Transmission Location: At sea, 25 miles SW of Northwest Cape, Gambell Village, St Lawrence Island.
Lat/Long: 63deg 45.282 min N/171 deg 47.34 min W (grid 63.75). Time: 0915. Temperature: ?1.5 dgF, Wind: 19.5 mph from NW. Wind Chill: ?19 dgF. Clear skies. Sunrise: 9:41 AM, Sunset: 9:39 PM. Ice: very close pack, new ice ~3ft. thick, big floes. Note: Ravens on ice, St. Lawrence Island clearly visible from Bridge. Reports provided by Tom Litwin and Tom Walker.
MOUNTAINS OF ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND’S SOUTH COAST FROM DECK OF USCGS HEALY Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
The first sampling station quickly reveals the complex, difficult operation that will unfold over the next three weeks. On paper, in the comfort of an office back East, it seems so simple and straightforward. The sampling stations are neatly printed on a map and the ship moves from station to station collecting each sample in the same way. Each station, or data point, is consistent with all the rest. For the scientists these replicates are essential in the creation of a dependable data set. All these data are collected to test the researchers’ hypotheses. The conclusions drawn from the data are not accepted at face value, but will be debated, sometimes heatedly, by other scientists working in these disciplines. It will also run the gauntlet of publishing in peer reviewed scientific journals. The Achilles heel of even the best designed study is inconsistently collected data. Data collection in a sophisticated lab, in a research building can be difficult, but on the Healy, where the Bering Sea has its own ideas, it is a frigid daily, hourly challenge.
SAMPLING STATIONS OFF THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND. THE DIOMEDE ISLANDS IN THE BERING STRAIT ARE 161 MILES DUE NORTH OF THE YUPIK VILLAGE OF SAVOONGA Station map.jpg. Photo Credit: Tony Fischbach, USGS
Last night’s repositioning from station NWC2 to NWC1 off Southwest Cape tells the whole story. The distance between these two points is 36 miles, or on an Interstate Highway, about 30 minutes travel time. The ship left at midnight and it took eight hours through heavy ice that had been streaming around St. Lawrence Island, driven by north winds. As we arrived close to the station, the ship started to “cut a hole.” If we went directly to the station position, the ice would close down behind us and seal off equipment being lowered off the stern. To prevent the ice closing in behind the ship, we circled around the station position creating a ring of broken ice around the station. The open ring relieves the pressure on the ice that would otherwise fill back in around the ship.
Now the Chief Scientist, grad students and marine science techs (MSTs), who have been waiting since 6:30 AM, put on their steel-toed boots, Mustang survival suits, and hard hats, and move outdoors to the aft deck. Coping with ?19 dgF wind chill, icy decks, and frozen water hoses, they get the Van Veen “sediment scooper” over the side for the first bottom sample.
“SEDIMENT SCOOPER” GOES OVER THE STERN. WHEN THE OPEN JAWS HIT THE BOTTOM, THEY SNAP SHUT, FILLING THE JAWS WITH BOTTOM SEDIMENT AND ANIMALS THAT LIVE IN IT. Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
The MSTs signal the Van Veen raised and the sediments are washed out through a strainer, and taken to the lab for sorting and analyzing.
SEA BOTTOM (benthic) ANIMALS WASHED FROM SEDIMENT SAMPLES Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
ANIMALS LIVING IN SEDIMENT ARE SORTED AND CATALOGED Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
Not every scientist on board works off the stern of the ship, or on creatures so small. When the ship is on station another group leaves the ship for the ice to collect their samples. On the 2008 Healy cruise, Dr. Sue Moore was one of the scientist who took to the ice, to listen for one of the largest animals in the Bering Sea, the bowhead whale.
Coming next: Snow & Ice, more than frozen water. And how is the earth’s northern air conditioner doing.
Scientist of the Day: Sue Moore, Marine Mammal Biologist
A Midwesterner by birth, Sue Moore, 54, grew up in Detroit, Michigan, with homework, piano lessons, and basketball filling her days. Camping and biking remain life-long pleasures. Early-on, she developed an appreciation for a wide variety of music. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are among her favorites, but likes “jazz, particularly Miles Davis, the best.” Sue recalls that she fell in love with the ocean on a family trip to Florida when she was 14. “Dolphins always fascinated me,” she explained, “but on that trip I formed an intense connection to the sea.” She soon changed her academic focus from journalism to science. “Initially, science was like a foreign language. I didn’t know what they were saying,” she laughs, “but I found it intensely exciting.” After two years at the University of Michigan, she struck out for San Diego, California to be close to the sea, marine mammals and ocean research centers. “In my life I am most proud of my decision to break away from Detroit and follow my passion,” she says.
Sue Moore lives in Seattle, Washington, where she works for the NOAA/Fisheries Science & Technology Division, and teaches at the University of Washington in the biology department and school of fisheries. She earned her Doctorate at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and later served two years as the Director of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Moore is currently a member of the science advisory committee of the International Whaling Commission. In her own work, she uses hydrophones and acoustic sonobouys to study whales and other marine mammals and monitor the effects of sonar and other man-made sounds. Aboard the Healy she lowered her listening devices through the ice to locate her favorite animal, the bowhead whale. “Listening underwater in the Arctic in spring is like listening to a symphony,” Moore said. “It’s a mix of the distinctive trilling sound of bearded seals, the tapping sounds of walrus, with the bowhead providing the deep, oboe-like notes. Magical!”
“I advise young people to follow their passions. Aim for a happy life—the best work comes from it. Don’t stop yourself and become your own worst enemy,” she says. “It may be scary to leave home but you have to take the chance, follow your dreams.”
SUE MOORE USES A HYDROPHONE TO LISTEN FOR BOWHEAD WHALES BELOW THE ICE. Photo Credit: Christian Morel, IPY Our Polar Heritage Project
Focus on Marine Mammal Research: Sue Moore
ADULT BOWHEAD WITH CALF Photo Credit: NOAA
Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) spend their entire lives in the northern sea ice. The largest can be 65 feet long, and weigh 60 tons. Calving occurs in April through early June, with newborns about 14 feet long and weighing about 2,000 pounds. Adults are black; calves are gray. Bowheads have very large heads, about one-third of their body length, with the upper jaw arched sharply. Their bow-shaped head, with twin blowholes located at the crown, distinguishes them from other whales. They have short, wide flippers and very broad flukes, but no dorsal fin. Variable white body markings, plus unique scars, allow scientists to visually identify individuals, a few of which live over 100 years. While traveling, feeding, and socializing, bowheads make a wide variety of sounds.
Supremely adapted to life in the ice, bowheads are protected from the cold by a dense layer of fat (blubber) up to 1½ feet thick. To survive, bowheads must travel through ice-covered seas, usually by following open leads, but scientists using hydrophones have detected them traveling through lead systems that appear to be completely iced-over. Although bowhead whales can hold their breath for slightly more than 30 minutes, an important capability when deep feeding or traveling distances under the ice, they still must rise to the surface at intervals in order to breath. How whales find open breathing holes in the ice is an enduring mystery. However, when breathing holes can’t be found, these whales can batter holes in the pack with their heavy, bony heads. Reports of whales crashing head-first through 10 inches of ice are common with a few estimates of two feet of ice. A whale will suffocate if unable to reach the surface.
BOWHEAD BREACHES FOR AIR. PROMINENT ARCHING SKULL LEADS TO THE NAME “BOW” HEAD Photo Credit: NOAA
Bowheads feed from the surface to the bottom. Instead of teeth, a bowhead’s upper jaws are armed with hundreds of hairy plates, called baleen. Rather than gulping down large prey, bowheads feed by swimming with their mouths open using these hairy curtains to filter a “soup” of tiny animals out of the water. Bowhead whales once numbered over 50,000 worldwide but commercial whaling exacted a terrible toll. Today, the Bering Sea population, the only significant remnant left, numbers somewhere under 9,000, but appears to be slowly increasing. Only subsistence whaling by a few Alaska Natives is currently allowed.
BOWHEAD WHALE BALEEN THAT FILTERS SMALL ANIMALS FROM THE SEA WATER WHEN FEEDING Photo Credit: NOAA
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Friday, 20 March 2009 03:35
On StationWritten by Tom Litwin: On Thin Ice
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