Tag Archives: Bering Sea

The End of the Expedition



It is always bittersweet when an expedition comes to an end.  From start to finish, this expedition was filled with the excitement of the unknown and the magical, from flying into the fog of St. Paul to frolicking on the Bering Sea ice.  I am very excited about all of the work I accomplished and look forward to editing and putting everything together to share, but at the same time, I was not ready to come back to the bustling city. 


A tremendous amount of amazing cutting edge science was accomplished and I look forward to seeing how all of the scientists collaborate to make the project come alive and gain a more complete understanding of the Bering Sea ecosystem. 

I want to thank all of the scientists who allowed me to follow and learn about their work, and the crew of the USCGC Healy.  In particular, I would like to thank Dr. Carin Ashjian, the chief scientist of the expedition, and Captain Lindstrom.  It was a fantastic expedition and I look forward to many more in the future. 


Stay tuned for video, photos and links to publications!  



May 8: Dutch Harbor to Anchorage


Weather is often a big problem for flights out of Dutch Harbor this time of year so I was expecting to wake up to rain and wind in the morning but it was sunny and the wind seemed calm.  This boded well for our departure.  I had heard stories throughout the cruise about the Dutch Harbor runway and how you have to take off between two volcanoes and bank a turn and on and on, but this did not concern me.  I was in “go mode” so I was ready to begin my voyage home. 

Before heading to the airport, I had breakfast at a local restaurant, Amelia’s.  It was certainly a hearty breakfast and it was delicious.  One very nice thing about being off of the ship is the ability to choose what you eat.  I had a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.  Everything served there looked amazing and smelled great too.  It is definitely a place not to miss if you end up in Dutch Harbor.  The other thing Amelia’s is good for is getting the scoop of what is going on in town and in our case the airport.  It turns out that one flight from the day before was canceled so all of those passengers were going to be trying to get onto my flight.  With that, I headed to the airport early to check in and make sure I got my seat. 

Like the flight to St. Paul, we were flying in a small prop plane but unlike our flight to St. Paul, this flight was packed and there was not an empty seat.  The plane came in late and we were then informed that we would have to make a stop in King Salmon for refueling as we were carrying a heavy load.  That is not the exact words one likes to hear before boarding a plane.  The cast of characters waiting in the airport was what one would expect, other than the scientists, there were fishermen and other salty characters still in their rubber boots. 

Finally the plane arrived and we boarded.  I was sitting next to one of the “salty characters” who still had his fishing boots on and smelled of bait. The weather held and we got out, made our fuel stop in King Salmon, and arrived in Anchorage about two hours late.  This was fine for me as I had a long layover in Anchorage. 

Upon landing in Anchorage, the unknown part of the journey ended and I was back on my way to the bustling streets of New York where I could only reflect on what an amazing feeling it was to be on a ship in the Bering Sea. 


May 6: Dutch Harbor and Unalaska


Once checked out of the ship, I headed to the airport to rent a truck to explore the area.  I rented a F-250 pick-up that was held together with ratchet straps and some duct tape.  As I was leaving the rental agency, one of the men working there, told me to make sure to put it in four wheel drive if I got to any questionable spots in the road.  This certainly was going to be an adventure. 

I was off on my adventure exploring Dutch Harbor with two other members of the science party who wanted to join.  I drove down every road until it was impassable stopping along the way to enjoy the views of the water.  There are a few things that stand out in my mind about Dutch Harbor: crab pots, fishing boats, bald eagles, and potholes.  The roads are rough and nearly all are lined with crab pots; often there are eagles perched on top of the crab pots; and the roads were filled with potholes that I seemed not to be able to miss. 




The sun ducked in and out for the rest of the afternoon.  We went along the water and stopped to check out some tide pools where four otters were frolicking nearby.  The tide pools were filled with chitons, mussels, barnacles, snails and different species of seaweed.  We enjoyed the vistas from this spot and then piled into the truck to continue down the road where we encountered the rental car guy changing someone’s tire.  That made me a little nervous but I figured I would just be a bit more careful of the potholes.  We came to a black sand beach with little waves gently rolling in and an outflow of water feeding into the bay.  I continued along until the road got narrow and windy and then I hit a snow embankment.  I had to back down this road with a sheer cliff on one side and a hillside with a drainage trench on the other.  Needless to say we made it and it was worth it because the view from the top was stunning.




There was a single lane road to the right which we decided to head up to see what was there.  About a mile up the road, we found horses!  They were grazing in a meadow with the rain falling and the wind building. 



Then we headed back towards the town of Unalaska.  There is not much in Unalaska.  The one infamous bar in town was recently shut down leaving only two bars, one at the hotel and one at the airport.  This is big news in a fishing town.  I drove up to the top of one of the hills to get an overview of the town.  The setting is beautiful and it must be spectacular in the summer.  It is mud season now so everything is on the grey/brown side.  There is a Greek Orthodox Church in Unalaska much like the one in St Paul.   


After a long day of exploring, we headed back to the hotel to wind down from the day and reflect on a great expedition.  Flying out of Dutch Harbor is supposed to be an experience so I have that to look forward to tomorrow afternoon.  



May 6- Arriving in Dutch Harbor



Our trip to Dutch Harbor was all but comfortable.  We had 45 knot winds with 8-10 foot swells.  Because of our course and the necessity of arriving in Dutch at 0900, the ride was particularly uncomfortable as we were in the trough most of the night.  Sleep was not really a possibility plus I was anxious not to miss pulling into Dutch Harbor as I heard it was quite beautiful.

I woke up to fog and rain so it would not be clear for our entrance into Dutch.  Regardless I wanted to be up on the bridge for the docking.  Entering the harbor was beautiful with snow-capped mountains jutting out of the sea.  The fog hung low on the mountains with rain falling as the pilot boat came to greet the ship for assistance in the docking.  An hour or so later, we were moored to the dock and the brow was going down.  We had arrived in port and could get back on dry land.  It was time to leave the ship that had become our home for the past few weeks and begin exploring Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. 


The USCG Cutter Healy moored in Dutch Harbor. 


May 5-Our Final Day at Sea: The Journey to Dutch Harbor


I woke up to calm seas and a stunning morning despite the weather forecast.  We are cruising at 15 knots between stations and have almost completed our entire survey which included over 200 sampling stations.  There have been passing whales, birds and occasional ice floes with seals and sea lions resting in the open sea.  It feels like the Bering Sea is smiling upon us as we cruise towards Dutch.  I am nearly finished packing and am hoping for a beautiful sunset for our final night at sea. 


A few hours later, our beautiful calm day turned into a rough Bering Sea evening.  We are in some of the biggest seas that we have seen since starting our voyage and it seems that it is building.  We had no wind this morning with 1-2 foot seas.  Within an hour, the seas have built and the wind is blowing at 22 knots.  The Bering Sea has shown up to say hello before we disembark.    


The Final Survey Stations



It is very early Monday morning here on the Healy and we are finishing up our survey of the 70m isobath and packing up to head to port.  Yesterday was filled with finishing up experiments, packing, and getting ready to hit open water.  A low pressure system that we have been watching to the south is heading north towards us so that could mean big seas for our transit to Dutch Harbor.  Because of the impending weather, much of the packing that would be done today had to be completed yesterday in order for everything to be secured for high seas.  I am in the process of packing up all of my cameras, chargers and other gear so that nothing gets damaged if the ship gets tossed about.  The Healy is a very smooth riding ship and we are only expecting 15-20 foot swells so it should not be too dramatic.  (I hope.)  

In the meantime, we are doing CTD casts every ten miles to complete our survey of the area.  A CTD is a conductivity temperature depth recorder and is the primary tool used by oceanographers to determine the physical parameters of sea water.  Sensors on the instrument measure temperature, salinity, and depth while bottles on the rosette structure collect water samples at various depths.  This water can then be tested for dissolved oxygen, organic and inorganic carbon, and other nutrients.  The CTD gives us information about the physical properties of the water column so that the biology (the animals) can be put into the context of their environment.  An invaluable tool, nearly all of the scientists on board sample the water from the CTD and/or use the physical data obtained by the hydro team. We have done 177 casts so far. One has been conducted at every station and along specific survey lines.

  The CTD, Conductivity Temperature Depth Recorder, comes up from 70m where it collected water samples every 10m on its way back to the surface.


Dr. Jeremy Mathis from University of Alaska collects water samples from the CTD.  He is looking at ocean acidification in the Arctic region.


John Casey from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences filters water from a CTD cast.  He is looking at carbon ratios in the water.  


We are scheduled to be finished with science and sampling sometime this evening when we will begin our transit to Dutch Harbor.  


The Ice Edge

 “The Ice Edge”


Today was our last day in the ice as we approached the ice edge.  The ice was broken up and seemed slushy with more substantial patches mixed in.  On those patches, seals, sea lions and birds rested.  The marine life in these waters is incredible.  We have been looking for whales and albatross here in the open water but have yet to see them.  Perhaps we will encounter them on our steam to Dutch Harbor beginning tomorrow afternoon.  

A herd of walrus lounge on an ice floe.  


The research on the cruise is winding down and most of the scientists are packing up their gear with the exception of the hydro team which is collecting water samples every ten miles along the 70m isobath on our way back to Dutch.  It is exciting to be back in open water and we are hoping for good weather for the remainder of the cruise.

Seal Pups on the ice.  The mother will head into the water as the ship passes and the pup will remain on the ice where their coat keeps them relatively camouflaged.


By far one of the most beautiful animals I have ever seen, a Ribbon Seal rests on the ice during a snow shower.


This Bearded Seal was sleeping on the ice as we passed on the ship.  He is molting so his color pattern was mottled and very interesting.


A Stellar Sea Lion was resting on a small piece of ice in mostly open water.




Another Spotted Seal pup looking curiously at the big red ship.  




Pelagic Bird Surveys

In my opinion, the luckiest researchers on the ship are the ornithologists, Kathy Kuletz and Liz Labunski from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who stay on the bridge from sunrise to sunset conducting bird surveys.  They don’t miss a bird, seal, walrus or beautiful vista as they identify and log all of the birds and mammals we encounter along the ship track.  The objective of their research is to contribute to the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database which has data starting in the 1950s!  By cataloguing what is in the Bering Sea at various times of year and under various ice conditions, they add valuable data to this tremendous resource for all researchers to use.  They have more than twenty cruises planned for this year and more in future years!  In addition to adding to the database, Kathy and Liz, as part of their BSIERP (Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Program) study, will correlate bird densities with the oceanographic and fisheries data collected on this cruise and the others they will sail on.


Kathy Kuletz, on the bridge, counting birds and observing the surroundings.



Liz Labunski, always with binoculars in hand, spots a pair of ivory gulls flying around the ship.  These birds are not commonly found in our survey area but farther north.  They blend in perfectly with the sea ice making them hard to follow. 


Liz has been aboard the USCGC Healy since the beginning of March and has observed that there has been low diversity of the bird species; perhaps because of the heavy ice the Bering Sea is experiencing this year.  The dominant species have been the Common Mure, Glaucous Gull, and Black-Legged Kittiwake.  In addition to these species, they have observed Black Guillemots, Slaty Backed Gulls, Ivory Gulls and a variety of other species.  It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how far from shore I can be and in seemingly freezing icy conditions, the ship always encounters birds.  Kathy and Liz use a specialized computer program which correlates the exact GPS location with their observations so that their distribution data is very accurate.   With this data and the oceanographic data collected on the cruise, they hope to gain an understanding of how large scale changes to the Bering Sea ecosystem may affect the populations and distribution of sea birds.

A Glaucous Gull, one of the more common species in the Bering Sea, follows the ship as we steam to the next station.


A small flock of Black-Legged Kittiwakes rests on a small chunk of ice along the ice edge.


A Glaucous-winged Gull soaring over the ice.  (Photo courtesy of Liz Labunski, US Fish and Wildlife Service)