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.

 

Kathy Schroeder, May 13, 2010 part2

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Schroeder
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 5 – May 18, 2010

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 13, 2010

5/13 Sea Ice!

Sea ice

Sea ice

I woke up about 6:40 am and heard a thump on my wall. My room is on the lowest level of the ship. I worked on the computer for a while then headed upstairs for what I thought would be our first station around 8. There was nothing but white ice all around us.

More Ice

More Ice

I was so excited you would have thought it was Christmas morning. I spent the next two hours on the bridge watching as we slowly made a pass through the ice to get to our next destination-St. Paul Island. Most of the ice is broken up into large pieces, so when the waves move through you can see them rolling. Staring at ice chunks is like looking up at the clouds. You start seeing all kinds of shapes: swans, hippos, Lockness monster. It’s amazing how calm the waters get when there is ice to slow the wind. We finally made it to our first station around 5:30pm. During the Bongo tow it pulled up a piece of ice from the surface. It was small, but I got to hold sea ice!

Ice from the bongo net

Ice from the bongo net

Christine Hedge, September 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Chukchi Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 13, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 720 44’N
Longitude: 1560 59’W
Temperature: 350F

A Seasonal Ice buoy with a thermistor chain is deployed from the Healy. This buoy starts in open water and later may

A Seasonal Ice buoy with a thermistor chain is deployed from the Healy. This buoy starts in open water and later may freeze into the ice. This instrument collects ocean and air temperature data, barometric pressure data, and location data.

Science and Technology Log 

Buoys and Moorings And Gliders, Oh My!!! 
Exploring the oceans has a lot in common with exploring space.  NASA can send manned or unmanned missions into space.  Sending manned vehicles into space is more complicated than launching a probe or a telescope. The same is true for exploring the Arctic Ocean.  We can collect data on an icebreaker, manned with Coast Guard and science personnel or use instruments that can send back data remotely.  On this mission, many instruments have been deployed to send back data about the conditions in the Arctic. These instruments continue to do their work after the crew and scientists from the Healy have moved on.  Ice buoys, which float or freeze into ice floes, are one example.  The HARP instruments (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package), which sit on the sea floor, are another.

A United States Navy team, under the supervision of Navy Commander William Sommer, has launched a very interesting instrument from the Healy called the Seaglider. We have been tracking its movements since it was launched on August 8th. The Seaglider collects information about the salinity, temperature, and optical clarity of the ocean. The Navy is interested in how sound travels through the oceans and this glider is an important tool for doing just that.

CDR Bill Sommer, AG1 Richard Lehmkuhl, and MST3 Marshal Chaidez deploy a Seaglider from the Healy in the Chukchi Sea. Data from the Seaglider will improve the performance, and aid in the evaluation, of the effectiveness of the ocean models in the Arctic. Photo courtesy of PA3 Patrick Kelley, USCG.

CDR Bill Sommer, AG1 Richard Lehmkuhl, and MST3 Marshal Chaidez deploy a Seaglider from the Healy in the Chukchi Sea. Data from the Seaglider will improve the performance, and aid in the evaluation, of the effectiveness of the ocean models in the Arctic. Photo courtesy of PA3 Patrick Kelley, USCG.

What makes the Seaglider unique is that instead of just drifting, it can be driven.  In fact, this instrument is directed via satellite from a computer lab in Mississippi!  The glider moves up and down in the water column and like an air glider it uses this up and down motion to move forward. It has a GPS and a radio so that it can communicate its location. The Seaglider deployed from the Healy in August was picked up today.

Final check of the Seaglider before it was launched.

Final check of the Seaglider before it was
launched.

The green dots indicate the path of the Navy Seaglider as it collected data in the Chukchi Sea.

The green dots indicate the path of the Navy Seaglider as it collected data in the Chukchi Sea.

Coast Guard and Navy personnel work together to retrieve the Seaglider on September 13.

Coast Guard and Navy personnel work together to retrieve the Seaglider on September 13.

Christine Hedge, September 9-11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Chukchi Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 9-11, 2009

Positions 
From Latitude: 790 6’N/ Longitude: 1550 47’W
To Latitude: 780 3’N/ Longitude: 1590 41’W

Alex Andronikov labels and bags rock samples for further study.

Alex Andronikov labels and bags rock samples for further study.

Science and Technology Log 

Exploring the Unknown 
Geologically speaking, parts of the Arctic Ocean are some of the least explored areas on earth because they are often covered with thick ice. Geologists know there is an ultra-slow spreading center (where seafloor pulls apart) called the Gakkel Ridge.  They know where major features such as abyssal plains, plateaus, and ridges are, but the story of how this area formed is still the subject of much discussion. Where exactly are the plate boundaries in the Arctic?  Which direction are they moving?  Which forces formed the Arctic Basin?  These are great questions that geologists continue to investigate. In 7th grade we study plate tectonics.  Our textbooks contain maps showing where the plates are pulling apart (divergent boundaries), pushing together (convergent boundaries), and sliding past one another (transform boundaries). I had never noticed before this trip that clear plate boundaries are not shown under the Arctic Ocean.

FOR MY STUDENTS: There are some great animations showing plate movements at this site.

Looking Back in Time with Rock Samples 

Kelley Brumley and Alex Andronikov are geologists on board the Healy. They have been analyzing the data collected by the echosounding instruments to better understand the forces at work here. But what they have really been looking forward to is seeing what type of rock the seamounts, ridges, and plateaus below the Arctic Ocean are made of, and how these features were created.

Our first 2 dredge sites brought up muddy sediment and lots of:

  • Ice rafted debris: These are rocks that are frozen into ice that breaks from shore and carried out to sea. They can come from glaciers, or river deltas or any shoreline.  Some show glacial striations (scratches left behind by glaciers).
  • Coated sediments: These are crumbly, compressed mounds of sediment coated with a dark precipitate.
Dredge #2 was a muddy affair.  Using the hose, I helped separate the sediment from the rocks.  That’s me in the turquoise gloves!

Dredge #2 was a muddy affair. Using the hose, I helped separate the sediment from the rocks. That’s me in the turquoise gloves!

The next 3 dredges broke off rock samples from the steep slopes over which they were dragged. This was what the geologists were hoping for – samples of bedrock.  The rock samples that were dredged up show us that the geological history of the region is very complex.  Analyzing the chemistry and mineral composition of these rocks will help to answer some of the questions Kelley, Alex, and other Arctic geologists have about this part of the Arctic Ocean.  The rocks are cleaned, carefully labeled, and shipped to Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for further study. Who knows, maybe the rocks that were collected today will help to clarify models for the geologic history of this part of the Arctic Ocean.

Personal Log 

On September 11, I was able to call my students in Indiana. Jon Pazol, (ARMADA teacher at sea) has an Iridium satellite phone that he graciously allowed me to borrow.  How fun to stand on the helicopter pad of the Healy and field questions from Carmel, Indiana.

Rock samples from a successful dredge operation

Rock samples from a successful dredge operation

Dredges sometimes bring up more than rocks and sediment. This arthropod came up with one of the dredge samples.

Dredges sometimes bring up more than rocks and sediment. This arthropod came up with one of the dredge samples.

Calling my students.  You can see in the background that there is much more ice than a few days ago.

Calling my students. You can see in the background that there is much more ice than a few days ago.

Christine Hedge, September 7, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 7, 2009

The empty dredge being lowered into the ocean.

The empty dredge being lowered into the ocean.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 790 ’24N
Longitude: 1540 27’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

Today we deployed our first dredge in hopes of collecting some samples of bedrock from the Arctic Ocean. A dredge is a basket made of metal chain link with a sharp edged bottomless tray on top. A wire cable connects this dredge to the Healy. Our echosounding instruments show us what the sea floor looks like. Maps reveal ridges, seamounts, flat abyssal plains, and raised continental shelves.  But, how did all these features form?  How old are they?  What type of rock are they made from?  What kinds of forces created this ocean surrounded by continents?  Where are the plate boundaries? Collecting rock samples will help us to answer some of these questions.

Sifting through the muddy sediment in search of rocks

Sifting through the muddy sediment in search of rocks

FOR MY STUDENTS:  Can you predict what type of rock we might find by sampling oceanic crust?  Continental crust? 

Here is how dredging works:

  • The dredge is deployed over a seafloor feature with a steep slope. Lowering the dredge takes a long time as the huge spool of cable unwinds.  The top speed for the cable is 50 meters/minute.  Today, the cable with the dredge attached rolled out 3850 meters before it stopped. The Healy then moves slowly up the slope dragging the dredge behind.  The metal plates at the top of the dredge catch on rock outcrops as it is dragged up the side of the slope.   Pieces of rock and sediment fall into the basket.  The dredge is pulled up by the cable and lowered back on to the deck of the Healy. The dredge is dumped and scientists pick through all the mud and find the rocks.
Full dredge is safely landed on the deck of the Healy.

Full dredge is safely landed on the deck of the Healy.

This first dredge brought back 400 pounds of mud and rock. Unfortunately, most was mud and only 10% was rock. Dredging is tricky business. Sometimes the dredge gets stuck and needs to be cut free.  Sometimes it collects only mud and no bedrock. We will be dredging at different sites for the next few days in the hope that good examples of bedrock will be collected.  The rocks we find will be catalogued and the chemistry of the rocks will be analyzed.  Hopefully, the rocks will help to answer some of the questions we have about the geologic history of the Arctic Ocean.

Personal Log 

Examples of rocks that were collected from our first dredge site.

Examples of rocks that were collected from our first dredge site.

When you work at a school, you get used to drills. Fire, severe weather, and intruder drills help to ensure that students and teachers will know what to do in the event of a real emergency.  The Coast Guard has drills each Friday to ensure the Healy will be ready to handle any emergency.  I have observed the crew practicing what to do in the event of fire, flooding, collision with another ship and various other scenarios. Last Friday, I was lucky enough to watch the crew in action.

The crew is suiting up for a Friday drill. Each member of the crew is trained to do many different jobs in case of an emergency.

The crew is suiting up for a Friday drill. Each member of the crew is trained to do many different jobs in case of an emergency.

Emergency medical situations are often a part of the training.  Friday’s drill included this mock-amputation of a crewmembers hand.  (Note the fake rubber hand)

Emergency medical situations are often a part of the training. Friday’s drill included this mock-amputation of a crewmembers hand. (Note the fake rubber hand)

If a compartment is flooded; the crew needs to do their best to contain the water.  This hatch is braced with wood and mechanical shoring.

If a compartment is flooded; the crew needs to do their best to contain the water. This hatch is braced with wood and mechanical shoring.

Christine Hedge, September 6, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 6, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 760 51’N
Longitude: 1380 54’W
Temperature: 300F

Rachel is showing me how the data we collect is processed.

Rachel is showing me how the data we collect is processed.

Science Party Profile—Rachel Soraruf: Working For NOAA 

Are you the kind of kid who buys rocks when you visit a museum gift shop?  When you walk down the beach – is your head down searching for shells and stones?  If so, maybe you should consider studying geology in college.  Rachel Soraruf was one of those kids and now she works for NOAA. This year, NOAA sent her to the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center (CCOM/JHC) at the University of New Hampshire.   (That’s a mouthful!!)  At CCOM, she is a graduate student learning about the latest technologies in ocean mapping.

Rachel decided to major in Geology during her sophomore year at Mt. Holyoke College. According to Rachel, geology is a fun major because you get to “Do What You Learn”. In addition, there are lots of field trips that complement your lab and classroom work. Her next educational move was to earn a Masters Degree in Geosciences from the University of Massachusetts. By studying the geochemistry of a stalagmite for her thesis (final project) – Rachel was able to look back 5,000 years and determine climate changes that occurred over the centuries.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Have you ever gone caving?  Did you know stalagmites could reveal climate history? 

Ten-foot swells caused the ice floes to roll and bump. September 6th was the roughest ride of this trip.

Ten-foot swells caused the ice floes to roll and bump. September 6th was the roughest ride of this trip.

Rachel has always liked the idea of “science with a purpose” – and NOAA offers her just that.  Her job is to plan the field seasons for NOAA vessels as they update the Hydrographic Charts of the waters around the United States.  People’s lives depend on these charts.  In order to safely navigate an oil tanker, cruise ship or fishing vessel  – up to date charts are essential.  The work she does makes a difference.  It truly is science with a purpose.

Personal Log 

Today we are in an area with thin ice and 10-12 foot swells.  It is an amazing sight to see the ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean rolling with the swells.  The Captain reminded us to tie down our possessions so that cameras and laptops wouldn’t go flying off our desks.  It was good advice! I had not closed my file cabinet drawers completely and they were opening and closing as the ship rolled with the swells. I brought seasickness patches and pressure point wristbands to help me in case of seasickness and used them both today.

Christine Hedge, September 5, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 5, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 770 13’N
Longitude: 1370 41’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

The two icebreakers are tying up side-by-side so that we can visit each other.

The two icebreakers are tying up side-by-side so that we can visit each other.

More Ways to Use Sound to See Beneath the Sea Floor 

Today we “rafted” with the Louis (the ships tied together side by side). I have been eager to see the science instruments that the Canadian ship is carrying. Once the ships were securely tied together we could just walk back and forth between them and tour the Canadian vessel.

The Healy has been breaking ice so that the Louis can have an easier time collecting data using seismic reflection profiling.  The goal is for the Canadian scientists to determine how deep the sediments are in this part of the Arctic Basin.  The sound waves their instrument sends out can penetrate about 1500 meters below the seafloor. Using sound they can “see” inside the earth – amazing!

FOR MY STUDENTS:  Remember your Latin/Greek word parts?  Look up “seism”. 

Seismic sled being hauled out of the water on the Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth)

Seismic sled being hauled out of the water on the Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth)

Here is how it works. The Louis steams forward at a low speed following in the path that the Healy has created through the ice. The Louis tows behind a weighted sled with 3 airguns suspended from the bottom.  This sinks about 10 meters below the water. Attached to the sled is a long tube filled with hydrophones (underwater microphones) called a streamer.  This streamer is about 400 meters long and stretches out behind the ship. It is best for the ship to move continuously so that the streamer will not sink or float to the surface.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Try to picture a 400-meter long “tail” on a ship. That is longer than 4 football fields. 

The airguns create a huge air bubble in the water.  When it collapses, it creates a sound pulse.  Two of the guns use a low frequency, which will penetrate deep into the sea floor but will create a low-resolution image.  The other gun uses a high frequency, which does not penetrate as deep but gives a high-resolution image.  The 16 sound recorders in the streamer record the echo created by these sounds reflecting from the sediment layers below the sea floor. The final product this instrument creates is an image of a cross section through the Earth. Scientists can look at these by observing this geologic history, the scientists are looking back in time. You can imagine that ice can cause lots of problems when a ship is towing a 400-meter long streamer behind it.  This is why we are working on collecting this data together.  One ship breaks, the other collects the seismic reflection data.

Steamer on deck of Louis. The blue steamer is out of the water and lying on deck when we visit the Louis.

Steamer on deck of Louis. The blue steamer is out of the water and lying on deck when we visit the Louis.

Personal Log 

The crew has been looking forward to the two ships tying up together for the entire cruise.  Everyone is curious about the other ship. What are the staterooms like?  What is the food like? How is their bridge different from our bridge? And of course there is shopping!! Both of the ship stores had their best Louis and Healy gear ready for the eager shoppers.

After learning about the science instruments aboard the Louis, it was nice to finally see the seismic sled, streamers, and the computer nerve center where the seismic images are received. The ships are pretty different in their appearance.  The Louis is an older vessel and has wooden handrails, panels cover the wires in the ceiling, and there are some larger windows with actual curtains.  The Healy was built to be a science research icebreaker and so has many large spaces for science and looks generally more industrial. The Louis was an icebreaker first and some of their science spaces have been added later and are less spacious.

The bubble created by the airguns on the Louis. (Photo Courtesy Pat Kelley USCG)

The bubble created by the airguns on the Louis. (Photo Courtesy
Pat Kelley USCG)

Shopping and tours were fun but the most anticipated events of the day were the evening meal, contests and games.  The ship’s officers exchanged gifts in a formal presentation and then we had an amazing buffet together.  Personnel from both ships enjoyed scallops, halibut, salmon, shrimp, lobster, pork, beef, cheese, salads, and desserts. This was an exceptional meal and a great social event.  The idea of having Teachers at Sea (TAS) was a new one for most Canadians I spoke with and as we talked they seemed to think this TAS would be a great idea to stimulate interest in young Canadians about maritime careers.  The evening concluded with some friendly competitions between the crews and the science parties.  This entire event was a lot of work for the Coast Guard crews.  The science party really appreciates all the hours they put into planning this event!

Behind the wheel on the bridge of the Louis S. St. Laurent.

Behind the wheel on the bridge of the Louis S. St. Laurent.