In the Chukchi Sea now, we reached our first stopping point of the cruise where we picked up a buoy that had been deployed over the summer. The buoy had to be recovered before the winter. It always amazes me when seemingly out of nowhere we come upon a high-tech instrument just anchored to the seafloor collecting important data. Along with the water sampling being conducted on this cruise, moorings and buoys will be recovered and turned around.
The Buoy coming on board the fantail
Also at this point, we did a test CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth sensor) cast to make sure that all of the instruments were working and the bottles to collect water fired properly. The CTD and accompanying water-collecting rosette are the heart and soul of this expedition so this test cast was very important to make sure everything was in order. We are arriving at our first sampling line this evening and will sample throughout the night along a given transect line that was sampled last year. I will be writing a lot more about this in upcoming posts!
Deploying the CTD
So after a long transit, we are getting the science started! Very exciting!!!
Today was another beautiful day on the Bering Sea with the sun shining and relatively calm seas. It is another transit day so we are moving quickly northward to our first sampling stations which we should reach by Wednesday afternoon. With St. Lawrence Island behind us in the early morning, we continued to cruise observing birds and seeing lots of whales and a walrus! Very cool.
King Island in the Distance next to a snow squall
In the late afternoon, in the distance loomed the Diomede Islands, marking the middle of the Bering Strait. Ever since I can remember, I had wanted to see the Bering Strait and here it was right in front of me with Russia to the west and Alaska to the east. We had perfect weather to see far into the distance with a few snow squalls dotting the horizon. As we came upon the Diomedes, it became hard to imagine how people can live in this super harsh remote environment, but there are small communities living on both islands. With Fairway Rock glinting in the sunlight, we passed the Diomedes and through the Bering Strait with the occasional bird and whale cruising by. It was a beautiful afternoon and hard to imagine that I am actually here.
Fairway Rock in the Sunshine with Little Diomede Behind
Shortly after, we crossed the Arctic Circle officially entering the Arctic and are that much closer to our study site. The day ended with a beautiful sunset over Russia and a sky filled with stars and an orange half moon. It is getting colder and colder as we head north. I am very excited to get the science started tomorrow!
The sun setting over Russia as we pass through the Bering Strait
The seas calmed down a bit or rather the wind subsided and we are in huge glassy swells, all in all a nice day on the Bering Sea. We are transiting so not much is happening. I spent a good deal of time on the bridge watching passing birds and whales. Transit days are good days to catch up on work and to get organized because once the sampling starts, it gets very busy very quickly. The day ended with a beautiful sunset and the continued big swells.
At 1600, it was time to cast off the lines and head out into the Bering Sea, and apparently some rough weather. In the safety of Dutch Harbor, the weather seemed fine although a bit rainy, but beyond this safety, the Bering Sea was living up to her reputation. There is always a strange feeling when the ship leaves the dock and you know that there is no turning back. It is hard to describe, something between nervous and excitement, anticipation of the unknown…perhaps that is what is best about going to sea.
Heading out to Sea
So with that, we were off, leaving port to begin our journey north to the Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean. It will be around a three-day steam to our first stop where we will pick up a mooring before heading through the Bering Strait. Hopefully the weather will not be terrible. We are trying to skirt in between two low pressure systems that would bring some rough weather. But right out of Dutch, the Healy started rocking and rolling and we started feeling the fury of the Bering Sea with 40 knot winds and some big swells. Hopefully it will calm down a bit…
Flying to Dutch Harbor is always an adventure. I have only flown out of Dutch once before so I kind of knew what I was getting into. A few things to worry about when flying into Dutch, the number one being getting your baggage and the next the sketchy landing with a cliff on one side and water on the other; apparently a vast improvement from what it was before. To address the first issue, when I got to the airport in Anchorage, I begged and pleaded with the woman at the counter to make sure my bags got on the plane. My two duffels were filled with everything I could need to work and live for the next 4 weeks aboard the Healy and without them, it was going to be a long month. I also knew that I was on the last flight in for the day, so this was my shot to get my gear before setting sail. Finally when I told them I was getting onto a ship, they put big “Must Ride” stickers on my bags…so I wasn’t crazy for worrying as they were well aware of the problem of bumped baggage. I was already carrying about 40 lbs of gear on me between my pelican case with cameras, hard drives and a backpack with cameras, my computer, etc…Being at sea is unlike anything else because if you don’t have something with you, well you won’t have it until you get back home. It makes keeping the weight of your gear down difficult.
After negotiating the ticket counter and my bags, telling them my weight and having my carry-ons weighed, it was time to anxiously wait for the flight with nervous anticipation of my bags making the flight. I was not buying the “Must Ride” sticker. The plane to Dutch is a small prop plane and they cram the seats in…the plane is old and rickety and uncomfortable, but I am on my way to Dutch. The captain comes on and informs us that all of the bags are on the plane, that’s a relief, but because we took all of the bags, we have to make some fuel stops, first in King Salmon and then in Cold Bay. Knowing that my bags are on the plane is a relief as now I know I have all of my gear, and I am always into seeing new places…although the idea of not taking enough fuel is not the best feeling in the world.
So with a brief fuel stop in King Salmon, the pilots decide we don’t need to stop in Cold Bay and we land safely in Dutch. The view from the plane is beautiful. Dutch Harbor is beautiful, a large harbor surrounded by green mountains. We got very lucky with the weather as it was a beautiful day whereas the day before, the wind was howling and it was miserable. Sure enough my bags made it on the plane as did everyone else’s including all of the science party’s bags from the earlier flight. Step Two down, all of my gear and I made it to Dutch!
In response to the imminent threat of climate change on the ocean, this expedition, the first National Science Foundation funded of its kind, will head to the Western Arctic Ocean to study ocean acidification. Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use practices have led to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and uptake of carbon by the ocean. These increased carbon dioxide concentrations lead to a decrease in the average pH of the surface waters of the ocean, a process called ocean acidification. The purpose of this expedition is to directly address questions of how human-induced climate change is affecting ocean chemistry in the Western Arctic Ocean.
The cold waters of the high latitudes are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification due to increased solubility of carbon dioxide at low temperatures and low carbonate ion concentrations due to mixing patterns. This increased uptake in carbon dioxide along with the loss of sea ice and high rates of primary productivity over the continental shelves lead to increased ocean acidification in the Arctic Ocean and marginal seas. The rapid rates of change facing the high latitudes may have profound impacts on many organisms, particularly calcifying organisms that form calcium carbonate shells and hence need calcium carbonate minerals such as aragonite and calcite. Because of the sensitivity of these high latitude ecosystems to ocean acidification and their accelerated rates of change compared to lower latitudes, they become a real-time laboratory for understanding the changes and impacts of climate change on organisms and their possible cascading effects on the foodweb.
This study will be the first comprehensive assessment of the impacts of physical and biogeochemical processes on carbonate mineral saturation states and ocean acidification in the western Arctic Ocean and provide fundamental data for the understanding of ocean carbon cycle dynamics in the Pacific sector of the Arctic Ocean.
I am sitting in Anchorage as I write this post having just arrived here this afternoon. I am on my way to join Dr. Jeremy Mathis of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and a team of scientists aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy on an expedition studying the effects of climate change on ocean chemistry, particularly ocean acidification. I am flying out to Dutch Harbor tomorrow where we will board the ship and head North through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. It should be a great expedition!
Here is the latest project from Global Ocean Exploration…Fly fishing on the Petrohue River, Los Lagos Region, Chile. Thanks to David Rogue for the great music!!! Please share with your friends and fellow fishermen…Enjoy!
Tonight, I will be appearing as a guest angler/scientist on an episode of National Geographic Channel’s series, “Fish Warrior.” In the U.S., the show premieres tonight, March 18th, at 8pm. Click the photo below for a link to the program’s website where you can view pictures and a preview: