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Keep up on What’s Happening on the Alaska Fisheries Science Center
Arctic Cruise in August

  jessica

Throughout the month of August, Jessica Randall, part of the Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (FOCI) program with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, will be sending dispatches from the NOAA ship Ron Brown. The ship is conducting surveys in the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to obtain baseline oceanographic data. Sampling is also being conducted at hotspots for productivity and biodiversity, known as Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) sites (for more information see: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/dbo/about).

This survey, in its fifth year of operations, is part of a multi-institutional effort to improve our understanding of arctic ecosystems.

August 23, 2015 - The Wardrobe of a Scientist

What does one wear on a ship in the arctic? I asked myself this very question back in June as I was preparing my luggage for shipment to meet me in August in Kodiak. As it turns out, it’s not too terribly different from the normal ship attire in the Bering or Gulf of Alaska just a lot more layers. We haven’t quite rounded Barrow into the Beaufort yet but it is plenty cold already!

The basics: base layers and long underwear. It is critical to have warm, dry clothes against your skin to protect against wind chill. Usually I end up with at least two if not three layers of clothing before donning any outwear for working outside. Up next are jackets, pullovers, or soft shells to help insulate and (hopefully) stay dry. Finally are the outer layers – here is where things get interesting.

First you need a solid pair of work boots to both protect and keep your feet warm. Next, you jump into your bibs or overalls. Not only will these keep the water out but also do wonders for blocking the wind. Absolutely necessary for work on deck is some type of personal floatation device. Out here, the preferred choice is usually a float coat for its extra insulation. Last but perhaps the most important is headgear and gloves. I generally opt for two pairs of gloves, one for warmth and another for working, and a hat or balaclava. The final piece is a hard hat. The best part? Now that you are so bundled up that any movement is taxing, you likely have a cheery assortment of neons and brights that will make you visible in even the darkest hours. Who said field work isn’t fashionable?
 

Into the Ice

brittle stars
 
 

Sea ice, one of the mysterious appeals of The Great White North. While earlier in our crossing into the Beaufort Sea we had come across some fair sized growlers, last night we found ourselves in the midst of an icy jigsaw puzzle.

Having just completed the first of our transect lines in the Beaufort, at about 4pm yesterday (7pm Seattle time) we slowly began to maneuver our way some 50 nautical miles NE to the start of the next line. Only an hour or so into our transit, my attention was pulled away from my reading; we had substantially slowed down. At the time I recall looking at our computer screen to check our speed which had been reduced to 5, then later 2, knots before resuming my activity.

A short while later, a colleague passed through the lab and commented that the ice had increased. My interest piqued, I wandered to the porthole and gazed out at the labyrinthine passageways between the ice. Immediately the two of us grabbed our float coats and, with cameras in tow, headed out to the fantail. There we joined a sizeable number of other crew and scientists lost in the chilling beauty surrounding the vessel.

Everyone awake, it seemed, was captivated by the ice. Pictures were snapped left and right and binoculars were focused in hopes of seeing the head of polar bear or walrus pop up amidst the ice flow. Slowly I made my way to the bow to discover I was suddenly alone. It was then I noticed the eerie silence that had descended.

Now well into the ice the winds had died down and the normal pulsing of the engine I was now familiar with had quieted at our careful speed. I was mystified by the ice, each a floating masterpiece with its own unique shape and variations of white, blue and gray. Standing there at the bow of the ship, blanketed by thick, dark clouds overhead and the steel blue waters around the ice, was equally exciting and humbling. Although we hope to venture forth, scenes like this remind even the most seasoned seafarer that we are just passersby in a frigid, unforgiving environment.

For more information on growlers and other sea ice classification, see NOAA’s online guide: http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/Sea_Ice_Guide.pdf.

 

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