Week 4: As the Sun Sets, Winter Awakes
Breezy Grenier on the USCGC Healy: What an exciting week it has been, chasing the formation of winter water around the Beaufort! We just wrapped up our last week of science, and started our steam back to Dutch Harbor.
It certainly has been a game of ping-pong going back and forth across the Beaufort Sea. Last week when we were starting our transit back West, and near Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) where we stumbled upon the formation of winter water, and when you stumble across a scientific phenomena, you to try and gather as much data as possible, in this case we needed to best document how it spreads across the Beaufort slope. So we headed back East, filling in the gaps between our CTD line transects, then we headed back West due to time constraints, and then because the Coast Guard crew was so amazingly efficient at the CTD cast evolutions, they bought us more time to head back East! I also want to mention, this week we also experienced our shortest days with just about 2 hours of daylight, and our coldest temperatures yet, dropping down to -21°C (-5°F) with -28°C (-18°F) wind chill. Bravo Zulu Captain and Crew of the Healy!!
The Franklin Mountains of the Brooks Range on the North Slope borders the Beaufort Sea. So on a clear day, during our two hours of sunlight, and our 6-ish hours of twilight, the majestic mountains were our backdrops. Even if it wasn’t clear, it was snowing beautiful, big, fluffy snowflakes. If you are a snowboarder like I am, this just kills you. I teach snowboarding at Rhode Island’s number one ski area, Yawgoo Valley, I also organize and lead the snowboarding staff as an Instructor Trainer and Snowboard Hill Captain, so I am very passionate about the sport. Yawgoo is pretty flat, with 95m (310ft) of elevation, so when waking up to fresh powder on the decks every day, and with the ocean between you and the soaring mountains, it’s torture! Also getting news that back home that they just got their first snow of the season, I can hear my snowboard calling my name! I am also a polar and ice diver, and happen to be one of the members of the Sedna Epic Expedition, where we are snorkeling the Northwest Passage in 2020, so between no snowboarding and no scuba diving for the past 4 weeks, I am going through withdrawals! But the reality is, the mariner in me is still just as excited being on a ship up in the High Arctic in the beginning of winter, I am truly lucky. People always assume just because the water is cold, that there is no life, and high latitudes the water is always murky because it LOOKS dark. Oh on the contrary, the ocean is teeming with life! Winter in New England is my favorite time to go diving because the water is so much clearer, and instead of the average 3m of viability you can easily have up to 10m+, and unless you are at the foot of a glacier, or the mouth of a river same generally goes for the High Arctic, with the added bonus of icebergs.
During our transits back and forth between lines, gave me some “down time” to get back to work on creating and/or updating SOPs (standard order procedures). My learning style, I am a do-er. I learn best by actually working on a skill, so if there isn’t a current opportunity to work on a task hands on, the next best option for me is to do a mock trial, allowing me to record observations, skills and steps. Especially when it comes to using different software. So far I created SOPs for importing Ice Imagery on QINSy, and updated XBT & XCTD cast procedures, and now creating processing procedures for POS MV, and updating Seapath.
Photo credit: Sarah Kaye, C4IT
With only one more science stop to recover a mooring, we are full steam back to Dutch Harbor. One day and wake up before the science party disembarks, and then we will continue our journey to Juneau, Alaska. We will be disassembling all the equipment for the end of the science season and the ships dry-dock. Good-bye the world above the Arctic Circle, hope to see you soon!
November 17th is when Utqiaġvik will have their last sunset, as it begins the two months of Arctic night.