Tech Tuesday: Where are We Going?

June 28, 2011

From space, satellites observe all kinds of aspects of the Earth system. They can track the extent of sea ice, measure sea surface temperature, and even take pictures of the ocean’s microscopic organisms. If that’s the case, why are we at sea on the Healy?

Earths’ systems are exceedingly complex. To improve measurements collected from space, scientists on the Healy will sleuth out complexities right on the scene. For now, however, satellites direct our decisions as to where — and when — we’ll be collecting that data.

Data from NASA’s Aqua satellite show scientist on board the Healy the location of phytoplankton blooms.

In 2010, ICESCAPE sailed through the Chukchi hotspot, a surprisingly intense phytoplankton bloom in the Bering Strait.

“We measured about 50 micrograms per liter, the highest concentration of chlorophyll that I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world,” said Kevin Arrigo, ICESCAPE chief scientist from Stanford University.

From space, the blooms show up as green swirls on images from the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The pictures reveal the location and timing of microscopic organisms afloat in the sea, the base of the food chain and key players in the carbon cycle.

This week, satellites show that the Chukchi hotspot isn’t so hot. By midday on Thursday, June 30, we should be on site to collect a full suite of measurements to find out why. If the bloom previously peaked, we should see remnants at depth.

Scientists on board also want to study how the blanket of sea ice impacts Arctic ecosystems. But where’s the ice?

Today we’re passing through the Bering Strait and stopped for a full suite of measurements near the Diomede Islands.

Holly Kelly, a teacher from Farragut High School, helps retrieve the CTD/rosette ensemble from the Bering Strait, east of the Diomede Islands. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

We’ll keep pushing north and should start encountering ice any day now. Some charts show that we could see small ice patches as soon as tomorrow. Any significant ice, however, might not turn up until the end of the week.

We know the whereabouts of sea ice thanks to ice concentration maps from sources such as AMSR-E on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Last year our progress north was blocked by thick, multiyear sea ice pulled south by the Beaufort Gyre. Satellites show that, so far, ice should break up enough so we can get a look at ocean, ice and ecosystem interactions deeper in the Arctic basin.

Melinda Webster of the University of Washington looks over a map of satellite-derived Arctic sea ice concentration. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

“The satellites are guiding us to where we’ll actually do our work and, in some cases, informing us of the state of the system,” said Greg Mitchell of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “The coolest technology we’re using every day is the technology flying in space. “

Ship Position at 2011/06/28 20:02:40
Long: 168 49.512 W   Lat: 65 43.372 N

Image of the Week: From Chaos to Order

June 27, 2011

On June 23, the Healy’s main lab (above top) resembled a skeleton … the framework supporting the science of missions past, present and future.

By June 26, the main lab (above bottom) took on new life. Purposefully arranged on lab benches are systems to process water from the ocean and sea ice. They identify the water’s chemical constituents, count its phytoplankton, and store measurements of reflected and absorbed sunlight.

Setting up lab is a critical, early step to a successful mission. Did the instruments arrive in once piece? Do we have everything we need? Once at sea that drill bit or software update can make or break the five-week-long experiment. Finally there’s the pressure of having everything in place before reaching the first sampling station on June 27.

Like bees in a hive, scientists swarmed the lab and knew just what to do. Crates reached their destination via the ship’s cargo lift. Tape labels adorned empty glass bottles. Bungees hugged lab equipment tightly to shelves. Chaos become order.

Ship Position at 2011/06/27 18:17:20
Long: 166 25.755 W Lat: 62 45.762 N

Tales From ICESCAPE: Back on Track

June 26, 2011

Coast Guard crew plan for a search and rescue operation. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

At 9 a.m. on the bridge of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, Seaman Burgeson stood with binoculars and scanned the horizon for vessels. Every few minutes he flipped a switch, asking wipers to clear the spray from an increasingly agitated sea.

The mood was heavy as Coast Guard crew prepared for SAR, or “search and rescue.” Earlier this morning the ship was just southwest of Nunivak Island, Alaska, when crew diverted the Healy from its northbound course and headed back south toward a tug boat in distress. Beacons onboard the tug boat Aries indicated contact with water, but the implications were uncertain.

“I woke up this morning and learned that we had been SAR diverted, and that information took about five minutes to sink in,” Burgeson said. “But that’s why I joined the Coast Guard — to save people.”

A C-130 and helicopter flew to the scene for airborne assistance, while the Healy prepared for rescue and assistance from the sea.

The ship pushed on through dropping pressure and a growing storm that brought 13-foot swells and 30-knot winds. “We’re not going to slow down,” Burgeson said. “We want to get there as soon as possible.”

Waves crash over the Healy as the ship powered through high seas and winds. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

An update at 11 a.m. revealed that the Aries was sinking and that four people aboard had evacuated to the adrift barge. The Healy pressed on and expected to be on the scene by 6 p.m. for back up and assistance.

At 2:15 p.m., Healy crew announced that a Coast Guard helicopter successfully rescued all four people stranded on the barge and returned them to safety. No longer needed on the scene, the Healy turned around and resumed its northward course.

The rescue is not the first drama to unfold for ICESCAPE scientists. Two days before embarking on the mission, scientists at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, drove, ran or hiked to higher ground after a tsunami evacuation was ordered on June 23 after a magnitude-7.2 earthquake stretch the Fox Islands in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Relieved, we descended the hills when it was clear that a damaging wave did not materialize.

Residents, workers and scientists in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, climbed to higher ground during a tsunami evacuation. Credit: Chris Polashenski

“It’s the law of averages,” said Kevin Arrigo, ICESCAPE’s chief scientist. “Last year everything went so well.”

And for the most part, the mission so far this year is going well. In a single day, instrument teams turned the ship’s lab from an empty to bustling space full of sampling and testing equipment bungeed or drilled into place (a necessity at sea). Discussions are peppered again with talk of bottle washing, phytoplankton counting, and ice coring as we re-approach our first science station at the mouth of the Yukon River.

Scientists took the opportune moment to dance to the song “Pressure Drop” (left) as we approached a storm and barometric pressure dropped, evident in trends recorded by the ship’s barograph instrument (right). Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Long: 168 2.836 W   Lat: 59 9.859 N

Arctic Voyage Departs Dutch Harbor

June 25, 2011

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska — Low clouds and damp, chilly air did little to stifle the anticipation of 47 researchers onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy as it powered away from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. At 8 a.m. local time, the icebreaker, scientists and crew forged north, marking the start to NASA’s 2011 ICESCAPE voyage.

On June 25, 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy headed north from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The goal, simply, is to collect data from ocean and sea ice stations to find out how changes in the Arctic — particularly the changing sea ice — affect the ocean’s chemistry and ecosystems. It’s a job that NASA does from space, providing coverage over the entire Arctic region. To better understand what satellites see, however, we need boots on deck and on the ice to tease out the Earth system’s complex connections and processes.

A few final glances back to shore and we turn our sights ahead. For five weeks we’ll be living together, eating together, and executing a well choreographed dance of data collection and analysis.

Get a taste of shipborne Arctic science by following our daily blog posts. Here’s a preview oft what’s lined up …

Sundays: Tales from ICESCAPE
See the mission’s drama unfold as we relay the process of scientific discovery, both its challenges and successes.

Mondays: Image of the week
We present our favorite image of the week along with background information putting the image in context with mission science.

Tuesdays: Tech Tuesday
Shows off some of the cool instruments and gadgetry that make ICESCAPE science possible.

Wednesdays: Q&A
Who are the people behind the mission? Here we profile a scientist or crew member with a series of question and answers.

Thursdays: Tales from ICESCAPE  
See the mission’s drama unfold as we relay the process of scientific discovery, both its challenges and successes.

Fridays: Sound of the week
So you’ve seen the pictures, but what does research aboard an icebreaker in the Arctic sound like?

Saturdays: Arctic history
ICESCAPE is not the first scientific mission to study the Arctic. How did we get to this point? How will ICESCAPE continue the legacy?

Long: 166 31.508W Lat: 53 54.231N

NASA's Arctic Voyage Resumes, Welcome Aboard!

June 20, 2011

On June 25, NASA’s ICESCAPE mission, or “Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment,” resumes its shipborne investigation of the impacts of climate change in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas along Alaska’s western and northern coasts.

Follow our daily blog posts from the Arctic voyage starting on June 25, when the research teams depart from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

We’ll bring you a behind-the-scenes look at ICESCAPE mission science and icebreaking adventures, as well as some Arctic history. Also, meet some of the 47 scientists onboard for the five-week mission studying how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean’s chemistry and ecosystems.

Welcome aboard!

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)