Tag Archives: oceanography

October 11: BS3 Mooring


The BS3 Mooring coming down the Port side of the ship after being released from its anchor


After continuing our sampling through the night, it was time to recover the BS3 mooring in the waters northeast of Barrow.  The recovery of the mooring is quite an impressive process.  This mooring was deployed on last year’s cruise and has been taking measurements of the water column for the past year creating an incredible data set that is key to understanding the Arctic shelf ecosystem.  The instruments on the mooring have been collecting various measurements including temperature, salinity, nitrate, pCO2, and pH.


Everyone is anxious to get back to the lab to look at the data collected from these instruments and create a picture of what the water column looked like for the past year, from the open water of the fall through the ice-covered winter through the spring and summer melt until now.  The changing ocean conditions affect the measurements tremendously as do currents and upwellings that occur seasonally in this area.  By understanding these variables, the scientists can better understand what will happen when there is less ice in the future due to the warming climate.


Preparing the snowy deck for the recovery of the mooring


The small boat hooks a line from the boat onto the buoy


The first part of the mooring coming on board. The pCO2 censor is on the chain behind.


Successful recovery of the mooring!


Dr. Jeremy Mathis with his pCO2 censor from the mooring…excited to see the data!


The mooring will be re-deployed in the coming days to collect data for the next year.


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.  



April 23: ICE!!!

As we made our way through water sampling stations, we all anticipated the approaching ice edge.  We were heading north so it was just a matter of time and we all hoped that we would come to it during the day.  The day was cold and started out calm and cloudy but by midday the sun was shining although it was still quite chilly and the wind began to pick up.  There were gulls and other small birds around the ship as we cruised north at 15 knots.  The water temperature was dropping indicating that we were getting close to the ice.  

Shortly after dinner, the bridge made an announcement over the pipes (loudspeaker) that the Healy would be in ice in ten minutes.  I quickly gathered up my cameras and headed out on deck and up to the bridge to see the approaching ice edge.  It was beautiful with the sun shining.  Large and small pieces of ice bobbed in the water.  The ship cruised right through and it was quite beautiful.  We did some sampling and then turned south and out of the ice to follow our research transect.  We should return to the ice sometime tomorrow.  Hopefully the sun will still be shining and we will get into thicker ice.  


The Multi-Core Team – Studying the Dynamics of the Sea Floor

I have spent the past two days learning about the multi-core, a state of the art benthic (sea floor) sampling device.  The multi-core is unique in its ability to preserve the sediment water interface while sampling.  This is a critical zone for the exchange solutes between the bottom and the water.  Nutrients, dissolved gases, and other elements collect in the bottom sediments and their interaction with the water above is one important element of the research being conducted by the researchers on this cruise. 

Paul Walczak, the coring guru, prepares the multi-core for deployment. 

Dr. David Shull from Western Washington University and Dr. Al Devol from the University of Washington lead the team along with their graduate students Emily Davenport and Heather Whitney.  They are studying how the sea ice and its melting are affecting the processes on the sea floor, specifically where the organic matter accumulates and the effects that the burrowing animals, such as tube worms and clams, have on the nutrient supply to the overlying water.  They use the multi-core instrument to collect their samples which they then analyze to get profiles of nutrients within the layers of the sediment.  They measure nitrate, nitrite, ammonium and nitrogen gas, key components of the nitrogen cycle, to learn about the nitrogen levels in the sediment along with oxygen, silicate, phosphate and radon which Dr. Shull refers to as the “magic gas.” 

By collecting the information about the gases and nutrients, the researchers hope to unravel the mystery of how the ice melt and presence of more organic matter in the water column affects what is on the sea floor.  Will a larger food supply from increased ice melt and the following increase in mud-dwelling organisms increase or decrease the amount of nitrogen in the water just about the sea floor?  These are the big questions that this group of scientists are trying to answer.  

Why is this important?  The Bering Sea has a remarkably productive benthic system. From clams and tubeworms to King Crab and Pollock, the exchange of nutrients from the bottom to the waters above is a key component to the food web.  It is important to understand what are the limiting nutrients in the Bering Sea and how they affect ecosystem structure.  Looking at what is in the water column and what ends up on the bottom and how it interacts with the sediments and its eventual return to the water column is of vital importance to our understanding of exactly what is happening here.  In our world of climate change, the effects that more or less ice will have on the system is of vital importance to gaining insight into what the consequences of changes in the ice will have on the entire system in the future. 

Bringing the multi-core back on board after collecting sediment cores at 3500 meters below. The winch and A-frame do most of the work but the crew on deck must guide it in gently to not disturb the samples or damage the instrument.

The multi-core can take up to eight samples each deployment.  A good sample has clear water on top of the sediment and the interface between the sediment and the water should be undisturbed.


Dave Shull examines a core.  This is a good sample as the water above the sediment is clear.

Heather Whitney takes samples from the core to process later.  The core is carefully sliced in order to sample the various layers of the sediment.

Emily Davenport gets ready to extrude the core from the sampling container in order to begin sampling. 

A core is sampled for oxygen using a specialized probe that records data and gives a profile of oxygen concentration in the core. 


April 22- Sediment Traps and Science Meeting

We are still in open water working at a deep station.  The weather is beautiful with calm seas and bright sunshine.  Yesterday some of the scientists deployed a floating sediment trap that drifts in the sea for about 24 hours until they go and retrieve it.  After completing the multi-cores, we head off to find and recover the sediment trap.  This involves a small boat being launched over the side and an elaborate plan to get the instrument back on deck with samples intact.  The weather was on our side for this retrieval and it went off without a hitch.  However, I would not have wanted to be in the small boat which was getting tossed around in the big seas.  

“Retrieving the Sediment Trap”

The evening continued to be beautiful with flocks of gulls and other small birds flying around the ship. Then it was time for the science meeting to determine where and what we were going to do next.  

All of the scientists convened in the science lounge to discuss the plan.  Most of the transect work and time specific samples had already been collected and we had a few days to work with before we needed to head up to our next definite sample site so the question of what all of the scientists wanted to do was the topic of the meeting.  Carin Ashjian, the chief scientist, began by going over what we had accomplished on the cruise in the past few days and then outlined the options for the next few days.  After compiling the input of all of the principal investigators, it was decided to look for an area of production where there could be a lot of phytoplankton and then head north to look for the ice edge.  

We should get into the ice sometime tomorrow evening so I am very excited as it has been a few years since I have been in a frozen ocean.  


Listen and Watch Some Science on May 1

One of the scientists on board is conducting a “webinar” on May 1 at 2:45 EDT for anyone who is interested in hearing and seeing more about the science being conducted on the cruise.  Here is some more of the information about the event.  Emily Davenport, a member of the Multi-core team, is coordinating it.  Hopefully all can join in to learn about the great science.
Participate in Live from IPY events! 
Join us for a real-time, Internet “webinar” on 1 May 2008 with Emily Davenport and the research team in the Bering Sea.

Event starts at 10:45AM Alaska Daylight Time [8:45AM HDT, 11:45AM PDT, 12:45PM MDT, 1:45PM CDT, 2:45PM EDT]. The event will last about 1 hour and participants will get a chance to hear about the research being conducted as well as interact with researchers and Emily Davenport.

These events are FREE to join.  For more information and to register for this “Live from IPY” event, go to: http://www.polartrec.com/live-from-ipy/registration


April 22- Deep Station

We spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening transiting to our next station where we arrived around midnight.  It is a deep station in about 3500 meters of water so all of the sampling times are long as the instruments make their way through the water column. Sampling has continued into the morning with two deep multi-cores happening.  Once the second multi-core is up, we will transit to our next station, also a deep station before heading north and hopefully back into the ice.



As is customary on research ships when working in a deep-water area, all of the researchers and crew decorated styrofoam cups to send down on the instruments to the depths of the Bering Sea where the pressure is so great that the cups compress dramatically.  It is the best souvenir to bring home from a research cruise.  I write the date, cruise number, location, and a few other details on my cup and put it with the other cups to send to the bottom of the sea. 




I am looking forward to adding these to my collection.