounding successes, and to some their most successful research cruises to date.   “We are proud of the excellent support of science provided by the Point Sur,” said Moss Landing Marine Laboratories interim Director Jim Harvey.  “It takes an incredible amount of planning, teamwork, and expertise to accomplish this extraordinary voyage.  We look forward to her arrival on Thursday.”

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories is the graduate program in marine science for California State Universities East Bay, Fresno, Monterey Bay, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose and Stanislaus. Learn more about MLML. View the Point Sur blog.