Phil Moorhouse: The Rest of the Story, September 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27, 2019 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 22, 2019


Weather Data from Richmond, Virginia

Latitude: 37 44.36 N
Longitude: 77 58.26 W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: 195 degrees
Air Temperature: 31 C
Barometric Pressure: 1018 mBar
Sky:  Clear

Conclusion

Wow, it’s hard to believe that my time on the waters of Alaska aboard the Oscar Dyson are over.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I just hope that I can instill in my students the idea that all kinds of things are possible when you follow your interests. 

It has taken me several days to reacclimatize to life on land.  Standing in front of my class, I have caught myself swaying.  It also took several days to readjust my sleep schedule.  (I don’t get rocked to sleep anymore and my hours are completely different.)

There were so many things I will miss and never forget: all of the unique experiences and sights I got to see, starting with my side trip to Barrow and swimming in the Arctic Ocean before the start of the expedition, getting to explore some of Kodiak before we left port, all of the open sea and species that were part of the random samples, the little coves we snuck into when storms were approaching, getting a “close-up” of the Pavlof volcano, and getting to explore the native land around Dutch Harbor where we were able to watch Salmon spawning and Bald Eagles doing their thing. 

It was also interesting talking to and learning from the ship crew.  There are some interesting stories there about how they got to NOAA and what they have experienced since then.

At the top of the list though would have to be the connections I made with the scientists I spent almost three weeks with.  Being able to go out into the field with them and talking about what they have seen and learned over years of research has really reenergized my love for science in general.  Starting my shift looking forward to seeing what each Bongo station would bring up or what each trawl would bring to the sorting table, made for an expedition that went much too quickly.  It was interesting listening to my fellow scientists comparing how the numbers and ages of pollock caught at the various stations compared to what they had found in the Spring and in previous years. 

airport meal
The science crew all had the chance for one last meal together at the Anchorage airport before parting ways. I am very thankful for being accepted so well and for everything I have learned.

Overall, this has been an experience I will never forget.  I have learned so much about Alaska, the ocean, marine species, global warming, and scientific technology.  My time as a Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson is something I will never forget and hope I can pass the excitement and experiences on to my students.

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: Observing Whales Today and for the Next Year, August 8, 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 8, 2018

Current location:/conditions Evening of August 8th: Near King Island, AK the most southern part of the trip – Air temp 49F, sea depth 50 ft, surface water temp 52F

 

Mammal and Bird Observations

Up on the observation deck formal bird and mammal observations are taking place for the extent of the trip. When recording sighting of birds, observers observe an approximate 300m square area in the front of the ship.  Any seabird that flies or swims through that zone is counted and recorded. Doing these observations over time can give approximations on bird population trends. Here is a picture I took of a Crested Auklet who floated close by to the ship. Crested Auklets eat primarily plankton and breed in the number of millions in nearby islands of the Bering Sea.

Crested Auklet

Crested Auklet

The same can be done for whales. In this case the visible range is used.  With the low angle sunlight, it is easy to see the whale spout from a whale on the horizon, however closer range views of whales is needed for identification. That’s most effectively done on the long range by taking pictures of the whale’s tail.  Here is a picture I took today of a gray whale’s tail.

Gray Whale tail

Gray Whale’s tail

Gray whales frequent the area for its shallow sea and dive to the bottom to eat bottom dwelling sea life such as crustaceans by scooping up the bottom of the sea and filtering out the seabed leaving the food.  But how do you observe whales when you are not in the Arctic?  You eavesdrop on them…..

 

Observing whales acoustically for the next year.

Today I was observing with help of binoculars and a camera to see whales that were in view of the ship.  But how do you know if a whale visited when you where gone?  Record their voices.

Primary investigator Katherine Berchok assisted by Stephanie Grassia are retrieving and replacing acoustic (sound) monitoring devices suspended above the sea floor.  Today one of these instruments that was placed on the sea floor a year ago is now being retrieved.  Within the retrieved equipment is a recording of acoustics that have occurred in the last year.  The sound waves were recorded in a pattern of 80 minutes every 5 hours for an entire year.  That is a lot to listen to, so recordings will go through processing through different software to see if any sound wave patterns are close to those created by different whale species.  Though this data cannot give an accurate count of how many whales are in an area at a particular time, it does allow scientist to verify what species of whales and also walruses visit the study area.

Acoustic Mooring

Acoustic Mooring

This picture here shows the new underwater microphone or hydrophone (the white tube) being prepared to be lowered into the sea to be retrieved next year.  Once lowered in the area pictured here it will be covered in about 30 meters of ocean.  So how will it be found next year?   There is transmitter (the small gray tube) that will allow scientist to find it, send a signal and have the instruments released from the weight and float to the surface.  This year’s instrument will be cleaned up and reused next year.

 

Looking forward

As we move northward the species of mammals (whales, walruses) and birds being observed will change, look for updates in the coming weeks! ​

Caroline Singler, August 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy
Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean
Date of Post: 31 August 2010

Back to School – Tuesday 31 August 2010

Midnight in the Arctic Ocean

Midnight in the Arctic Ocean

Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 31 August 2010 Time of Day: 00:00 (12:00 a.m. local time); 07: UTC
Latitude: 76 º 37.6 ‘ N Longitude: 138 º 31.2 ‘ W
Ship Speed: 8.7 knots Heading: 197 º (SSW)
Air Temperature: 0.19 ºC/ 32.3 ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1009.0 mb
Humidity: 98.8 %
Winds: 6.3 knots W Wind Chill: -5.3 ºC/ 22.4 ºF
Sea Temperature: -0.3 ºC Salinity: 25.32 PSU
Water Depth: 3666.9 m
This is a special message for my new Earth Science students, members of the class of 2014 who are participating in 9th Grade Orientation at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School today. I am sorry that I cannot be there with you. I am excited to be your teacher this year – you are important to me, and I look forward to getting to know you when I return. You are in the caring and capable hands of Mrs. Iskandar during my absence. Please be respectful of her and thank her for agreeing to cover my classes for the next week in addition to her normal responsibilities in the Science Department.
As you can see, I am a bit too far north to get there on time. I am currently in the Arctic Ocean on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. The ship icon on the map below shows where I was at midnight on 31 August, which was 3 a.m. in Massachusetts. The red lines on the map show different places that we have been during the last month.

Map of Locations

Map of Locations

We left Dutch Harbor, Alaska (pictured on the right) on Monday 2 August, cruised North through the Bering Sea, and have been in the region of the Arctic known as the Beaufort Sea and the Canada Basin for the last four weeks. I am here participating in an oceanography research expedition as a representative of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. The research mission is called the Extended Continental Shelf Project. It is an international, multiyear effort between the United States and Canada to map the seafloor and the subsurface in the Arctic Ocean off the coasts of the two countries. Healy (pictured on right) and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St. Laurentare both icebreaker ships designed specifically for scientific expeditions in the polar regions. We made it as far north as 82.5º North and are now moving south again. There is still ice around us now, but not as much as we saw just a few days ago. I have been taking a lot of pictures, and I can’t wait to share them with you. Here are just a few from the last couple of days.

USCGS Cutter Healy

USCGS Cutter Healy

Arctic ocean at night

Arctic ocean at night

Louis at Sunset

Louis at Sunset

A week from now, on Monday, 6 September, we will leave the Healy by helicopter at Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. I expect to be back at school on Friday, 10 September.

Ice

Ice

Breaking Ice

Breaking Ice

Before then, I hope you will take some time to look through my blog and read about some of the things I have seen and done. Then, I would appreciate it if you would send me a short email at this address: caroline.singler@healy.polarscience.net Introduce yourself to me and then either make a comment or ask a question about the Arctic, either based on something you read in my blog or just something you wonder about and would like to know. I will do my best to answer all your questions, and I will give you an extra credit homework grade for your effort.

Enjoy your first week of high school. Don’t get too overwhelmed by the size of the building or the crazy way the class schedule works. You will get used to it in no time. Have fun.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. I will see you soon.
Miss Singler

Caroline Singler, August 29-31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean
Date of Post: 31 August 2010

Under the Seafloor

Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 29 August 2010
Time of Day: 23:15 (11:15 p.m. local time); 06:15 UTC
Latitude: 79º 40.2’ N Longitude: 130º 26.2’ W
Ship Speed: 9.4 knots Heading: 254º (SW)
Air Temperature: 0.6ºC / 33.0ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1008.2 mb Humidity: 92.8 %
Winds: 10.1 knots SSW Wind Chill: -6.3ºC/20.8ºF
Sea Temperature: -1.4ºC Salinity: 27.78 PSU
Water Depth: 3505.8 m
Date: 30 August 2010 Time of Day: 22:00 (10:00 p.m. local time); 05:00 UTC
Latitude: 76º 52.8’ N Longitude: 137º 35.8’ W
Ship Speed: 9.8 knots Heading: 200.9º (SW)
Air Temperature: -0.3ºC
Barometric Pressure: 1008.5 mb Humidity: 99%
Winds: 3.2 knots W
Sea Temperature: -0.5ºC Salinity: 25.8 PSU
Water Depth:3675 mDate: 31 August 2010 Time of Day: 22:25 (10:25 p.m. local time); 05:25 UTC
Latitude: 74º 43.9’ N Longitude: 137º 26.1’ W
Ship Speed: 8.5 knots Heading: 124.8º (SE)
Air Temperature: 1.35ºC / 34.42ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1009.2 mb Humidity: 91.7%
Winds: 10.8 knots NNW Wind Chill: -4.1ºC/25.1ºF
Sea Temperature: -0.5ºC Salinity: 24.33 PSU
Water Depth:3418.4 m

Me on the deck

Me on the deck

Science and Technology Log
Most of the geology on this cruise is geophysics – we employ remote sensing techniques to generate computer images of the seafloor without direct observation. Bathymetric tools like the multibeam sonar system are valuable for oceanographers because it removes the veneer of the ocean water and reveals the shape of the underlying seafloor. It also makes a seafloor map look like a game of Candy Land – except when we are mapping in ice and it looks more like Pick Up Sticks. (One night on watch, my partner and I talked about how after a while you start to think of the seafloor as if it were colored like a rainbow!) Subbottom seismic profiles go even deeper and provide clues about the sediment and rock below the seafloor, and a trained geophysicist can read the signature reflections of different materials and make strong inferences about the subsurface. But for geologists like me, the highlight is sampling — bringing pieces of the seafloor above sea level and directly observing what is there. One reason that I was excited to join this cruise was because I visited the core library at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) with the Lincoln-Sudbury NOSB team two years ago. The realization of how important such samples are to our understanding of the geological and climatological history of the earth made me eager to be present when a core was taken from the seafloor.

On a bathymetric survey expedition like this, opportunities to stop the ship for an extended period of time are few and far between, but we have had a few windows of opportunity for seafloor sampling. USGS geologists Brian Edwards and Andy Stevenson, armed with bathymetric maps and subbottom profiles from previous surveys, came on the cruise with several potential sampling targets in mind. USGS engineering technicians Jenny White and Pete dal Ferro are ready at a moment’s notice to get to work assisted by Healy’s team of marine science technicians (MSTs).

Coring the seafloor is a lot different from coring on land. The work site is the fantail (stern) of ship in the Arctic Ocean. The target is a point on the seafloor thousands of meters below, guided only by bathymetry and the ship’s navigation system. It takes more than an hour on average to lower the coring equipment on cables to the seafloor, and the water around us is moving with the current, requiring great skill on the part of the Coast Guard crew to hold station – keep the ship in a steady position – for many hours during sampling operations. Add in some wind, cold temperatures, and sometimes ice floes moving around the ship, and it’s easy to see why everyone’s energy level is cranked up a notch when coring operations are the plan of the day.

Coring Equipment

Coring Equipment

So far, we have collected core samples at three locations. A core is a long cylindrical section of seafloor. A core provides a relatively undisturbed sample of a vertical section of seafloor, preserving sediments in their natural layers with internal structures more or less intact. This provides a vertical timeline of deposition on the seafloor – the sediment at the bottom of the core represents the oldest material and the sediment at the top is the youngest. Core samples provide “ground truth” that supports the findings of remote sensing techniques like subbottom profiling. They allow scientists to “read” the history of the area. Geologists analyze the size and composition of sediment and infer depositional processes and possible sediment sources. Oceanographers and climatologists use information from the sediment and the microfossils they may contain to learn how the ocean and atmosphere has changed over time with respect to physical parameters such as water temperature and salinity.

Gravity Core on the deck

Gravity Core on the deck

We have employed two coring techniques on this core – gravity coring and piston coring. A gravity core uses a 2,000 pound weight attached to a 10-foot section of pipe. The pipe is lowered by cables and winches to the seafloor and uses the force of gravity pulling on the weight to drive it into the subsurface. A piston core is a variation on the gravity core that allows for deeper sampling by stringing together multiple sections of pipe. The main core barrel is fitted with a retractable piston in the top of the tube and the same 2,000 pound weight attached. A separate smaller coring apparatus is connected to the top of the piston core barrel by cables and a trigger arm. It hangs beside the piston core barrel, and the entireapparatus is lowered together to the seafloor. The trigger core reaches the bottom first and penetrates the surface sediments. As it falls, it triggers the mechanism at the top of the piston core which freefalls into the sediment. As the piston retracts inside the core barrel, it creates suction inside the barrel that helps pull the sediment into the core barrel and allows for collection of a longer, deeper, and potentially less disturbed sample than a gravity core.

Piston Core Apparatus

Piston Core Apparatus

Attaching Trigger Core

Attaching Trigger Core

The steel pipes used for coring are lined with plastic liners. At the end of the core barrel is a core cutter and a core catcher with metal teeth that fits into the bottom of the core barrel and holds the core in the barrel. When the core is retrieved, grab samples are collected from the core cutter and core catcher. (In the photo on the right, USGS scientists Brian Edwards and Andy Stevenson collect samples from a gravity core.) The outside of the core barrel is scraped to provide a sample that can be examined for microfauna (remains of microscopic organisms) in the sediment. The plastic liner is removed from the core barrel, starting at the bottom of the core, and is cut into sections. In this case, the preferred section length is 150 centimeters because that is the size of the containers in which the core will be stored back in the laboratory. Each section is measured, capped, sealed, and carefully labeled to indicate the top of the section and the core location. (In the photo on the bottom right, USGS scientists Brian Edwards, Andy Stevenson, and Helen Gibbons measure and cut the core sleeve from a piston core.) All information is recorded on a log in the field. The core sections are then stored horizontally in a specially built box that is kept in a refrigerator on the ship. The cores will be transported back to the USGS laboratory in California after the cruise where they will be cut, examined and logged, and then carefully stored for future reference.

Gravity Core Sample

Core Catcher and Cutter

Core Catcher and Cutter

Measuring cutting core

Measuring cutting core

Sometimes a core contains a real surprise. When the piston core from our first locationcame up on deck, we saw a white crystalline substance in the core cutter and catcher. It was gas hydrate. (Photo courtesy of Helen Gibbons, USGS Scientist.) Water molecules under high pressure may start to solidify at temperatures above the normal freezing point of water, crystallizing into a solid form of water with an internal structure that contains larger open spaces than typical ice crystals. Normally, these crystals are very unstable and will continue to cool and form the more stable molecule we know as ice. However, gases present in the environment may become incorporated into the open spaces within the solid water molecules and form a gas hydrate. This is a physical combination – there is no chemical bonding between the two – but it allows the solid to remain stable as long as it remains in a high pressure and low temperature environment. Seafloor sediments on deep continental margins and buried continental sediments in polar regions (i.e. permafrost regions) are common places where these compounds form. They contain abundant organic matter. Over time, biogenic processes (bacterial action) or thermogenic processes (high pressure and temperature) act on the organic material and produce gases, most commonly methane. These may become trapped in the solid water and form gas hydrates.

Core in reefer

Core in reefer

Methane Hydrate

Methane Hydrate

There is a lot of scientific interest in gas hydrates. Some estimates suggest that methane hydrates in permafrost and marine sediments contain more organic carbon than all other known naturally occurring fossil fuel deposits combined. Thus, gas hydrates are considered to be a potential energy source. However, one concern is that hydrates are very unstable at conditions other than those under which they form – the solid water crystals dissociate (i.e. melt) and the gases escape. We saw this with the sample we brought up in the core which began fizzing and off-gassing as soon as it was exposed at the surface. Potential environmental changes that might destabilize naturally occurring hydrates could potentially result in the release of large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.

We have sampled at four locations to date, shown on the map below. One location was near the top of a small seamount that was first mapped during last year’s expedition. Another sample was from a submarine fan complex. All locations were selected based on some prior data followed by good inferences, a little luck and a lot of skill.

Coring Locations on map

Coring Locations on map

All coring attempts have been successful, with good core recovery each time. It is difficult to predict what we will get when aiming for a target that is so far beneath us. There is only so much that the monitors on the ship that track wire depth and tension can tell us. Given time constraints, there are no “do overs”, so we are happy whenever the core barrel comes up with something inside – it represents more information than we had before we sent it to the bottom. The moments before the barrel is back on deck are full of tense expectation, and one can tell from the look of satisfaction on a scientist’s face when there is a good sample inside. One person’s mud is another person’s treasure! Although I will not get to examine the cores myself, I look forward to hearing what they find when they cut and log the cores back in California. And I have a little bit of ocean floor mud of my own to take home as a souvenir.

Core Sample

Core Sample

Sources
National Energy Technology Laboratory: The National Methane Hydrates R&D Program – All about Hydrates
TDI-Brooks International: Piston Coring for Surface Geochemical Exploration.
USGS Fact Sheet: Gas (Methane) Hydrates – A New Frontier. 1992.
USGS Woods Hole Science Center
Woods Hole Ocean Instruments

Personal Log
This is the last week of the trip. After all the preparation that it took to get here, the time has passed rather quickly – even while I did not have a very clear perception of the passage of time. If I were home, I would have met my classes for the first time yesterday and today. I am sorry to miss school, but I am grateful to be among a relatively small group of people who have the opportunity to experience this part of the world. I am fortunate to have a strong support network of colleagues at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School who encouraged me to take advantage of this opportunity and did their best to assuage my feelings of guilt about not being at work. I am fortunate to have such caring friends and colleagues. Thank you, everyone who helped me prepare for the trip and to all those who are keeping things going for me while I am away. You gave me the peace of mind to do this.

The Arctic is a wilderness unlike any other. Whether in the icy desert at latitudes above 80ºN; in thin, patchy ice in the southern and western part of the basin; or in the open waters off the coast of Alaska, each day is something special. I look forward to my first trip out on deck each morning to enjoy the day’s views, and I have not been disappointed. And here in the last week of the trip, as the amount of darkness increases while the latitude decreases, it is actually snowing – enough to make a little snowman on the bow.

Snowman

Snowman

Midnight on the ship

Midnight on the ship

 

Caroline Singler, August 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy


Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean

Date of Post: 27 August 2010

Farthest North – 26 August 2010

Farthest North

Farthest North

Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 25 August 2010 Time of Day: 2300 (11:00 p.m. local time); 06:00 UTC
Latitude: 82º 29’ N Longitude: 138º 50.4’ W
Ship Speed: 4.5 knots Heading: 291º (NW)
Air Temperature: -0.5ºC / 31.1ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb Humidity: 97%
Winds: 9 knots SW
Sea Temperature: -1.2ºC Salinity: 28.2 PSU
Water Depth: 3400 mDate: 26 August 2010 Time of Day: 2230 (10:30 p.m. local time); 0530 UTC
Latitude: 82º 0.5’ N Longitude: 132º 5.5’ W
Ship Speed: 4.3 knots Heading: 163º (SE)
Air Temperature: -1.25ºC / 29.7ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1012.6 mb Humidity: 100%
Winds: 20.4 knots SW Wind Chill: -8.9ºC/15.9ºF
Sea Temperature: -1.35ºC Salinity: 28.47 PSU
Water Depth: 3643 m
We reached our farthest northern location in the early morning hours on Friday 26 August. We stopped a little before midnight local time on 8/25 (07:00 8/26 UTC) for a water sampling event and I captured this map that showed our location at latitude 80º31.85’.

Farthest Northern point on a map

Farthest Northern point on a map

 Here is what the Arctic looks like at 82º31.5’N 139º15’W from the bow of the Healy.

Here is what the Arctic looks like at 82º31.5’N 139º15’W from the bow of the Healy.

I took the picture at the beginning of this post myself, at about the same time as the map shows!

Morning Sky With Louis

Morning Sky With Louis

We ended up a little farther north in the early morning as we maneuvered to get back in line withLouis, who rejoined us after some downtime for repairs.

Our official FARTHEST NORTH point was at latitude 82º32’. The original plan called for 85ºN, but the ice is thick and progress is slow, and we have had several delays. Now we are eastward bound, on a line that heads towards but ends before the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Canada. Healyspends a lot of time backing and ramming. There are numerous ridges in the ice formed when ice floes drift with the wind and currents and collide with other flows, and these present big obstacles. First they drive the ship into the ridge, then back up, leaving the impression of the ship’s bow like a snow angel.

Healy Snow Angel

Healy Snow Angel

There is an eerie silence when the ship is backing, and I expected it to be followed by a burst of speed (hence the backing and “ramming”), but the ship just drives forward again over the same track. It can take two or three times to break through a large ridge. Even then, it can be difficult for Louis to proceed with her towed gear even – often the pressure causes ice to drift back into the track before Louis can pass through. On numerous occasions Healy has had to double back to relieve the pressure on Louis by coming around and passing to the side of the ship, trying to give the ice a different way to drift. Sections of Healy’s track line look as if we are doing figure eights around Louis.

Louis in ice

Louis in ice

Since Sunday, we have been at latitudes where the sun does not set. I get off watch at midnight local time, but true midnight is usually an hour or two after that. Here are some views of the sky that I see when I leave the computer lab at night.

Midnight

Midnight 8_23_10

Midnight- 23 August 2010

Midnight 8_24_10

Midnight 8_24_10

Midnight- 24 August 2010

Midnight_8_25_10

Midnight_8_25_10

Midnight- 25 August 2010

Midnight 8_27_10

Midnight 8_27_10

Midnight- 27 August 2010

I can’t always see the sun, but it’s still pretty and peaceful, even when we are banging through ice.

Caroline

Caroline Singler, August 11-12 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean
Date of Post: 13 August 2010

Maneuvering in Ice – 7-10 August 2010

Location and Weather Data from Bridge
Date: 11 August 2010

Time of Day: 1015 (10:15 local time); 17:15 UTC
Latitude: 71º 23.2’ N
Longitude: 144º 43.2’ W
Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Heading: 106.6º (ESE)
Air Temperature: 5.1ºC /41.2ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1010.6 millibars
Humidity: 100%
Winds: 30.6 knots ENE
Wind Chill: -2.2ºC /28.14ºF
Sea Temperature: 4.8ºC
Salinity: 23.70 PSU
Water Depth:2952.9 mDate: 12 August 2010
Time of Day: 1900 (7:00 local time); 02:00 UTC
Latitude: 71º 10.94’ N
Longitude: 144º 40.28’ W
Ship Speed: 11.9 knots
Heading: 265.3º (WSW)
Air Temperature: 6.73ºC /44.12ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1016.7 millibars
Humidity: 97.9%
Winds: 18.8 knots ESE Wind Chill: 3.96ºC /39.12ºF
Sea Temperature: 6.0ºC Salinity: 24.32 PSU
Water Depth:2496.0 mScience and Technology Log
I want to give you a sense of how ice can affect the progress of the ship. It was not something that I could imagine before coming on the Healy. When we first encountered ice, I was captivated by its beauty – it is a wilderness of an entirely different sort than I have ever experienced. I knew the ice would slow our progress, and I knew from talking to the scientists that it could complicate the mapping with the multibeam system. I did not realize all the ways in which it would challenge everyone involved in the mission, for example:

  • the chief scientist and the rest of the science team have to decide how to alter the ship’s track without sacrificing the mission objectives;
  • the ice analysts use satellite imagery and ice buoy data and try to predict where the ice may be and advise the Chief Scientist and the ship’s crew regarding possible changes in course;
  • the Coast Guard officers and crew who try to keep us as close to our planned course as possible, keeping in constant communication with the Chief Scientist and with the watch standers in the geophysics lab to be sure that we are able to collect good data;
  • the computer specialists have to figure out how to get the best ultibeam data, even when ice clogs the seawater intake that provides data for the sound speed profile and when sound beams transmitted from the surface bounce in all directions and cannot find bottom;
  • geophysics watch standers like me have to watch for tiny clues from the instruments that the ice might be interfering with the transmission of the sound signals and the acquisition of reliable data.

Everything about working in the Arctic is a lesson in patience and flexibility; one must learn to “go with the floe”.

Bow of the USCGS Healy

Bow of the USCGS Healy

View of Ice Breaking from the Bridge

View of Ice Breaking from the Bridge

Since our primary objective is to collect bathymetric data, the locations of transect lines were determined before the mission to best meet the objective. Some lines provide data about previously unmapped areas; others fill in gaps between existing data tracks. We are able to follow the plan when we are in open water, but once we are in the ice, sometimes plans change. This became immediately apparent when I went on watch on the night of 7 August. We were heading north in the Beaufort Sea into thicker ice. There was a flurry of activity in the geophysics computer lab. The scientists were studying the ship’s track and the latest satellite images of the ice. We were on course to encounter some very large floes. I was about to get my first real taste of what an ice breaker does.

An ice breaker is designed differently from other ships. It is double-hulled with extra thick steel at the bow, stern and water line. It has a flat hull with a rounded bow that slopes gradually upward to allow it to ride up over the ice. (I am told that same feature makes it roll considerably in rough seas, though thankfully the Healy’s design is somewhat modified from the earlier Coast Guard ice breakers, so it does not roll as much as it could!) There are numerous mechanical modifications that allow ice breakers to work in an environment that would crush other ships. (See Cool Antarctica for a good summary of the characteristics of ice breakers.) The ship weighs over 11 tons, and the basic principle of ice breaking is to ride up over the ice and allow gravity to do the work, using the ship’s weight to fracture the ice. Healy’s typical cruising speed is 12 knots, with a maximum of 17 knots; depending on ice conditions, Healy’s speed typically decreases to 7 knots, and it is often necessary to go even slower through large floes, particularly if the multibeam is not recording good data. In the thickest ice, the ship uses a technique called “backing and ramming” which is pretty much exactly as it sounds – the ship is driven on the ice, then backed up and driven back onto the ice again. But while Healy is a powerful ship, a large tabular floe of multiyear ice has a lot of inertia, and it takes an incredible force to move it. More often than not, it is a better idea to try to find a way around the large floes instead of breaking through them.

The next few photos show what happens when Healy breaks through ice. Cracks radiate out in all directions as the weight of the ship is forced into the floe. The deep blue color indicates that much of the ice is “multiyear ice” – ice that has lasted through at least one summer melting season.

Close up of USCGS Healy breaking ice

Close up of USCGS Healy breaking ice

The following maps show how one large floe affected our progress in the early morning hours of 8 August 2010. I came on watch at 8:00 p.m. local time (04:00 UTC) on 7 August. We were at the point labeled “0” on the first map, travelling through open water and light ice at a speed of approximately 11.7 knots. We reached point “1” at 11:30 p.m. (07:30 UTC) and were beginning to slow down in the ice. In 3.5 hours, we covered a distance of 38.88 nautical miles (nm), at an average speed of 11.1 knots. At 12:57 a.m. (08:57 UTC), we reached point “2”, 7.89 nm from point 1 – that’s an average speed of about 5.3 knots.

Map

Map

Things got tricky after that. Notice the change in scale on the second map, which shows the ship’s progress over the next 3 hours until point “11” at 4:00 a.m. (12:00 UTC) on the 8th. In that time, we covered 15.48 nm and had to deviate off a straight line course and change direction several times to maneuver around ice. Our average speed continued to be about 5 knots, but there were times during that stretch when the speed was a low as 1 or 2 knots. Relative to the original planned straight line course, the distance covered in that period was 6.7 nm.

Map

Map

Map 3 shows the remaining course we followed for that transect (the right hand track line) – note again the different map scale. We covered the remaining distance along the line between points 11 and 12, about 91 nm, over the next 3 hours. The trackline on the left shows our subsequent course, about a day later.

Map

Map

It takes a special ship to do what Healy does, and it takes a crew and science team who are capable, flexible, and cooperative to get the job done.

Personal Log

A lot happened in the last few days. If you pay attention to the location information at the beginning of some posts, you will notice that we have traveled north and south, east and west through the Beaufort Sea between the Mackenzie Delta region on the Canadian coast and the Prudhoe Bay area of the Alaska coast. We had the long-awaited rendezvous with Canadian Coast Guard Cutter Louis S. St. Laurent on Tuesday 10 August. Three members of our science team (two marine mammal observers and one ice analyst) went to the Louis and three members of their team joined us on the Healy. It was exciting to watch the helicopter exchange of personnel. I was not prepared for how fast the helicopter moved, and I was not quick enough to capture any close-ups.

Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Healy and flying back to the Louis.

Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Healy and flying back to the Louis.

Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Healy and flying back to the Louis.

Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Louis and flying back to the Healy.

We took some cores of the seafloor on Wednesday and Thursday – more on that exciting change in routine in another post. We were out of the ice for several days, and I missed it, but we are moving north again now, farther north than we have been so far and we have started the cooperative part of the mission, in which Healy will lead and break ice forLouis.

Tomorrow, it seems, is Saturday. It is extremely hard to keep track of the days at sea, especially when there is not much darkness at night. Saturday is cleaning day, so we have to make sure everything is “ship-shape” in our staterooms and the science work areas. Stay tuned for some photos of my room after it’s neat and tidy!

Did you know?

Distance at sea is typically measured in nautical miles. One nautical mile is equal to approximately 1.15 statute miles or 1.85 kilometers. Speeds are measured in knots. One knot is equal to 1 nautical mile per hour or 1.15 miles per hour.

Caroline