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 13, 2018
Current location/conditions: Evening August 13 – northwest of Icy Point Alaska
Air temp 34F, sea depth 45 m , surface sea water temp 42F
Calling in the Drones
We have not seen another ship or any other sign of civilization since we left Nome, until today when NOAA scientists coordinated an at sea meeting between the Healy and two saildrones. Saildrones are remotely piloted sailboats that roam the seas without anyone on board. A given route is programmed for collecting data and changes to the sailboat’s survey area can be given directly by satellite through the Internet. After not seeing anything on the horizon for many days when the sail drone came into view it was quite eerie for me. It was like a random floating traffic cone dropped in the Arctic. I was amazed that it did not tip over. The saildrone has a relatively large keel (the fin part of the boat you cannot see under water) to help it from tipping over. The boat itself is about 7 m long (23 ft) x 5 m tall ( 16.3 ft) x 2.5 m wide (8.2 ft) with a traveling speed of 3 to 5 knots.
We collected surface water samples near the drone that will be tested to verify the accuracy of the drones reporting instruments.
The instruments on a saildrone measure weather conditions and ocean conditions and properties. The ocean data includes measurements for temperature, wave height, sea depth, currents, pH, salinity, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. Underwater microphones listen for marine mammals and an echosounder can keep track of fish that pass by. This is a wealth of information in an area of the world where there are so few ships to report back weather and sea observations to civilization.
Today’s Wildlife Sightings
We caught Thysanoessa inermis in the big Methot net today. I had to have Nissa Ferm, a fisheries biologist from Lynker Inc working under contract for NOAA, spell that word out for me. She wrote it down without hesitation. I found this amazing because even spell check doesn’t recognize those words. Nissa identifies many specimens we catch by eye and then verifies identification under a microscope. In general terms, Thysanoessa inermis is a type of organism often referred to as krill and is only about a centimeter in length.
Thysanoessa inermis is a vital member of the bottom of the food chain and an animal that eats phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is a microscopic plant that lives in the sunlit layers of the ocean and gets energy from the sun. As with all plants, this is done through the process of photosynthesis. In the case of phytoplankton being an underwater plant, it uses carbon dioxide dissolved in the water in its photosynthesis process. Thysanoessa inermis helps gather this energy in by eating the phytoplankton and then becomes the prey of much larger creatures in the marine food chain such as fish and whales.
Now and Looking Forward
Although it was short lived, we saw our first snow flurry today. It was incredible to see snowflakes in August! I am looking forward to more snowflakes and continued cool weather.