Arctic Natural History

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July 23, 2011

Today’s post deviates from the typical Saturday musings on the subject of Arctic history to explore the realm of natural history. What exactly is natural history (besides the chance to show off photos of flora and fauna collected during ICESCAPE?)

Limited sources available at sea suggest that Aristotle and other philosophers dabbled in natural history by analyzing the diversity of the natural world. A modern definition emphasizes the observational rather than experimental approach to studying plants and animals.

Even today with all of the fancy tools not available to Aristotle, there remains a benefit to simply observing, and the diversity we’ve seen is astounding. We have been wowed over sightings of charismatic megafauna — the polar bear, whales and seals that always draw a crowd to the ship’s bow.

At an evening science talk on Thursday we oohed and ahhed over microscopic aquatic creatures that bridge the animal and plant worlds, and got a close up look at some of the ocean’s inhabitants producing some of the color we see from satellites in space.

Here’s a quick armchair tour of Arctic natural history as viewed by ICESCAPE scientists with the longest lenses and sharpest microscopes.

Polar bear sightings were not uncommon during the ICESCAPE mission and this curious bear stopped just 100 yards from the ship to check us out. Credit: Karen Frey; A Grey whale showed off a fluke between dives to feed on the critters at the bottom of the ocean. Credit: Chris Polashenski

A curious Ringed seal swam among multiyear sea ice in front of the Healy (left), and a flock of Murres, a bird common in the Arctic, skimmed the surface of the Chukchi Sea. Credit: Chris Polashenski

As we head south again, the benthic community is becoming more diverse, and scientists today pulled up some benthic invertebrates including worms, sea cucumber and brittle stars. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Greg Mitchell, of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, found out the hard way that the gelatinous blob that surfaced with a water sampler was actually a jellyfish (left). Credit: Elliot Weiss; Star-shaped silica structures called Dictyocha, seen here under William Balch’s microscope, showed up in abundance deep below some of the mission’s ice stations (right). Botanists think of it as a plant because it makes chlorophyll, while zoologists think of it as an animal because it propels itself with flagellum. Credit: William Balch/Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science

Ship Position at 2011/07/24 10:23:50
Long: 161 59.320 W   Lat: 71 43.659 N