NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – 25, 2018
Mission: Healy 1801 – Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory
Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)
Date: August 12, 2018
Current location/conditions: mid day August 12 Northwest of Icy Point Alaska
Air temp 34F, sea depth 43 m , surface sea water temp 43F
Moorings all day
Moorings are essentially anything left tied to an anchor at sea. In this case, moorings hold many different types of scientific instruments that have been anchored at sea for a year. We are only here in the Arctic for a couple weeks. In order to monitor the ocean when people are not here, many different kinds of underwater instruments that have been designed to record ocean conditions are left under the ocean attached to moorings. To service these moorings they must be retrieved. This is one of the main tasks of this trip. When we arrive at a mooring station, one would not know it as the mooring is underneath the ocean, hidden from sight. A audio signal is sent to the underwater release and a buoy (a large yellow float) is deployed. Then, the Coast Guard steps into action. This picture below shows a Coast Guard crew fishing for a buoy in a not-so-calm sea. When they hook the buoy they will tie it to a rope that is hooked into the Healy‘s on board winch. The winch will pull in the buoy as the rope is wrapped around a turning spool.
When the buoys and attached instruments come out of the ocean they can be covered with sea life, such as barnacles which you may be able to see as small white shell looking creatures in the picture below. The buoy in the picture is mostly covered in bryozoans. Although it looks like seaweed, bryozoans are not plants, but tiny sea filtering animals chained together. Either way it has got to go. This was my job today. I washed all the buoys and cleaned the instruments. For the sensitive parts on the instruments, this meant using a sponge and toothbrush. For the rest of the instrument, I used a power washer.
Once this instrument is in the science lab, the sound recorder (as mentioned in the August 8th blog post) was taken apart and thoroughly cleaned. It will be reused at another station during this trip if all is functioning well. In the next picture, this equipment is now shown cleaned and sitting in the lab. Much of the cleaning was done with toothbrushes and a wire brush. So another important role for a scientist is spending a lot of time cleaning equipment! Not exactly glorious!
The Mustang Suit
In my life, I have power washed many things, but aboard the Healy in the Arctic, for safety reasons, I have to wear a Mustang suit. Essentially the Mustang is an oversized orange snowsuit designed to save a life if anyone falls overboard into the near freezing Arctic waters. It has a light beacon and a whistle attached for rescuers to find you and it is designed to keep body heat in for a longer amount of time than plain clothes. This is to try to keep anyone from immediately getting hypothermia and hopefully provide the additional few minutes it would take to rescue a man overboard. I prefer to call the Mustang a big fluffy orange sweat suit– even though it was 34 degrees out I was sweating in it!
Here I am, in this picture, looking like an orange Pillsbury doughboy with fellow New Hampshire resident Anthony Lyons. Anthony is from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and is a Research Professor at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering. Anthony is retrieving and deploying moorings with passive acoustic devices that record animal sounds and rain from under the ice. The instruments also measure the density of plankton and fish in the water, both food sources for marine animals. With data over time, changes in density of these populations with changes of ice cover can be found.
Today’s Wildlife Sightings
Sometimes life clings on to the moorings. These basking starfish were attached to a mooring we pulled in yesterday. Then, the next picture is an Anemone curled up in a ball that was also attached to another mooring.
Now and Looking Forward
Air temperature has dropped to 34 degrees F, and although the surface sea temperature is 43, lower in the water column the temperatures are actually near or below freezing. It looks like we may see some pieces of ice as soon as next mooring stations tomorrow. Those changing conditions will have to be monitored for mooring retrieval, as a buoy cannot pop up through ice!