Arctic Water Hogs


From: Matt Mills, Stanford University





Matt Mills samples water from the CTD rosette. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)



It’s 3:45 a.m. and I’m just climbing into my bunk. I’ve been on shift since 3:00 p.m. and I’m a little tired. I’ll sleep until somebody pages me for another station or, more humanely, the On-Ice Brief sometime around 9:00 a.m. this morning.


It’s particularly busy these days because we’re sampling stations both in the sea ice and in the open water next to the ice. At almost all stations, we collect water and/or sea ice from different depths. We’re mainly interested in the tiny one-celled algae that live either in the ice or in the water under and next to the ice.


When I say we’re interested in algae, I mean we want to know how much algae exist, how fast they’re growing, what they’re made of, and what their environment is like. In some ways, algae are much like us in that they are made up mostly of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, and it’s useful to know how much of each of these elements they contain under different environmental conditions. To do that, we also measure light intensity, temperature, nutrient content, and the saltiness of their environment. By measuring all these things (and many more!) at many different stations, we hope patterns will emerge to help us understand how the environment controls the growth of algae here in the Arctic.


Sampling. What does that mean?


In the sea ice, it means drilling into the ice and extracting an ice core that we cut into four or five 8-inch pieces so they fit snugly into our sample bottles.


In the water, things are much more high-tech. At each station, we stop the ship and slowly let a metal frame called a rosette sink from the surface to the bottom of the ocean while suspended from a metal cable. Our rosette holds twelve 30-liter bottles and an instrument package called a CTD (it measures Conductivity— a proxy for saltiness—Temperature, and Depth). There are other instruments on the rosette that tell us how many particles, including algae, are in the water. On the way down, all bottles on the rosette stay open and the CDT and other instruments record data that are sent back to the ship’s computer where myself and other scientists can see, in real time, the physical characteristics of the water and where the algae are located. Then, before the rosette begins its ascent, I quickly decide with input from several other scientists what depths we want to close the 12 bottles to collect our water samples.


This is usually pretty easy because we have standard depths where we always collect water. Likewise, we are now in a routine so I pretty much know what everybody needs. However, sometimes the water looks particularly interesting. Maybe there are unusual layers of salinity, temperature, or algal abundance. Then we mix it up on the fly with people changing their plan as they see the data flash on the screen.


“Can you close my bottles at the bottom, at the surface, and at that chlorophyll maximum right at 23 meters?”


“Wait, our surface bottles have to be closed at 4 meters not 2!”


It’s a pressure-packed moment because I have to quickly calculate and recalculate how many bottles to close at each new depth so that everybody gets his or her water. We have to get it right because once the rosette begins its slow rise back to the surface, we can’t send it back down, and scientists do not like it when they don’t get their water.


Luckily, we have a great group here that helps me make these decisions and gives me enough time to get it right. There have only been a few mistakes. Eventually, the rosette is brought to the surface with all the bottles closed at the correct depths. Now we can sample!


Sampling the rosette is not a free-for-all, although it may look like one. There’s a specific order to who samples first and who samples last. First, Susan collects a sample for oxygen. Then Marlene and Mike get water to measure its carbon content. Scott gets water for nutrients and salts. Karen samples for oxygen isotopes, then Atsushi his CDOM (kind of like the stuff that gives tea its brown color), and Eva her bacteria sample. Last are the “water hogs” like Cedric (for chemicals leaking into the ocean from the land) and The Arrigo Group (Kate, Molly, Zach, and Gert, as well as Elliot, whom we adopted from another lab group). The water hogs basically drain the remaining bottles, taking anywhere from 15 to 30 liters for their measurements.


Now the real fun begins. OK, not really. Once we have our water, we have to pump vast quantities of it through little filters that trap all the particles, which are mostly algae, for different analyses. If things go fast, this can be done in two hours, but when algae are scarce or are particularly “snotty” —  some produce lots of mucus —  things go slow and we may filter water for four hours. Ughhhh! Have you ever watched water drip? That is basically the job!


After the filtering is done, we freeze some filters, dry others, refrigerate some, and immediately process others. Then we clean up, prepare for the next station, have some coffee or a meal, and hopefully, steal a moment to go on deck to breathe in the cold Arctic air or try to find a polar bear or walrus on the surrounding ice.


My pager just went off. I guess we are at another station.




Gert van Dijken, Zach Brown, Christie Wood, and Matt Mills sample water from under the sea ice. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)


A Typical Day on the Ice


From: Christie Wood, Clark University


Christie Wood (Photo by Molly Palmer)



It’s 9:15 a.m. and I’m still in bed sleeping because I worked late in the lab last night. An announcement awakens me over the loudspeaker: “On-Ice Brief on the bridge in 15 minutes!” I quickly roll out of bed and head upstairs to the bridge where several of my colleagues have been on the lookout for a good floe. The glare from the ice is almost blinding as I look out the window to see the chosen spot. They’ve managed to find a flat section of sea ice on a floe that is otherwise covered by rubble field. It’s a beautiful location covered with aqua colored melt ponds.


Once the entire ice team is present, we begin the “On-Ice Brief.” One of the Coast Guard crew reviews the rules and regulations for our on-ice deployment and then we discuss what the Coast Guard calls a GAR model in which both the Coast Guard and science team give their assessments of the risks involved with the day’s mission. They consider aspects such as supervision, crew fitness, environment and complexity. Once our plan for the day has been approved, we pack all of our gear onto sleds, grab a quick lunch, get suited up in our MSD 900 dry suits, put on our helmets, and head to the deck.


Don Perovich (affectionately known by many of the crew as “the Don” in reference to the The Godfather movie) accompanies the swimmer and swimmer tender onto the ice to make sure the area is safe. Don says, “It reminds me of Christmas. First the parents have to see if Santa was there and after that, the kids get to come out and enjoy all the presents.” Once we get approval from the bridge, the crew uses a crane to transport our gear filled sleds onto the ice, and then one-by-one we head down a very steep ramp called “the brow” onto the ice.


The ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is covered in melt ponds this time of year and one of my favorite parts of working on the ice is getting to explore them. When I reach into the pond to take a sample, I’m always amazed at how quickly my bottle hits the bottom. The bright aqua color of the ponds makes you think they are much deeper than a few inches. However, talking to Don Perovich and Bonnie Light at lunch one day, I learned that the color of a melt pond is not related to its depth but to the properties of the ice beneath it. As a result, when you walk across a shallow melt pond, it can look like you’re walking on water!


There are three teams of scientists looking at various properties of sea ice and the under ice water column, all hoping to gain a better understanding of the role of sea ice in the Arctic ecosystem. Each of the groups described below has a piece of the puzzle and by working together we can get a more complete picture of the complex interactions between light, sea ice, and biology. This will help us understand how changes in sea ice cover may affect the Arctic in the future.



Set Up



Gear transported to the ice. (Photo by Christie Wood)



Scientists dressed in the required MSD 900s and helmets survey the location while waiting on deck for the equipment to go out onto the ice. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)




Bonnie Light and Ruzica Dadic drag a sled full of equipment across a melt pond. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)




Scientists set up for a day of work on the ice. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)




Chris Polashenski and Benny Hopson drill a hole in the ice to be used by the different teams for water sampling and measuring light levels below the ice.  (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)



Stanford University Group


While out on the ice, Kevin Arrigo, Matt Mills, and Zach Brown from Stanford University take ice cores and water samples from beneath the ice. They’ll bring these back to the lab to look at the biological activity of the sea ice. Of special interest are the ice algae, the small single-celled photosynthetic organisms that provide food for a wide variety of Arctic creatures.




Matt Mills and Zach Brown taking water samples. (Photo by Karen Romano Young)




Matt Mills gets ready to cut a core into sections while Zach Brown holds the tarp up to block the sunlight. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)



Clark University Group


Meanwhile, my group from Clark University sets up our optical equipment to examine how light varies with depth in the water under both bare and ponded ice. At the same time, I sample the water under the ice to understand how material in the water impacts the amount of light available for algae. We also measure oxygen isotopes (different forms of oxygen) to learn if the water is coming from terrestrial sources or sea ice melt.  Finally, we examine ice cores taken from both the bare ice and the ice below the melt ponds to see how their thickness and composition affects the amount of light that reaches the underlying ocean.





Karen Frey lowers the optical profiler down through the water column below the ice while Luke Trusel monitors her speed and the tilt of the instrument on a laptop computer. (Photo by Christie Wood)





Christie Wood takes water samples from various depths below the ice. (Photo by Luke Trusel)





Luke Trusel stands in a melt pond next to the Icepod (a tripod containing two sensors one above and one directly below the ice that measure the amount of incoming light). (Photo by Karen Frey)




The optical profiler goes down through the ice under the melt pond. (Photo by Luke Trusel)




Karen Frey and Christie Wood collect water samples from a melt pond. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Benny Hopson drills holes in the ice core for Karen Frey to take temperature measurements that Chris Polashenski records. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)



CRREL & University of Washington Group


On another section, Bonnie Light and Ruzica Dadic measure light below both bare and ponded ice. They use a sensor attached to an arm that extends out under the ice and can be rotated to create a circular path. Among their many measurements, they look at the range of light that algae use during photosynthesis.


During much of our time on station, Don Perovich and Chris Polashenski can be seen roaming the perimeter of our site. When Chris isn’t drilling cores and auger holes, he’s venturing into the melt ponds surrounding our site hoping to learn how the underlying sea ice prevents ice melt water from draining into the ocean. Meanwhile, Don conducts surveys of ice thickness with an electromagnetic induction instrument, and he measures the amount of light reflecting off the ice surface.


Don is also known for his sweet tooth, and halfway through each station he comes around with a much-anticipated treat. The surprise Oreos, M&Ms, butterscotches, lemon drops, or root beer candies he brings taste a hundred times better than normal because we’ve been focusing on our work for so long!




Ruzica Dadic takes optical measurements under the white ice and melt pond. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)




Bonnie Light logs the spectral data on her laptop computer. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)





Don Perovich conducts a survey of ice thickness using an electromagnetic induction
instrument. (Photo by Christie Wood)





Don Perovich surprises Haley Kingsland with candy. (Photo by Karen Romano Young)


Blue Noses and Polar Bears


From: Kevin Arrigo, Stanford University


“Why do we do the things we do?” 


It’s a question that’s been around since the beginning of time and for which there certainly is no general answer. I have found, however, that even actions that don’t seem to make sense on their face probably serve some useful purpose. Or at least they did at one time.


The last three days on the USCG Healy have been a veritable frenzy of activity. Sure we have been doing the usual station sampling, but now, something different has been thrown into the mix. You see, a few weeks back, in the early stages of ICESCAPE’s foray into the Arctic, we crossed the Arctic Circle. For many of us, this was our first crossing and somewhere deep in out guts, we knew that it was an important milestone.  But how to mark such an auspicious event?


Not surprisingly, the Polar Bears had the answer. No, not those poor endangered beasts struggling to find enough sea ice on which to scrounge a living. In this case, “Polar Bear” is the name given to those onboard ship who’s crossing of the Arctic Circle has already been appropriately recognized. They have been “initiated.” And as Polar Bears, it is up to them to see that the rest of us, the “Blue Noses,” properly celebrate our own crossing into Arctic waters. That we too get “initiated.”


Now, it turns out that the reason a few weeks has passed since our crossing is that this “initiation” ceremony takes some planning (as chief scientist, I knew when the event was likely to take place, but as a fellow Blue Nose, I was not privy to any of the details).  Another reason for the delay is that it builds tension. Every Blue Nose on the Healy has been hearing rumblings about a possible “initiation” for weeks. Rumors were flying like bats in a cave. As the Fourth of July holiday neared, the tension built to a fever pitch as many assumed this would be the most likely time for the “initiation.” Emotions ranged from terror to pure excitement. And although a few opted not to be “initiated,” the vast majority of Blue Noses welcomed the opportunity. 


“Bring it on, Polar Bears!”


And bring it on, they did. For parts of the last three days. Unfortunately, the laws of the sea prohibit me from divulging any details. Suffice it to say, the Polar Bears went to extraordinary lengths to make our initiation a memorable one. Planning and executing a three-day extravaganza for some 40-plus Blue Noses could not have been an easy task.  But the Polar Bears, especially the “Coasties” as we call them, really pulled it off in spades. It was one impressive event that at different times induced a sense of trepidation, confusion, unbridled joy, boredom, a little bit of disgust, and overwhelming accomplishment among the Blue Noses.  It’s something we will all remember for the rest of our lives.


Now, you may be asking yourself a question similar to that posed earlier, “Why go to all that trouble?” The cynical among us might say that it is simply a chance for Polar Bears to inflict on someone else what they had to endure themselves. I’m not naïve enough to believe that there isn’t a bit of truth to this, at least with some Polar Bears.  However, if that motivation played any role in our initiation, it was very small. Infinitesimal, in fact.


I think the “initiation” persists because it brings people closer together, a goal that’s particularly important for people living and working within the close confines of a ship.  Sharing a common set of challenges under highly charged circumstances levels the playing field. It forces you to work with people you might not otherwise work with in ways you might not otherwise work. Everyone is vulnerable, everyone is equal, and everyone is trying to achieve the same goal. From such experiences, stronger bonds can be forged and a better team is built. And that makes it worth all the effort.


Job well done Polar Bears!


Now, I can’t wait until next year when I’m a Polar Bear. Blue Noses— BEWARE!




Davey Jones made multiple appearances during Arctic Circle crossing initiation. (Photo by Jim Swift)

Profile: Rick Reynolds and Dariusz Stramski


From: Kevin Arrigo, Stanford University, with interview by Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University




Dariusz Stramski and Rick Reynolds (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)


Light. During our waking hours it surrounds us almost constantly, yet we usually give it very little thought. However, our perception of the world surely would be very different without it.  ICESCAPE takes light very seriously. That’s because it not only allows us to perceive this spectacular Arctic environment, but also tells us a great deal about that environment.


ICESCAPE has three research groups dedicated to studying light in the ocean, a science usually referred to as “ocean optics.” One of them, led by Rick Reynolds and Dariusz Stramski of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is focusing on how light interacts with the myriad shapes and sizes of particles that float beneath the ocean surface. Rick and Dariusz are especially interested in tiny particles that are rarely studied but the most abundant.


Dariusz became interested in optics at a very young age. “I was interested in a very spectacular phenomenon— the optical effects you observe on a sunny day on the shallow bottom of a swimming pool; the mosaic of brightness of light sweeping across the bottom.” He was hooked.  Rick’s interest was an offshoot of his graduate studies of how algae absorb light to make sugars during photosynthesis. “I wanted to understand what controls how algae grow, and to do that you have to understand light.” He was also intrigued by the challenges of being an oceanographer— while at sea, one has to be ready for anything. As Rick observed, “You just learn to improvise when you’re out here because there’s not a convenient hardware store anywhere around if something breaks. Take an oceanographer and give him a roll of duct tape and cable ties and he can get you to the moon.” Fortuitously, both scientists found themselves at the University of Southern California in the late 1980’s, where they forged a close collaboration that continues to this day.


Rick and Dariusz use a few different techniques to study how light interacts with particles. In one, they take water samples and put them into a few different state-of-the-art particle counters.  However, these instruments don’t just count the particles— they determine their size, and if possible, identify what they are. In the other technique, Rick and Dariusz drop a suite of instruments right into the water and measure how much light is absorbed and scattered at different depths. By comparing these two sets of measurements, they can better understand how particles affect the optics of water, including its color.


Why do this? Because once we understand what gives the ocean its color, we can measure that color and learn a great deal about what is in the ocean. A blue ocean? In addition to the natural color imparted by water molecules themselves, probably lots of little particles that scatter but don’t absorb much light— but not much else. Kind of a desert. A green ocean? Lots of phytoplankton that absorb blue and red light and reflect green. A veritable oasis. A brown ocean? Either lots of colored dissolved matter (like the stuff that makes your tea brown) or floating particles of dirt and mud (when near the coast). We hope that with enough information, we will be able to distinguish these scenarios and tell different phytoplankton groups apart just by measuring the color of the ocean.


Today we measure ocean color from space using satellites. However, as Dariusz notes, “If you want to get some information about the surface ocean from satellites, it’s a very, very difficult, challenging problem. We want to know about seawater constituents—phytoplankton, or other types of things in the water— from light that leaves the ocean and eventually reaches the satellite sensor. The big challenge is that the contributions to that signal, to light that eventually reaches the satellite signal, comes from very many types of things that are suspended in water.” Thus, Dariusz and Rick’s keen interest in the minute details about what kinds of particles are in seawater and what each of them does to light.


Fortunately, ICESCAPE’s slice of the Arctic Ocean has proven to be optically quite variable, providing many different colors of water for the duo to sample. As Rick puts it, “One of the interesting things for me so far on this cruise has been how things change so dramatically in such a short distance.” Yet our intrepid oceanographers remain undaunted about sampling Arctic waters. “It’s an exciting place to work because it’s challenging,” says Rick. Dariusz echoes, “This is a type of profession in which you’re always challenged intellectually and you’re always discovering things— and re-discovering perhaps. Oceanography is really a wonderful profession and I would recommend it to anybody.”


I couldn’t agree more!




From the fantail Rick deploys the IOP, an optical package that includes instruments to measure the backscattering, loss, absorption, and attenuation of light in the water column. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Rick and Brian Schieber, also of Scripps, bring the IOP back inside after it’s made its measurements underwater. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)


Profile: Sam Laney and Emily Peacock


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University




Emily Peacock and Sam Laney (Photo by Karen Romano Young)



Don a pair of earmuffs and follow Sam Laney down to the “Garden Level.” Past the noisy winch and steering rooms, Sam works in a small space at the stern of the ship where a sampling tube extends through a hole in the Healy’s hull into the ocean. The tube collects seawater that Sam and his technician, Emily Peacock, analyze for phytoplankton distribution using a medical instrument that’s been modified to take pictures of phytoplankton cells.


Sam is a phytoplankton ecologist and assistant scientist in the biology department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. ICESCAPE is the first time this instrument, the Imaging FlowCytobot, has sailed on such a long, comprehensive cruise. The phytoplankton photographs it produces provide the science party with both the amount and types of phytoplankton species at different ocean depths. “It’s a new way to gain insight into what really is the number one question in ecology: who’s living in a certain environment?” Sam explains.


Indeed, the Imaging FlowCytobot differs from a traditional microscope because of its ability to detect and photograph almost every large phytoplankton cell in each water sample. Thus Emily and Sam’s work is establishing extensive baseline data that will help future researchers identify changes in the Arctic phytoplankton ecosystem that might result from climate change.


“Strictly by appearance, I think my favorite Arctic phytoplankton species is Navicula pelagica, because it looks like a necklace,” Emily says. This species inspired her to make a new category entitled ‘Jewelry’ in the digital picture library that she maintains and updates to support the Imaging FlowCytobot.


“People love charismatic megafauna like whales and walruses, but life on the microbial scale is also very, very interesting because it’s like life on another planet,” Sam echoes. “It’s really hard to appreciate how tricky it is to be a phytoplankton cell in the ocean. For example, we see these spines on Chaetoceros — but are they defensive spines? Or do they act like a parachute and keep Chaetoceros from sinking too fast? Do they do both? Do they do neither?”


“It all boils down to the question — what’s life like for these guys on the microbial scale and how do they get by?” Sam continues. “You can’t ask them questions. They’re just this little black box — or little green box — responding to changes in their environment.”


Sam thrives on the challenge of studying phytoplankton, while Emily, a part-time professional baker who surprised her Healy shipmates with chocolate croissants one morning, is also passionate about competing in AKC agility trials with her two Chihuahuas. “I like being a really effective assistant and reducing somebody’s stress because they have my help,” she says about her collaboration with Sam. And perhaps their teamwork will persist far into the future, since Sam considers his phytoplankton research “one big, career-spanning puzzle!”





The Imaging FlowCytobot lives in a small room well into the depths of the Healy. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




The Imaging FlowCytobot took these phytoplankton pictures from a water sample taken at ICESCAPE Station 8 in the Bering Strait. These micrographs show chains of Thalassiosira sp. as well as an oval-shaped dinoflagellate. (Photo by Sam Laney)


Science Team Photos: At Sea


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University


We have phenomenal photographic talent within the ICESCAPE science party. Here are some images scientists have snapped while we’ve been at sea over the past three weeks.




Before crossing the Arctic Circle, we enjoyed spectacular sunsets and sunrises on our passage north. During this dawn, Jim Swift also saw a rainbow. (Photo by Jim Swift)




Don Perovich compiled this composite image of our “Shakedown Station.” (Photos by Don Perovich)




A windless warm spell brought deck temperatures to the 60s. (Photo by Kuba Tatarkiewicz)




The Van Veen Grab sometimes catches bottom dwellers like sea stars, urchins, and sand dollars. (Photo of Luke Trusel by Christie Wood)




Approaching the ice edge. (Photo by Luke Trusel)




Gorgeous weather continued as we conducted our Kotzebue Bay transect. (Photo by Jim Swift)




The Arctic Survey Boat is deployed off the starboard side. (Photo by Kuba Tatarkiewicz)




While planning an ice station, the sea ice team and U.S. Coast Guard crew members survey the ice from the bridge, where the captain navigates the Healy’s course. (Photo by Jim Swift)



Photo by Luke Trusel



We spent a few days backing and ramming in thick sea ice. (Photo by Luke Trusel) 




Stan Hooker of NASA raises an optical surface reference up the mast. (Photo by Brian Seegers)




Rick Reynolds of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography watches his optical package descend into the ocean from the fantail. (Photo by Kuba Tatarkiewicz)



The Healy parked in an ice floe for “Ice Liberty.” (Photo by Jim Swift)




After a few days of ice stations and “Ice Liberty,” we returned for more stations in the open ocean. (Photo by Jim Swift)



The CTD rosette is a standard oceanographic instrument. (Photo by Melissa Miller)




Walrus sightings are always a treat! We must have passed hundreds on this particular evening. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)


Science Team Photos: Dutch Harbor


From: Haley Smith Kingsland, Stanford University


We have phenomenal photographic talent within the ICESCAPE science party. Here are some images scientists snapped before we left Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska, on June 15.




Two PenAir Saab 340 twin-propeller airplanes transported the science party nearly 800 miles from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor. The second plane stopped twice to refuel in King Salmon and Cold Bay because it was so heavy with scientists and luggage! (Photo by Jim Swift)




We passed “Ring of Fire” volcanoes on the Aleutian Islands during the flight. (Photo by Christie Wood)





Many scientists went hiking in Unalaska. (Photo by Chris Polashenski)




We slept in the red-roofed building on the right, the Grand Aleutian Hotel. (Photo by Jim Swift)




Fishing boats in Dutch Harbor. (Photo by Kuba Tatarkiewicz)




Harlequin ducks in Dutch Harbor. (Photo by Chris Polashenski)




Bald eagles seemed to be everywhere in Unalaska! (Photo by Chris Polashenski)


Sampling the Chukchi Sea


From:  Kathryn Hansen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center




On July 2, the Arctic survey boat (ASB) was lowered by crane from the Healy for science excursions away from the main ship, which can mix water and cast a shadow that interferes with the scientific measurements. ICESCAPE scientists and Coast Guard crew made first-of-a-kind measurements near the edge of Arctic sea ice collecting water samples from the Chukchi Sea. The samples are returned to scientists in the Healy’s laboratory for use in biology and chemistry experiments. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen)


The Tools of a Scientist


From: Kevin Arrigo, Stanford University


Despite my son Matthew’s assertion to the contrary, I’m NOT old enough to have been around during the time of the cavemen and so I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of tools they might have used. Still, even though I wasn’t actually there, all available evidence points to the obvious conclusion that cavemen tools were primitive compared to those used by their descendants. In fact, the increasing sophistication of our tools has played a large part in the development of our modern culture. Sure, our tools simplify our everyday lives, but they do much more than that. They make the impossible possible. If you don’t believe me, just think of all the tasks you perform each day and how many of them would not be possible without the right tool.


In science, the need for the right tools is so acute that it has spurred a cottage industry of entrepreneurial individuals and small firms whose mission it is to build the right widget for virtually any scientific task. This synergy between scientist and tool builder (who are occasionally the same person) has led to major advances in virtually every scientific field.  ICESCAPE is not only benefiting from its use of a wide variety of sophisticated tools, but also helping to improve tools already in use.


Although we have a dizzying array of scientific instruments at our disposal, the ones that are of particular importance to the ICESCAPE mission are those that allow us to collect and evaluate measurements in near real-time. If all we could do was collect samples that couldn’t be analyzed until we got back home, we would never be able to recognize, let alone respond to, exciting new observations. It would be like navigating a dark deserted street without the benefit of GPS. Or a map. Or even street signs. Fortunately, a number of our scientific tools allow us to obtain, virtually instantly, intimate glimpses of the physical and chemical properties of the Arctic Ocean and how the biology is responding to these properties. For instance …


Before the ICESCAPE team left for the Arctic, Gert van Dijken (Stanford University) and Mati Kahru (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) produced satellite images of sea ice cover and surface chlorophyll (an indicator of the abundance of phytoplankton – those small single-celled floating plants at the base of the marine food web) for our study region to help guide our sampling plan. These satellite images are free to the public, available every day, and cover the entire Earth surface (OK, clouds can be a problem, but we can usually get enough clear images, even in the Arctic, to suit our needs). Without these images, we would have been forced to make educated guesses at where we should target our sampling.


Once we’re on board the ship and have identified a promising piece of real estate, Melissa Miller and Susan Becker (Scripps) use a nutrient autoanalyzer to very quickly tell us how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and silicate (an element used by some phytoplankton to build their beautiful glass shells) exists at different depths in the water. Just like the plants in your garden, phytoplankton require these nutrients to grow, and measuring their concentrations provides us with instant information about ecosystem health.


Then Sam Laney and Emily Peacock (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) swing into action.  They use their Imaging FlowCytobot (no matter how many times I say it or read it, it is still the coolest name for an instrument ever!) to both count and identify individual microbes that inhabit the seawater and sea ice we are sampling. Soon after, Matt Mills and Molly Palmer (Stanford University) put these microbes into a FRRF (Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer) to see how active and healthy they are.


We then use the CTD (which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth) and an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) to tell us which direction the water is moving and how cold and salty it is. This information is essential for interpreting the distributions of nutrients and phytoplankton we observe. Amazingly (to me at least), Bob Pickart and Frank Bahr (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) can give us this vital information within minutes of the time that the data are collected.


Tools such as these provide rapid, yet accurate, assessments of ecosystem state and greatly improve our ability to carry out our science. And while these tools are a great help to us, the pendulum swings both ways. Work we are doing during ICESCAPE will markedly improve the quality of some of these tools so that they are of even greater benefit to future scientific expeditions. The most obvious example of this is the work being done by ICESCAPE’s optics team. Interpreting satellite images of sea ice and ocean color depends on our understanding of how radiation interacts with the ice and ocean surface. Because of its unique geography and chemistry, the Arctic Ocean poses a particular challenge to optical oceanographers.  Stan Hooker (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Atsushi Matsuoka (Villefranche), Greg Mitchell, Rick Reynolds, and Dariusz Stramski (all three from the Scripps) are using a variety of optical approaches to unlock some of the mysteries of the Arctic Ocean. When their work is completed, our ability to interpret satellite imagery will undoubtedly be greatly improved, to the benefit of all.


Success in science, like many other endeavors, relies on using the right tool for the right job.  And while our scientific imagination and creativity can carry us a long way, our scientific instruments allow us to collect and interpret data with unprecedented speed and reliability. As romantic as the old days of the Secchi disk (look it up) and mercury thermometer may be, give me today’s Imaging FlowCytobot any day!




Scientists use this nutrient autoanalyzer to discover the concentration of nutrients in water samples. The pink color in the tubes here is a water sample with a high concentration of nitrate reacting with introduced chemicals. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




The Imaging FloCytobot takes pictures of tiny phytoplankton for scientists to learn more about them and their ecosystem. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)





The ADCP measures the speed at which the water moves. The four separate transducers lie underneath the hull of the ship. (Photo by Dale Chayes)


Ice Liberty


From: Kate Lowry, Stanford University

Kate Lowry of Stanford University and the Healy.  (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)



Sunday, June 27, 2010, was a day I will remember forever. After spending twelve straight hours filtering seawater in the main lab on my night shift, I generally roll over and go back to sleep when an announcement over the ship pipe system wakes me up during the day. Last Sunday, however, there were two announcements that even those of us still in bed were excited to hear. The first was that there was a polar bear off the starboard bow! Like a few of my sleeping neighbors, I rushed out of bed and onto the deck to try to catch a glimpse of the polar bear while it was still in sight.


After watching the polar bear with binoculars from the bow, I went with fellow science party members Molly Palmer (Stanford University), Kristen Shake (University of Alaska – Fairbanks), and Becky Garley (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) to the aloft control room for a better view. Although you do have to ask permission from the bridge crew to climb into the aloft control room, the watch officers are very open to letting scientists go up and look around. It was truly a surreal experience to climb to the top of the ship, still in my pajamas, and look out over the ice. Below us, other scientists were setting up for a full ice station off the port side, far away from the polar bear that eventually wandered out of sight and into the fog.


Later in the day an even better announcement awakened me. As soon as the science station was complete, there would be “ice liberty” for everyone! We had heard rumors that there might be a chance to get off the ship and play around on the ice, but we knew that it depended on the weather and the ice thickness. Fortunately, the location and conditions we saw Sunday afternoon were perfect. After a short briefing in which we were told to dress warmly, stay away from melt ponds, and what to do in case of an emergency, we lined up in a mix of orange mustang suits, civilian clothes, and funny costumes to walk down the gangway and onto the ice. For one of the first times since we left Dutch Harbor, nearly everyone aboard the Healy got a chance to relax and have fun.


While we were on the ice, we played games, took pictures, and enjoyed soda and candy, courtesy of the ship’s Morale Committee. After being stuck on the ship for so long, we found many different activities in which to participate. Some of the crew members began a game of football while others played soccer on the ice. Scientists joined a game of frisbee in which one of the biggest challenges was to avoid landing the disk in a nearby melt pond. Snowball fights broke out between different lab groups and excited students posed for funny pictures.


After two weeks of hard work on the ship and even more time for the crew members, “ice liberty” was just what we all needed to feel rejuvenated and ready for the rest of the cruise. As we re-boarded the ship nearly two hours later and returned to normal life at sea, we felt satisfied, thankful to Captain Rall and the Healy crew for keeping us safe on the ice, and hungry for the delicious turkey dinner that awaited us on the mess deck.





Scott Hiller, Alejandro Quintero, Jim Swift, Melissa Miller, Parisa Nahavandi, and Susan Becker, all of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Photo by Karen Romano Young)





Brian Schieber, Greg Mitchell, Elliot Weiss, and Brian Seegers, all of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, with Sharmila Pal of the University of South Carolina (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Mark Morgan, William Glenzer, and John Carter, all of the U.S. Coast Guard (Photo by William Glenzer)




Emily Peacock and Sam Laney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Photo by Karen Romano Young)





Zach Brown, Matt Mills, Gert van Dijken, Kevin Arrigo, Kate Lowry (this happy blogger!), Molly Palmer, and Haley Kingsland, all of Stanford University (Photo by Karen Romano Young)





Owen Dicks, Kurt Stewart, Chris Skapin, Lee Brittle, and Evan Steckle, all of the U.S. Coast Guard (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)




Kristen Shake and Mike Kong, both of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks with Marlene Jeffries and Becky Garley, both of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. (Photo by Kristen Shake)





Coasties and science party members enjoying the ice together. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)




Photo by Karen Romano Young





Bottom Row: Zach Brown, Molly Palmer, Kristen Shake, Melissa Miller; Middle Row: Elliot Weiss, Becky Garley, Parisa Nahavandi; Top Row: Kate Lowry, Alejandro Quintero, Haley Kingsland (Photo by Jeremy Gainey)




Healy U.S. Coast Guard crew members. (Photo by Karen Romano Young)




Science party members (Photo by Evan Burgeson)