How an Icebreaker Breaks Ice


From: Captain William Rall, U.S. Coast Guard


68° 18’ 132” N, 166° 58’ 487” W, June 22 Healy continues to keep the scientists and crew busy with science stations around the clock. The sun appears to rotate around us each 24 hours, dipping near the horizon about 3:00 a.m. This morning a science party went on ice a few miles from the village of Cape Hope. There was an open water lead along the shore where we could see a few venturing out in their boat, and also going onto the ice, although on different floes that would be too shallow for us to get near. We did trade “good morning good morning” greetings on the radio with someone in town.


72° 06’ 2” N, 160° 41’ 8” W, June 26 — A couple days ago Healy was challenged by the ice conditions. About 75 nautical miles northwest of Barrow, and only two miles into the ice edge, we ran into numerous, and sometimes continuous, old rubble piles, which look like boulders lying around on the ice every which way. The rubble is from pressure ridges that form when ice floes get pushed against each other due to wind and currents. There were plenty of both ridges and rubble, and with less than a mile of visibility, it makes for slow going since we cannot pick out the best path in advance. The floe we have spent the last couple days in is a vast floe, miles and miles across, made up of a bunch of smaller flows that mixed up through the long Arctic winter. This resulted in pressure ridges and rubble piles over 30 feet thick, and quite a few areas where two floes got stacked up and are well over 10 feet thick.


Since the floe is so large, there is really nowhere for the ice to go except in our track-line behind us. In pressure ridge and rubble areas, we back and “ram” into the ice, and may only move 30 or 40 yards with each back and “ram.”  The “ram” part of this is not how it sounds. The Healy’s bow is sloped such that we ride up on the ice with the help of momentum, and then our 16,000 ton weight crushes the ice downward and along the sides of the ship. The power we use would propel the ship to at least 16 knots in open water, but in the ice our speed rarely exceeds 6 or 7 knots. The rest of this energy goes into the ship riding up on the ice and crushing it downward.


The officers of the deck, or OODs, assigned to drive in the ice are all smiles when we are challenged with these ice conditions. No other way to describe it than just fun driving a ship into something on purpose!



All photos by Haley Smith Kingsland




Coast Guard ensign Nicholas Custer, a student engineer, gets ready for a run into the sea ice in Aloft Con, an elevated steering room at the highest point of the ship used only for ice breaking. “We had one run that in 45 seconds went farther than we went yesterday in seven hours!” Nick was proud to say.




After ramming up onto the sea ice, the Healy slowly backs away.




The Healy continues to back into its track-line.




From Aloft Con, Nick propels the Healy forward in order to give the ship momentum for another run. OODs operate the propellers “all ahead” at top speed when going forward into the sea ice. This view of their wake is from the faintail at the stern.


First Ice Station



Photo by Luke Trusel


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University

66° 44’ 11 N, 163° 42’ 18 W, June 19 — Saturday night, fog obscured the sun and bathed members of the sea ice team in haze as they disembarked from the Healy to work on an ice floe off the port side. The group took multiple ice cores and water samples to learn about the biological activity and optical properties of ice. “It’s always nice to get to the first ice station,” said Don Perovich.


But choosing the right ice floe was tricky. The sea ice team spent the entire afternoon high up in the bridge — the observation deck where the captain navigates the Healy’s course — scouting ice floes in Kotzebue Sound with binoculars. “Because the area was mainly first-year ice undergoing quite a bit of melting, it was fairly fragile and would have been difficult to walk on,” said Don.


Keeping potential pieces straight posed a challenge for the team as well. “We kept saying, ‘It’s the white one! It’s the white one with a line!’” joked Chris Polashenski of Dartmouth. The group finally chose an ice floe that was different than the others: a thick piece of rafted ice, or two slabs on top of each other.


Later that night, the Coast Guard lowered a gangway from the Healy and the sea ice team spent nearly two hours on the ice. They used an ice core to drill through its entire thickness (seven feet!) while leaving intact an ice cylinder ten centimeters in diameter. They took four of these cores— one for Kevin Arrigo who will examine the biological activity in its different layers, two for Karen Frey who will conduct chemical analyses to measure the origin of the water, and one for Don who will study how light propagates through the ice as well as the thin microstructure of individual ice crystals. “The ice floe was shaking as we drilled through it,” said Luke Trusel of Clark University. “It was a little disconcerting.”


Next, the sea ice team deployed instruments down the holes left from the coring to take water samples. A layer of fresher water lies directly beneath sea ice, so these samples will allow scientists to measure how conditions under sea ice differ from those in the open ocean.


Studying sea ice at different stations by ship, rather than researching the same piece of sea ice throughout a melt season, will also allow scientists to consider variations between regions. Furthermore, they will be able to use sea ice data collected in the field during this ICESCAPE research cruise to check against data from satellites. “We want to relate what we see here with our own eyes to what the satellites are telling us,” Don said.


In early July, the sea ice team will have ten days of dedicated ice time in the Beaufort Sea. Soon a small group of scientists in orange jackets and red hard hats working on sea ice at twilight will become a common sight.




A gangway, or brow, brought the scientists down to the sea ice. (Photo by Parisa Nahavandi)




Photo by Parisa Nahavandi




Four members of the sea ice team and two Coast Guardsmen ventured out onto the sea ice. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)



Don Perovich and Chris Polashenski start taking an ice core. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Luke Trusel bags a section of ice core, which was cut into 10-centimeter layers before it melted. The chefs were cooking snacks just as the team came back aboard the Healy. “How unusual it was to be in the Arctic on an ice floe with the smell of brownies baking in the night!” Luke remembers. (Photo by Chris Polashenski)




The faint fog bow on the right is similar to a rainbow in terms of basic physics. “Raindrops are large enough to make colored rainbows, whereas fog droplets are too small and they make colors that smear together into white,” explains Bonnie Light of the University of Washington. (Photo by Luke Trusel)




Our icebreaker! “The crew did an impressive job parking a big ship on a small floe,” Don said. (Photo by Luke Trusel)


Fair Winds and Following Seas


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University





Haley Smith Kingsland (Photo by Karen Frey)



60° 7’ 155” N, 149° 25’ 532” W, July 24 — The fog lifted as the Healy steamed through Resurrection Bay ahead of schedule Wednesday morning. We pulled into port just before noon, enough time for both scientists and Coast Guard crew to disembark in Seward and readjust to the motionless ground beneath our feet, moving automobiles, fresh salads, the smell of flowers and vegetation, cell phone service, and other civilians!


Wednesday night, Bonnie Light (University of Washington) and I watched the colors of the sunset intersect the moon from the Healy’s helo deck. We spoke about the incredible amount of effort to reach the Arctic, a place so difficult to convey through prose or imagery.


“Sea ice may as well be the moon,” Bonnie said. We were already craving it — and the alternate reality of life aboard a ship — just hours after docking in port.


Among the many other aspects of icebreaking I’ll miss are walruses, polar bears, CTD casts, fresh-baked desserts, steel-toed boots, and 24 hours of sunlight. On top of daily lab work that consumed at least a third of my waking hours at sea, blogging for so many loyal and curious followers has been an honor. I wish I had had more time to tell you even more about our Arctic research and phenomenal Coast Guard hosts! Thank you for reading, commenting, and supporting ICESCAPE 2010!

Photo Album: Final Deployments and More


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University





Coast Guard marine science technician Dan Purse deploys the optical package off the fantail with Brian Schieber and Rick Reynolds, both of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The package measures light absorption and scattering by diverse contents in the water column such as water molecules, algae, and bacteria cells. Its frame carries a few pieces of optical equipment from different research groups. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




After the optical package’s final deployment, Rick Reynolds of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography rinses it with freshwater to prevent rust. “It’s time for a long bath,” he said. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




The CTD rosette is an aluminum frame that carries water sampling bottles all around its circumference, and different sensors attached to its bottom record characteristics like temperature and depth. The starboard staging area is a flurry of activity as scientists collect water from the CTD rosette’s sampling bottles after it returns aboard. Bob Pickart of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (top center) enforces the scientists’ sampling order and records the amount of water taken from each bottle and by whom. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)





Our final deployment! Luke Trusel of Clark University (center) carries a hose to rinse off the Van Veen Grab for the last time while both the optical package and thorium pump rest in the aft staging area (left) for good. Cedric Fichot of the University of South Carolina (far right) watches the last deployment activity from a radioisotope experiment isolation van. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Captain William Rall presented both science party and Coast Guard crew members with certificates for more than 21 days of service above the Arctic Circle. Captain Rall’s leadership was outstanding throughout the entire NASA ICESCAPE 2010 mission. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)


Photo Album: Arctic Wildlife


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University





The Van Veen Grab, an instrument that grasps and traps soft bottom sediments, brought up this brittle star one day as well. Other times it captured sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea sponges, crabs, and sculpin fish. One of our stations, the Chukchi Hotspot, was particularly teeming with bottom-dwelling organisms. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)





While steaming through the sea ice at the end of our journey, the Healy stirred the seawater enough that seabirds followed the ship’s wake diving for food like Arctic cod. “When the ship stopped, all the birds rested on the ice,” oceanographer Jim Swift observed. “This went on at all hours, day and night.” Here’s an ivory gull that lives on the sea ice. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)





Black-legged kittiwakes are known to follow ships. This one is a juvenile. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)





Two pomarine skuas hassle a black-legged kittiwake in attempt to steal the fish it caught. “Those three days the seabirds were following us, I felt like we weren’t alone,” said Melissa Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her brother is an ornithologist, so she grew up watching and identifying birds. “For me, seeing them is comforting.” (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)





Science stopped one morning while everyone went on deck to witness four polar bears: most likely a mother (left), two cubs from this year, and one from last year. Karen Frey of Clark University noticed a radio collar around the mother’s neck, so her movements are being tracked. (Photo by Karen Frey)


Photo Album: Final Ice Stations


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University



Ice Station 10





Ice Station 10: Stanford University researchers (front row) haul crates of ice cores back to the Healy, while Clark University researchers (back row) deploy an optical profiler underneath a melt pond through the sea ice to examine how light varies with depth in the water beneath.





Ice Station 11: Matt Mills of Stanford University fills a glass bottle with under-ice water for Christie Wood of Clark University.





Ice Station 11: Ruzica Dadic lifts an instrument that records the amount of solar radiation through the sea ice. She holds it above her head so her face doesn’t affect the measurements.





Ice Station 12: During the final ice station, a few scientists plus Coast Guard rescue swimmer and swimmer tender walked to the edge of the floe and back conducting measurements — a total distance of about a mile.



All photos by Haley Smith Kingsland 

Our Voyage, by the Numbers

From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University, and Emily Kehrt, U.S. Coast Guard



Researchers working on the ice during one of our last ice stations. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)



Plankton images Sam Laney’s Imaging FlowCytobot collected: 1.5 million


Meal plates served on the mess deck: 12,900


Gallons of water made: 7,937


Nautical miles traveled: 5,430


CTD rosette water sampling bottles closed: 1,172


Coffee drinks sold in the ship store: 500


Science deployments: 366


Bottom depth at deepest science station (meters): 305


CTD rosette casts: 158


Science stations: 140


New “polar bears” initiated: 51


Days underway: 37


Mustaches grown/maintained for competition: 31


Bottom depth at shallowest science station (meters): 22


Days with more than five hours of “foggy” skies: 16


Ice stations: 12


Polar bears sighted: 7


Sunsets: 5

Icebreaker Lingo


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University



We enjoyed a rare glimpse of undular bore clouds above the Healy during a period of spectacular weather at the beginning of our voyage. Coast Guard crew member Jeremy Gainey snapped this photo while assisting with research on the Arctic Survey Boat. (Photo by Jeremy Gainey)



After five weeks aboard the Healy, we’ll all come back ashore speaking in nautical terms and Coast Guard lingo. You may hear some of the following new words slip from our lips:


Below: Downstairs

Bulkhead: Wall

Compartment: Room

Detail: Work crew

Drills: Coast Guard training sessions (on the Healy, each Monday and Friday)

Head: Bathroom

Heave: Ship motion up and down

Helo Hangar: Helicopter space

Ladderwell: Stairs

Liberty: Time off

Mess deck: Cafeteria

Muster: Assemble

Overhead: Ceiling

Pipe: Announcement

Pitch: Ship motion with bow and stern alternating as uppermost

Port call: Time at port

Quarters: Time with the Commanding Officer for official and ceremonial functions (on the Healy, every Tuesday and Friday afternoon)

Rack: Bed bunk

Red goat: Garbage disposal for food waste

Roger that: Yes

Roll: Ship motion sideways

Secured: Closed

Stateroom: Bedroom

Scuttlebutt: Drinking fountain

Swab: Mop

Topside: Upstairs


Profile: The Arrigo Group



From: Kevin Arrigo, Stanford University




Newly initiated “polar bears” Gert van Dijken, Kevin Arrigo, Matt Mills, Kate Lowry, Molly Palmer, Zach Brown, and Haley Kingsland on the fantail. (Photo by Gert van Dijken)



“The changes going on in the Arctic Ocean are frightening,” I tell the scientists and crew members in the audience. 


I had just finished a lecture about some of my Arctic research and someone asked me what I thought about the future of this fragile environment. Melting of Arctic sea ice is pretty familiar to most people by now, but there are other, equally worrisome things going on. Biological productivity has ratcheted up and the timing of many key events is shifting. The sea ice is melting earlier in the spring and advancing later in the autumn.  Phytoplankton are beginning their growth spurt earlier than ever before. Why is this a problem? Many animals key their migration to be in the Arctic when it is at its most productive. Arctic terns and gray whales are two prime examples. What will happen to them as the timing of that production changes? There is an enormous experiment going on in the Arctic and we can’t control it and we don’t really understand it.


That’s why I got involved in ICESCAPE. There are fundamental questions to which I want to know the answers. Is the biological productivity of the Arctic Ocean really increasing, and if so, why? Why is the timing of this production changing? To answer these questions, we need to know what controls the growth of these miniscule plants that manufacture the food for an entire ecosystem. Is it light? Is it a nutrient like nitrogen, the fertilizer of the sea?


To answer these questions, we need to make measurements. Lots of measurements. And we need to do experiments. On ICESCAPE, my research group does both – with the help of the rest of the ICESCAPE team, of course.


It begins with either Matt Mills or Gert van Dijken (depending what time of day it is) telling the operators of our water sampler what depths to grab water from. They always want surface water, but sometimes the bugs are more numerous deeper down, so they may ask for water from there, too. Then Zach Brown and Kate Lowry swoop in, grab the water and bring it into the lab. Most of the water gets collected on little filters to see what’s in it, and Haley Kingsland measures their chlorophyll concentration. Gert injects some of the water with radioactive carbon and it sits either in the sun for a day or in a “photosynthetron” for an hour – that’s how we measure algal growth. In the meantime, Molly Palmer takes some of the water and tracks the algae’s behavior when zapped with lots of light. Finally, Matt and Zach use some of the water to measure how quickly the algae can gobble up different flavors of nutrients. And we do this day, after day, after day.


In the end, we hope to have a better picture of what Arctic algae like and dislike. What makes them thrive and what makes them crash. Why they are so much more productive now than they used to be. Why they are starting to grow earlier in the season.


Armed with this information, we will be in a much better position to interpret the changes we are observing today, and more importantly, to begin to understand what the future is likely to bring.




Gert van Dijken accepted an award on behalf of the science party for 21 days of service

above the Arctic Circle. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Zach Brown, Matt Mills, and Kate Lowry before an ice station.

(Photo by Gert van Dijken)




Elliot Weiss and Zach Brown filter water samples for examination. (Photo by Gert van Dijken)




Haley Kingsland measures the chlorophyll concentration of water samples with a fluorometer.

(Photo by Luke Trusel)




Molly Palmer records algae’s behavior under high light conditions using the Fast Repetition

Rate Fluorometer. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)