Week 3: Pancakes, Polynyas, and Polar Bears
Breezy Grenier on the USCGC Healy: Three weeks down, three to go! Ice conditions have caused us to change our CTD transect lines a couple times, but nothing will slow down the Healy! Coming back from the waters of the Canadian Arctic around Mackenzie Bay, we have been working our way back west towards Barrow Point (and into cell phone service!).
It is funny on how many countdowns there are going on aboard the vessel. 8 Days until we arrive back in Dutch Harbor, 14 days until we arrive in Juneau, and 20 days until the ship arrives back in Seattle [15 days until I arrive back home in New England]. I can’t forget to mention it’s # days and a wake up.
We did get a nice change of pace this week switching from CTD casts to XCTDs, at least for a day and a half. Instead of an evolution involving several deckhands, deploying a large cylinder with several pipes (niskin bottles) designed to capture water at different depths, along with an ADCP (acoustic doppler current profiler- which measures how fast water is moving across an entire water column) and a few other pieces of oceanographic equipment, we are able to test for CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth), turbidity (clarity), and get nutrient, chemical, and salinity measurements from the water samples. So the XCTD saves a lot of time when trying to get a snapshot of an area, since it involves only three people, dropping a single probe down into the water column. It records conductivity, temperature, and pressure. So when deploying the XCTDs we stumbled across some really exciting data. We were capturing the formation of winter water and how it spreads across the Beaufort slope! So back to CTD casts for a “higher resolution” of this phenomena.
Photo Credit: MST2 Cory Padron
We did our deep CTD cast this week. This is always everyone’s favorite event, getting to decorate and shrink Styrofoam cups! The cups started at 9 cm tall and shrunk to about 3.75 cm. They were sent down to just over a mile (1.1 miles) below the surface to 1784m (5853 feet)! I got carried away making three different cups.
I also got to work on splicing cables. It’s been awhile since I did soldering, so it was a nice to get down and dirty and do some precision work with my hands. I also re-terminated some CAT5 cables; this was a first for me. The wires are organized inside the cable white and color with solid color (ex. WO/O, WB/B, WG/G, and WBr/Br). Somewhere along the lines, someone inventing the terminal end thought that it would be a good idea to switch two of the white/color cables in the terminal end (WO/O, WG/B, WB/G, WBr/Br). Tell me how that makes sense?! I ended up having to splice the cable ends twice, because of that mix up. Now I will remember the order every time I terminate CAT5 cables, and to check and double check the guide, instead of looking at the black and white picture for reference.
On our trek back west, coming in close to land, we also came back into cell phone service off the coast of Alaska’s North Slope. It is funny when your phone hits 3g and notifications come streaming in, two plus weeks worth. I guess a lot of people didn’t listen to my voicemail saying I was out to sea for six weeks, or all the away messages I put up on my email and social media. [Verizon, I use to have service in Dutch Harbor 12 years ago, and now I do not, but I do have service off shore the coast of the North Slope?!? Thank you!]
After three weeks, we finally had an amazing Aurora sighting! The irony is the forecast said it was a low probability (2 out of 10). The past couple of days we have entered our “W” transect. We call it that because it’s the shape of a W, so we have had a pretty solid CTD cast routine, with time between casts ranging between 15 to 30 minutes apart. It also was extremely cold this week with wind chill temperatures hitting below zero, so my morning routine heading to watch has been walk down to the mess deck, get some hot water for my tea, and head back to the lab through the interior of the ship. After I get bundled up in my foulies, I head outside in the darkness to stare at the sky in hopes to see the Aurora, or the ice illuminated around the ship until the start of my watch at 6 am. Yesterday was warm, in the mid twenties, similar was predicted for today, and something just made me want to go “walk to work outside”. So happy that I did, because as soon as my feet hit the deck, I looked up to see the dancing green stream across the sky! Some call it luck, some call it fate, either way I was so excited!
We are also up to 8 polar bear sightings! We still haven’t seen any walrus’ or whales, hopefully soon now that we are near the ice edge.