Roy Moffitt: Headed Home, Cruise Summary, August 25-26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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 25-26, 2018

Past – Current – Future locations/conditions:

72.5 North latitude: This past week we had 3-4 days of below freezing temperatures (27) with snow showers

Nome, Alaska: (8/25/18) Departing temperature 51 and cloudy

Contoocook/Hopkinton, NH: First day of school Tuesday (8/28/18)- Forecast 94 degrees Mostly Sunny (did I mention we don’t have air conditioning in New Hampshire?)

 

Ashore and I am headed back to NH

After completing our work in our most Northern point stop, we steamed back to Nome with just one more set of measurements on the way back, then had one final day of travel. It was sunny on the first day back but rougher seas than we had experienced thus far.

Rough Seas

Rough Seas

There were estimated 8-12 ft waves and some even larger that crashed over the Healy. To the right is a picture that I captured of the bow during this portion of our trip and the rocky seas.   Keep in mind that for most of the day we were lucky enough to be on the front deck of the boat! After the waves calmed we were in the fog for most of the way home so spotting more whales and seals was difficult.

 

 

Cruise Summary

In short, the trip was a success with the tremendous amount of data collected. This data will now be analyzed by scientists and students and I hope to see some scientific papers on this research in the future. Here is a list of what was done on this trip:

  • 31 mooring deployments and 24 mooring recoveries

(To review what the work involved in this see my blog: Moorings all day

  • 142 CTDs (that’s a lot of up and downs!)

(To review what a CTD see my blog: Measuring Ocean Properties with the CTD)

  • 51 Bongo samples

(To review what a bongo see my blog: Bring in the Bongos)

  • There were several Methot net tows.

To review what a Methot net tow is see my blog: Catching the Tiny Fish in the Big Sea

  • There was constant monitoring for birds and marine mammals with all sightings recorded. This experience was my personal favorite of the trip.

To review, see my blog: Walrus and Polar Bears on Ice

Van Veen cup of catch

Van Veen cup of catch

In addition to the above, there were many (I don’t have the exact count) Van Veen Grabs.  I did not get to explain these in a blog so here is a quick overview. Scientists that study the sea floor, including the top layer of soil called the benthic zone, use a VanVeen Grab Sampler pictured below. It is lowered to the sea floor and then the scissor-like arms close the catch capturing a hunk of the sea floor and everything that was living on it. Once on shore the catch is rinsed through a sieve until all the clay is rinsed away leaving just the organisms that were living there (such as mollusks, clams, starfish, worms and more) and a few stones.

van veen process

Van Veen Grab Sampler process

The scientists on the team also took HAPS core samples. I did not get to explain these in a blog so here is a quick overview. The HAPS corer, pictured below, is a gravity corer. This is a device that is lowered to the sea floor and then the weight of the device settles into the sea floor. When the HAPS corer is lifted, the bottom of the tube containing the cut into sediment closes, trapping the sample. These samples are then stored in clear tubes as shown in the picture. Scientists can examine sentiment layers to gain a better understanding of the sea floor at that location by studying the sedimentary layers.

 

All this above data has been copied and specimens are stored. The primary focus of this trip was to gather data and now the long process of analyzing and communicating the results will begin.

Cruise Reflections

This was such a great opportunity for me to meet so many different scientists and to both observe and assist the varied scientific studies occurring all at once. I needed all three weeks to get a handle on it all. I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned with my Maple Street School students back in New Hampshire and following the scientific studies as they move forward. Thanks to NOAA, Maple Street School, everyone else that allowed this learning opportunity to happen. It was a summer I will not forget experiencing a ship crash through ice in August! I leave you with some of the reflections of the birds I captured on those calmer days at sea.

The tufted puffin is not all that graceful at taking off. (below)

tufted puffin take off

The tufted puffin is not all that graceful at taking off.

The Common Murre (below)

The common murre

The common murre

Three male Eider Ducks

Three male eider ducks

Three male eider ducks

Roy Moffitt: Walrus and Polar Bears on Ice, August 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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 20, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening of August 20 – North west of Barrow Canyons, Beaufort Sea

Air temp 28F, sea depth 1914 m, surface sea water temp 31F (72.5N are furthest point north)

 

Walrus and Polar Bears on Ice

In the last couple of days we have seen two of the Arctic’s most notable mammals on the ice, the walrus and the polar bear.  Below is a picture that I took of a large group of walrus that floated near the ship on the evening of August 19th.

These walrus were just the beginning of an even larger group floating up on the ice.  Walrus like to rest on the ice in between feedings off the ocean floor.  Walrus will eat many items off the shallow sea floor, this location is about 60 meters deep.  Their favorite foods are bivalve mollusks, including clams.  The walrus will not break the clams’ shells but suck out the food with their powerful suction capabilities.  More terrifying is that the walrus will occasionally do the same to some sea birds and seals.  Walrus have relatively few teeth besides their tusks.  If they catch larger prey such as a bird or seal, they will suck out the good parts just like a clam.  Male walrus can grow up to be over 4,000 lbs.  Add these facts together and these cute animals become a little more frightening.

Walrus on Ice

Walrus resting on sea ice

Walrus are common in the northern Chukchi Sea this time of year and typically have been known to migrate south in the winter. In a science presentation held onboard our ship, marine mammal scientist, Catherine Berchok, shared acoustic data from her moorings that documented recordings of walrus in the northern Chukchi Sea in the winter. Previous surveys have not typically recorded a presence of walrus in this region as usually these mammals need a mix of ice and open water for feeding, though they can break through winter ice for breathing.  Scientists now have additional questions for further investigation. Why are these walrus here in the winter? Have the walrus changed to a seal diet?  These are questions that are still unanswered.

 

Counting Walrus

 

Walrus dot the seascape

Walrus dot the seascape

The bridge of USCGC Healy

The bridge of USCGC Healy

On the evening of August 17th, we came across a large group of walrus (see image above).  Scientists specializing in mammal and bird observation were estimating the amount of walrus we observed.  Each of the dark blotches on the ice in the fog were all groups of walrus.  The larger groups contained 50-80 walrus while the smaller ones were around 20.  Standing high up on the bridge with cameras and powerful binoculars mammal observers, Jessica Lindsay and Jennifer Stern, estimated the total number to be around 1200 walrus!

 

Finding Polar Bears

 

Polar Bear

A polar bear stands on sea ice

From high up on the ship’s bridge (shown in the above picture), mammal observers and bird observers armed with binoculars are always present in daylight hours when the ship is moving. Bird observer Charlie Wright has quite the trained eye for spotting birds and also polar bears.  A couple days ago he spotted a polar bear approximately 4-5 miles away.  While looking through binoculars, all I could see was a tuft of fur, and then only when I was told where to look.  To me it was like, finding a polar bear in a snowstorm.  Last night Charlie spotted another one. The polar bear pictured above was much closer, perhaps a mile away.  At first, we observed the bear curled up on the ice, but then it stood up and walked around.  The light was dim and the weather was foggy during my observation, but if you look closely at the picture you will see that the bear looks quite plump after a spring and summer of feeding.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Snow on Healy

Snow on the bow of the Healy

Normally I would focus on a bird, fish, or mammal in this section, but since I focused the entire blog on mammals I want to take this opportunity focus on snow sightings.  We are now actually in one of the drier places on earth. Even though it seems like it is always cloudy and foggy usually only small amounts of precipitation fall here.  Temperatures have been below freezing for a couple days and we have experienced some snow showers but they do not last for long.  Overnight it was enough to dust the Healy with snow as shown below.  Either way I cannot say I experienced snow in mid August before!

 

Now and Looking forward

We will be leaving the deep Arctic shortly and heading south through shallow seas towards our last study area.  Along the way the number of whales, walrus, and birds may increase along with the increased food supply from the shallow sea floor.

On a sad note that means we are leaving the ice and headed south.  So I leave the ice by sharing with you this picture.  Though it was dim light and a bit fuzzy I saw a walrus on its back soaking in the Arctic weather by its ice beach umbrella.

Walrus Ice Umbrella

Walrus relaxing on its back beneath an ice “umbrella”

Roy Moffitt: Measuring Ocean Properties with the CTD, August 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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 19, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening of August 19 – Edge of the Barrow Canyons in the Beaufort Sea

Air temp 32F, sea depth  185m , surface sea water temp  32F

 

Measuring Ocean Properties with the CTD

Scientists have a tendency to use acronyms to refer to select processes and measures.  The acronym heard the most, if not constant, on this trip has been CTD.  So here is my best attempt to give you a brief overview of what that “CTD” means and some of the measurements scientists are taking.

CTD Deployment

Deploying the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) probe, which is suspended in a metal “package” with Niskin water bottles

The acronym CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean water. This instrument, which takes a measurement 24 times a second, is attached to a large frame that includes big plastic bottles know as Niskin bottles. Nearly every time we stop the ship the CTD package (shown in the image above) is slowly lowered to just above the sea floor (or less depending upon the scientific interest at the site).   On the way back up, the Niskin bottles are filled with seawater from different pre-determined depths.  An electronic switch is triggered for each bottle at different depths so that the containers are sealed closed trapping water from that depth.  Once the package is back on board the scientists measure various properties of the water, including its salinity and oxygen content which will be used to verify and calibrate the electronic sensors on the CTD.

The three main measurements of the CTD represent fundamental characteristics of seawater. Conductivity (C) determines the salinity or the amount of salt in the water.  Electrical conductivity or how well an electric current can flow through the water gives an instant real time measurement of water salinity.  When combined with temperature (T) and depth (D) this gives a measure of the density of the water, and even tells us something about how the water is moving.

In addition to these physical properties, other sensors attached to the CTD provide information on the underwater marine life.  Phytoplankton is the base of the underwater food web and is an important indicator for the overall health of the local marine environment. Phytoplankton is too small to be seen individually without the aid of a microscope; however, scientists have found a way to test for its presence in water. Phytoplankton gets its energy, as all plants do, from the sun using the process of photosynthesis. One of the sensors on the CTD tests for chlorophyll fluorescence, a light re-emitted during the process of photosynthesis.  The amount of fluorescence measured can be used to determine the amount of living phytoplankton at different depths in the ocean.  Another sensor measures the levels of sunlight in the water.

The water samples from the Niskin bottles are used to determine many other properties of the water. One such property is dissolved carbon dioxide.  Just like the atmosphere, the ocean has its own carbon cycle.  We might hear of increased atmosphere CO2 levels associated with global warming.  Some of this CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface of the ocean and some of the carbon from the ocean is also exchanged into the atmosphere. This carbon exchange rate between the air and sea helps regulate the pH of the ocean.  Tracking dissolved carbon dioxide measurements over time gives scientists additional physical measurements to track the overall health of the marine environment.  Scientists have been seeing increasing amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean which can decrease pH levels making the ocean more acidic.  Small changes in the ocean pH can affect some marine life more than others upsetting the balance in the marine ecosystems.

 

The Exiting Pacific Ocean

At the moment scientists are doing even more CTD casts with a focus on ocean currents.   We are at the edge of the Chukchi Sea where the Pacific-origin water exits the shelf into the deep Arctic Ocean. Much of this happens at Barrow Canyon, which acts as a drain for the water to flow northward. Scientists are still uncertain what happens to the water after it leaves the canyon, so the survey we are doing now is designed to track water as it spreads seaward into the interior Arctic.

 

The Pressure of the Deep Sea

Most of the CTD casts during our time on the Healy have not exceeded 300 meters.  Lowering and raising the CTD from deeper depths takes a lot of precious time, and on this cruise the emphasis is on the upper part of the water column.  However, on August 18, we completed a cast 1000 meters deep.  In addition to collecting data, we were able to demonstrate the crushing effects of the deep ocean pressure by placing a net of styrofoam cups on the CTD to the depth of 1000 meters.  Styrofoam cups contain significant amounts of air. This is why the styrofoam cup is such a good insulator for a hot drink.  At 1000 meters deep, much of the air is crushed out of the cup. Since the pressure is equivalent around the cup, it is crushed in a uniform way causing the cup to shrink. Here are some images demonstrating the crushing power of the sea.  *Note: The big cup with no drawing is the original size.  This will be a great visual tool to bring back to the classroom.

shrunk cups

Styrofoam cups shrunken by the increased pressure of the deep ocean

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

A highlight today was not seeing but hearing.  I was able to listen in live on Beluga whales with the help of  deployed sonobuoys.  The sonobuoys  are floating hydrophones that transmit back what they hear with their underwater microphones.  Today they picked up the Beluga whales and their short songs.  I thought their calls sound like the songbirds from home and little did I know, this is why they are called the canaries of the sea!

 

Now and Looking forward

Tonight we saw 100s of Walruses mostly on the ice.  On Monday we will have a presentation about walrus from one of the scientists on board.  I look forward to sharing pictures and what I learned in the next blog.

Roy Moffitt: Viewing Sea Ice on an Icebreaker, August 17-18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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 17-18, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening of August 17 – North East of Point Barrow, Alaska

Air temp 27F, sea depth  60m , surface sea water temp 30.6F

 

Viewing Sea Ice on an Icebreaker

 

breaking the ice

USCGC Healy breaking through sea ice

The USCGS Healy was designed to break through ice and it has had that opportunity to do so on this trip.  Breaking into the ice is a first time experience for myself and for many of the science crew and USCG crew who are pictured above.  It’s an amazing experience.

We are now entering the edge of the polar ice cap in the Beaufort Sea.  The polar ice cap is an area of the world around the North Pole where the sea surface stays mostly frozen year round.  The sun angle here is low in the summer with endless nights in the winter.  This spring and summer, the ice off the shore of Barrow, Alaska was thicker than normal.  Thicker ice is multi-year ice where the freezing has exceeded the melting over successive years causing the ice to progressively thicken.  This thicker ice was not formed here; it drifted from farther north where it broke off the pack ice and traveled south to where we are now.

Drift Ice

Drift Ice

Pack ice is primarily a continuous piece of ice with little open water.  Pictured here and above with the Healy is drift ice.  The drift ice is broken up into large pieces due to warming seasonal temperatures and rough seas.  The drift ice in the second image has reconnected with a thin clear layer of ice made possible by the calm seas and cold temperatures that we experienced on August 17th.

Ridge Ice

Ridge Ice

The ice is not normally flat. Wind and internal forces cause the ice to collide and create ridges both above and below the water line. In the winter, the snow that falls can also drift into piles.  The image below shows where two pieces of ice once collided on a small scale.  When pack ice builds over time these processes create a variable landscape with protruding ice ridges.  When ice breaks off from the pack ice the thickest ice will take the longest to melt and will eventually float alone.  These pieces of ice are called “growlers”.

These have been amazing to observe popping up along the seascape.  The first one I saw had birds flying overhead in the distance. The birds were using the using the growler as a place to land. To me it looked like a big white whale.  Another piece looked like a sea dragon.  See these growlers in the images below.

 

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

 

Bearded Seal

Bearded Seal

Above is an image of a bearded seal seen on the morning of August 17. The water was very calm and the seal popped up right in the front of the bow of the ship.  Later in the evening I saw one sitting on a piece of drift ice.  Bearded seals like to eat clams and fish and are a favorite prey of the polar bear. Polar bears also live in the area we are sailing through now.  Both walrus and seals use ice for resting places.  In the spring, the bearded seal will use drift ice as a place to give birth to their young (called pups). Polar bears will then hunt on the ice for its prey.

 

Now and Looking forward

As Healy sails in this area with a daily satellite image showing ice coverage, it’s easy to forget what a dangerous place the Arctic can be for ships. When ice first appeared during this trip, we were north of Wainwright, Alaska–a location not far from a historic whaling disaster in 1871.  During August of 1871, the wind changed direction and blew pack ice towards the shore trapping 33 whaling ships.  All of the ships had to be abandoned and most were eventually crushed by the ice.   On the morning of August 17, 2018, we were also sailing between ice and land. There was an eerie calm sea with both fog and some larger pieces of ice.  At times the sun, ice, and fog created an illusion that appeared as if we could sail off the end of the world.  Below are some pictures that I thought captured the eerie calm Arctic of August 17th.

Picture below: Clouds on a calm sea off Healy‘s bow as we travel north. I call this picture “going off the edge of the world”.

the Edge of the World

“Going off the Edge of the World”

Picture below: Glaucous gull on the edge of a fog bow. A rainbow formed from a thin fog layer of suspended water droplets at the surface.  The calm Arctic Ocean feels like a mystical place.

Fogbow

Glaucous gull on the edge of a fog bow.

 

Roy Moffitt: Bring in the Bongos, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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 16, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 16 – Due west of Barrow, Alaska within sight of the coast

Air temp 35F, sea depth  40m , surface sea water temp 41

 

Bring in the Bongos

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

In a previous blog I showed the Methot net that catches very small (1-5cm) fish. However, if we want to catch sea life even smaller, we bring in something called a “bongo net.”  The bongo nets have very small openings–the larger nets are 500 micron (1/2 a millimeter) and the smaller nets are 150 micron.   In the picture below, you will see the back tail fin of the Healy with the bongo nets suspended from the hydraulic A-frame.  The A-frame supports a system of pulleys that are used to deploy and retrieve equipment (such as nets and moorings).

 

 

 

 

bongo canister

Organisms caught in the bongo net are washed down into this canister attached at the end.

The net looks and feels more like a tough nylon fabric, however, the water freely flows through the opening trapping the tiny organisms of the sea.  These organisms are pushed into the canister at the end of the net as shown in the picture on the right. While most of them are pushed into the canisters, many are stuck on the side of the net in a sticky goop.   The gelatin like goop is sprayed off the net with seawater by using a hose.  The process takes just a few minutes. Since I was the net holder and stretcher I got little wet!

 

 

Copepods in a Jar

Copepods in a Jar

The main organisms that we caught today were copepods. They are shown in the jar appearing pink.  Copepods are small crustaceans only 1-2mm in size that drift in the sea and feed on phytoplankton. Copepods are an important bottom of the food chain member of the ecosystem and serve as prey for fish, whales, and seabirds.

 

 

 

Flowmeter

Flowmeter suspended at the top of a bongo net

On the front of each net there is a flow meter as shown in the picture. It looks like a little torpedo with a propeller.  When the net trawls behind the ship, water flows through the net.  The amount of water that passes through the net can be calculated.  Using this calculation and the amount of organisms in the net, scientists can calculate the density of living microorganisms at a certain heights in the water column.  With annual samples scientists will be able to determine any changes over time including changes to the overall health of the regional ecosystem.  Today’s samples will also be sent out to a lab for further analysis.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Today I had unique experience– listening to wildlife.  This was a highlight.  Marine mammal acoustic scientists, Katherine Berchok and Stephanie Grassia, released an acoustic buoy this afternoon.  On top of the ship they put up an antennae and listened in for whales and walrus.  They were able to hear the constant underwater chatter between walruses.   As I wore the headphones and listened in, I was in awe at the grumbles and the ping sounds the animals were making back and forth underwater.  While we don’t know what the walrus were communicating back and forth to each other, to eavesdrop on these conversations, miles away, in real-time, was a pretty special experience.

 

Now and Looking forward

We did not see any ice today. I am looking forward to getting out of the fog and rain and returning back to the ice in the coming days.

Roy Moffitt: Life on a LEGO, August 14-15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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 14-15, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 15 – North- Northwest of Wainwright, Alaska

Air temp 35F, sea depth  47m , surface sea water temp 32.2F

 

Life on a LEGO

The LEGO is a nickname given to the large green plastic pallet-like mooring. Their retrieval from the sea floor is pictured here.  This equipment was retrieved after being deployed for a year on the sea floor in about 40 meters of water.  The mooring is called a DAFT (Direction Acoustic Fish Tracker).  On the DAFT there are instruments that measure ocean temperature, salinity, and pressure.  The primary instrument is an echo sounder that records any schools of fish that may pass overhead.

Lego Retrieval

Retrieval of the “Lego,” a large plastic mooring that has spent the past year collecting data at the ocean bottom

What the DAFT was not designed to do, but does well, is catch sea life. The fiberglass pallet has 1 1/2″ square holes in it that allow water to pass through on retrieval and it also catches sea life as if it were a net. Yesterday we pulled two of these “Legos” from the sea and they were covered with marine life. The most remarkable sight were the large blue king crabs, (around half dozen on one pallet). Here I am holding one of the bigger ones– such awesome looking creatures!

Roy and crab

TAS Roy Moffitt holding a blue king crab

On the smaller size, we found a hermit crab (shown here hiding in a shell).

Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

Also on board were many sea stars. Most were the Brittle Stars. This is the picture of the sea star with the small legs. I think they are called the Brittle Stars because when I tried to gently remove them from the mooring, sadly their legs kept breaking off. There were dozens of these on the mooring.

Sun Star

Sun Star

There was another sea star with nine legs. It was very pretty and looks like a drawing of the sun. Not surprising, I found out this one is called the “Sun Star.”

Some not-so-pretty items on the moorings I like to call “mooring acne” are called tunicates. These are filter feeders and come in many different forms.

The one on my hand looks like a giant pimple and when you try to take it off the mooring it squirts you in the face. Not surprisingly this tunicate is called the “Sea Squirt.”

 

Think about it…

All of the life on the Lego mooring was sent back to the sea to hopefully find a new home.  The Lego pallet mooring mentioned above is not large, about 4 ft by 6ft.  The mooring in this story was only in the ocean one year and became the home of the above mentioned marine animals – crabs, sea stars, tunicates, and also thousands of barnacles!  One tiny piece of the sea floor contained all this life! Imagine how rich in life the entire unseen ecosystem is in the Chukchi Sea!

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

For the last two days, I saw several walruses. Pictured below is one that popped up by a piece of ice.   Teaser – look for a future blog focusing on walrus and their habitat.

Walrus by ice

A walrus pops its head up above water near a piece of ice

 

Now and Looking forward

We are now seeing small bands of pack ice and individual pieces of ice called “growlers”.   Sea ice has not interrupted science operations, as of today. There is plenty of open water so far. We should see ice of different concentrations for the rest of the trip as we continue to head north.  Look for future pictures and some of the science on sea ice coming soon. For now here are a couple pictures from August 15.

Growlers in fog

“Growlers” – the view looking from the deck of USCGC Healy down into the fog

Walrus broken ice

Another view of the walrus, swimming near broken up ice

 

Roy Moffitt: Calling in the Drones, August 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

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.

Saildrone on the ocean

The saildrone is a remotely piloted sailboat that contains many scientific instruments.

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, a species of krill

Thysanoessa inermis, a species of krill

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. ​