On October 27, the snow-dusted peaks of Dutch Harbor appeared in the distance and I knew that the expedition was coming to a close. Cruising through the Southern Bering Sea, there were many birds including fulmars, albatross and a variety of gulls soaring indicating that we were back in the prolific waters of the Bering Sea. The abundance of fishing vessels on the radar indicated that we were in the midst of crab fishing season and that we were nearing “civilization.” Until the 26th when we entered the crab fishing grounds, there were no other vessels in any proximity to the Healy for weeks. As we pulled into Dutch Harbor, I was struck by the beauty of the Aleutians with mountains rising out of the water protecting this vital Alaskan port. It is a truly beautiful place with eagles soaring and otters frolicking. The sun came out illuminating the mountains. After passing Priest Rock, we turned and could see the low buildings of Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. Upon completing a successful mission, we returned to port and felt dry land for the first time in four weeks.
The view from the airport parking lot before flying home…Goodbye Dutch Harbor…
After a four-day steam through big stormy seas, we are finally approaching Dutch Harbor and should arrive the afternoon of the 27th. I am using this time to finish up some work and pack up all of my equipment. All of the scientists are also packing and the lab is beginning to look barren as we are all getting ready to head home.
It is nice to be back in the Bering Sea with abundant birds flying by the ship. In the Arctic Ocean, I was amazed by the dearth of bird life which only highlighted how extreme and harsh the conditions are so far north, but once we passed through the Bering Strait, the bird life became much more abundant.
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…
The Bering Sea with Dutch Harbor in the distance
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!
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