Transmission Location: At sea, 30 miles SW of Southwest Cape, (sample station SEC1.5), St Lawrence Island. Lat/Long: 62deg 49 min N/170 deg 38 min W (grid 62.82). Time: 0915. Temperature: ?0.5 dgF, Wind: 17.8 mph from NW. Wind Chill: ?22 dgF. Scattered clouds @ 1000ft. Sunrise: 9:15 AM, Sunset: 9:41 PM. Ice: New ice- Nilas/Young-/2-6”. Ship’s log by Tom Litwin, scientist profiles by Tom Walker.
Think flexibility. This is an important ingredient for travel in the Northern Being Sea. A stickler for events unfolding the way planned could find this to be a very long, nerve-wracking experience. The combined influences of wind, ice, and currents humble even the best laid plans. Fluidity in mind and action serves well those working in the ice. Today is a case in point.
In the evening the ship’s command and Chief Science Officer meet to plan the next day’s routing and research activities. This is wonderful meeting of two worlds; the ship’s command & control structure, and more individualistic, independent-minded world of academic research. There is both a fun and serious side to the joining of these worlds. The Coastguardsmen and researchers alike appreciate and chuckle at the others’ work. Each with the refrain, “Why do they do that?” Then there is the serious side.
LT. SILAS AYERS IN ROLL OF PLOTTER DURING FIRE DRILL Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
As I type, a fire drill has broken out, alarms are going off, and the ship-wide speaker system is calling out information and commands: report to predetermine fire fighting stations, the location of the fire, the type of fire, mock causalities are reported. The acting casualties actually scream and call out to mimic the confusion and emotion of a real situation. Fire fighting suits are broken out. The On Scene Leader and Fire Teams rush to the reported scene.
The Bridge door swings open, officers and crew flood onto the Bridge, pulling on fire retardant flash hoods and gloves. Information is coming in from all areas of the ship. The Bridge becomes the brain center for the operation, receiving information and providing instruction. Panels are opened that display the ship’s deck plans. The Plotter writes incoming information on the plans and asks for clarifications. “Boundaries” are established around the fire. In the midst of this the walrus reconnaissance helicopter the Bridge is monitoring calls in. A few minutes later the Aft Conn calls to report that instruments are being lowered off the aft deck, all while the drill is underway. What I’m watching could actually happen. The Executive Officer is observing throughout the operations, commenting and coaching. After the drill they gather to evaluate what worked and what needs improvement. The realization hits home, we have to be a self-sufficient operation, there is no other option. Looking out the window at a very big, frozen ocean, command & control seems a good idea.
THIN ICE AT STATION SEC1, THE SEACH FOR THICKER ICE CONTINUES Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
Science and an ice deployment are back in focus. Rolf Gradinger studies ice, and the algae that live on the underside. Unlike the group that collects samples off the ship’s aft deck, Rolf needs to be on the ice to gather his samples. So, we are looking for ice thick and strong enough for the ship to position in, lower the brow (gangway), and is safe for the scientific party to work on. From the last station we have travelled 51 miles and 13 hours. The sun is rising and with the light we can see we are surrounded by ice too thin to venture out on. While the north wind pushes and piles-up ice down and around the west and east ends of St. Lawrence Island, there is no “ice feeder” along the island’s south shore. In fact, the north wind pushes the ice away from the island’s south shore, and we now find ourselves in this thin ice. Think flexibility. Rolf is a veteran ice researcher and knows that with patience, the ice he needs will come.
ICE IS “TORN” AWAY FROM ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND’S SOUTH SHORE Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
Coming Next: Helicopter operations and the search for the Threatened Spectacled Eider.
Scientist of the Day: Rolf Gradinger, Polar Marine Ecologist
Rolf Gradinger, 50, was born and raised near Worms, Germany, in a rural community dominated by farm fields and vineyards. While growing up, Rolf learned to play the piano and guitar but like many boys enjoyed soccer first. “Classical music is still my favorite for the piano, but I like the guitar for singing.” After two years at the local university, Rolf transferred to the University of Kiel, renowned for its marine science program. Of three siblings, Rolf was the only one who left Germany. “My parents are proud of me, but would like it if I lived closer to home,” said Gradinger, who moved to Fairbanks in 2000. Rolf, and his wife Bodil Bluhm, also a marine scientist, have one daughter, Tuuli, 2. “We make the best use of Alaska that we can. Hiking, camping, berry-picking, birding, fishing, kayaking…we love it.” A year’s teaching sabbatical, now drawing to an end, enabled Rolf and his family to live in the Apulia region of southern Italy, a dry, warm climate markedly different than that of central Alaska, but definitely closer to the sea.
DR. ROLF GRADINGER WORKING IN THE HEALY’S MAIN LAB
Photo Credit: Tom Walker
Rolf is an associate research professor at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Services, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He was awarded his PhD in marine biology at the University of Kiel. From the Healy he is studying the ecology of sea ice as the base of microbial food web. Rolf’s work has taken him on 14 field-based expeditions and 13 ship-based expeditions to arctic waters, for a total of nearly two years at sea. “Teaching and advising students are a great enjoyment,” Gradinger said. “Maybe I’m a better teacher than researcher. I tell my students that you need to invest a lot of energy, and possess a great deal of personal motivation, to get to do science. It can be very hard but once there, it is really rewarding. With climate change we are facing very important issues for humanity and the science is an expanding field—coastal management, fisheries, many disciplines needed. To succeed, you need a clearly defined goal, a lot of life lessons beyond school, the ability to work within a team and see a project to completion.”
Focus on Ice, the Underside
ROLF GRADINGER RECORDS ON ICE DATA Photo Credit: Tom Walker
The Arctic seas hold hundreds of life forms adapted to the extreme northern conditions. Our knowledge of life here is limited due to the obvious challenges of inaccessibility and seasonal weather. Accelerated warming and the resulting reduction in sea ice may pose multiple threaten to the productivity and diversity of polar life. We need a solid base of information to build upon, with long-term monitoring of key species, communities and processes, crucial to understanding the effects of climate change and its impact on the food web.
Even with minimal light penetration through the ice in late winter, enough photosynthesis takes place for thin layers of algae to grow on the underside of the ice and inside tiny pockets of briny fluid within the ice itself. Rolf and his team of graduate students use corers and ice augers to access the underside of the ice. They collect samples from different ages of ice and record and compare various measurements. “After all these years, it still fascinates me to look in a water sample and see all these organisms, plants and animals, living there,” Gradinger said.
ROLF GRADINGER AUGERING THROUGH ICE TO GATHER SEA WATER BELOW THE SURFACE Photo Credit: Tom Walker
“I try to understand the role of the Bering Sea ice and the productivity of the sea itself,” Rolf says. “I measure the biomass and productivity in the sea ice and compare it to what is in the water column and at the sea bottom. We must always keep in mind that what happens on the base of the sea ice especially impacts what goes on at the bottom of the sea. Tiny animals eat the algae; cod eat the little animals; seals eat the cod; polar bears eat the seals. The part of the algae bloom that sinks to the sea floor is eaten there by bottom dwellers and those animals—clams primarily—are eaten by walrus, and ducks that people eat.” Clearly, an upset to one portion of the food chain unbalances the whole.
GRADINGER’S TEAM GATHERING SAMPLES DURING ICE DEPLOYMENT Photo Credit: Tom Walker
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Monday, 23 March 2009 15:44
Ice Deployment, Best Laid PlansWritten by Tom Litwin: On Thin Ice
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