Image of the Week: Small Boat and a Big Bear

July 18, 2011

On July 17, U.S. Coast Guard crew and scientists powered away from the Healy on the ship’s deployable Arctic Survey Boat for a few hours of routine optical measurements. U.S. Coast Guard SNBM John Jozwik maneuvered through the murky fog hovering over the Arctic Ocean and steered to avoid a block of ice bobbing on ocean’s surface, not an uncommon sight in the Beaufort Sea. Just 20-30 meters from the object, crew and scientists on board realized that the “ice” was not ice at all.

The close up, eye-level look with the polar bear was a reminder that we are visitors working in their territory, and to always keep a watchful eye on our surroundings. Jozwik quickly pointed the boat elsewhere and the science team finished sampling away from the curious bear. Credit: Scott Freeman/NASA GSFC

Joaquin Chaves (right) and Scott Freeman (left), of NASA Goddard, work on the Arctic Survey Boat during the ICESCAPE’s 2011 campaign.

Why do scientists bother to leave the Healy for a smaller boat in the first place? It turns out the Healy — a massive, colorful ship — can influence the precise optical measurements that some ICESCAPE science teams want to collect.

Shipboard instruments are bulkier and collect data down to greater depths, sometimes down to thousands of meters, so the ship’s shadow and turbulence poses less concern. To see what’s happening in the water column close to the surface, down to just 35 meters, a science team from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center heads out in the Arctic Survey Boat (ASB) to undisturbed water.

The ocean’s top layer is observed by satellites that measure ocean color and tell us how much chlorophyll, a proxy for phytoplankton, is present. The Arctic, however, is a tricky place to observe. The water’s optics are influenced by unique solar geometry. Components other than chlorophyll, such as coastal sediments and sea-ice meltwater, can influence how light is scattered or absorbed. To tease out the signal from chlorophyll alone and improve the utility of satellite observations, the ground-based work is key.

So far, the team says they have been surprised by the clarity of the water just beyond the continental shelf. We are sampling later in the season this year, and the bloom that follows the sea ice’s retreat likely occurred more than a few weeks ago.

Ship Position at 2011/07/19 05:51:30

Long: 151 53.166 W   Lat: 72 48.980 N

Arctic History: Meet the Icebreakers

July 16, 2011

U.S. Coast Guard Petty officer Lee Brittle, Marine Science Technician First Class, is a self proclaimed “history nut,” and has been involved with the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet for more than 10 years. I chatted with MST1 Brittle in the icebreaker Healy’s science conference lounge to get a basic history lesson on the Coast Guard’s icebreakers, and to ask a few questions including, who was Healy?

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the platform for the NASA’s 2010-2011 ICESCAPE mission, is the United States’ newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

ICESCAPE: How did you get to work on the Healy?

Brittle: I grew up with a love of history, a love of the sea. My father worked in the ship industry and I always had a nautical fascination. I got an environmental science degree and then weighed my options. I decided I could be a marine science technician and hopefully get to be on one of the polar class icebreakers and do science. I’ve been fortunate. It’s a special opportunity for the small bunch that gets to interact with the science community and have our hands in the field.

I used to work on the Polar Star, then the Polar Sea and now the Healy. But you never forget your first love. I have a special affection for the Star, but this was the natural step up: increased capability, more science, and the Arctic is a hot topic right now.

ICESCAPE: How did the U.S Coast Guard get started icebreaking?

Brittle: The Coast Guard’s predecessor — the Revenue Marine or Revenue Cutter Service — sailed the U.S. Revenue Cutter Lincoln to survey Alaska after its purchase in 1867. That started our involvement and from there it expanded. A couple other cutters up there were the Corwin, the Rush, the Thetis, and then the Bear, which was the most famous. The Bear, built in Scotland in 1874 as a sealer and whaler, was purchased by the United States and operated in Alaskan waters until 1926.

The Revenue Cutter ‘Bear’ jammed in the ice off Point Barrow In August 1898. Credit: F. D. Fujiwara, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 20th Century Revenue Cutters Historic Image Gallery

ICESCAPE: Why is the Bear famous?

Brittle: Captain Michael Healy, who this ship is named for, was the captain of the Bear. He was the sole U.S. government force in Alaska from a legal standpoint, search and rescue, and even dental — they had a doctor on board to provide service to the native Alaskans. He would act as a judge, protecting the seal hunt resources. There’s a quote that claims he was more known in Alaska than any president of the U.S. presidents because of his presence there for a number of years on the Bear. The Bear was a fixture.

The Bear and the others were wood vessels with some reinforcement on the bow to travel through ice. In 1927, the cutter Northland was constructed out of steel to replace the Bear and operated in Alaska until 1946. Then the Northland and other cutters were transferred to the Atlantic as part of neutrality patrol, or the Greenland patrol.

ICESCAPE: Can you give a brief history of the Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet?

Brittle: As far as polar icebreakers go the next development was in the mid-1940s when they started constructing the Wind class. These were 269-foot cutters, and there were seven of those constructed that served into the late 1960s to early 1970s. A lot of the Winds were utilized to resupply remote locations including Thule Air Base in Greenland.

The winds were getting older so in 1954 they constructed the 310-foot Glacier for the Navy. For 16 consecutive years one of the Wind ships or the Glacier went to Antarctica for Operation Deep Freeze [regular missions to resupply Antarctic bases]. Ultimately the Wind class got worn out and they were decommissioned, and the need for new construction was realized.

The Polar Star and the Polar Sea came on line in the late 1970s. The thought was that one of the new ships could do what two or three of the Winds could do. That was the case for a number of years until 2001-2002 when the Polar Star and Polar Sea were called to break ice down in Antarctica. Iceberg B-15 was oriented in a way that kept the ice from clearing out, so they had to send both ships for a couple of years there until the Healy made its trip in 2002-2003 to assist the Polar Sea. After that congress transferred funding and the Antarctic job was contracted out, which freed up the Coast Guard ships.

Now, with Polar Sea decommissioned and the Polar Star in the yards undergoing a refit, the name of the talk I give is “and then there was one.” The Healy.

The Healy, which came on line in 2000, was mainly built for Arctic research, but it has made the one trip to Antarctica and it looks like we might be on track for another trip this year.

For more information, check out Icebreakers and the U.S. Coast Guard.

ICESCAPE: Why Antarctica?

Brittle: Primarily to break the way for the resupply of McMurdo Station. The ice conditions are different down there, they have fast ice (sea ice attached to the land) so you can’t have typical docks or piers. Instead they have an ice pier, a big rebar rectangle moored to the land, so you have to go in and break a channel to it. Once you break the channel in and what we call “groom” the ice pier, you would maintain a channel and mill it, back and forth to keep it from refreezing. Then, we escort in a tanker and freighter can come in with supplies, and escort them back out.

ICESCAPE: When did icebreakers really started as a platform for science?

Brittle: Even back in the day with the Bear there would be some oceanographic work. It’s not a new concept. The Wind class had some capability to carry a science party.

The Polar Sea and Polar Star would list to port side, and its said that it’s because the add on of lab spaces upset the balance. They were built as icebreakers first with capabilities added.

In contrast, the Healy is purpose-built for scientific research with icebreaking capability. It has half the icebreaking capability as the Polar Sea and Polar Star — 30,000 horsepower versus 60,000 horsepower — but has a stable platform and scientific support is the emphasis.

U.S. Coast Guard MST1 Brittle at work on the Healy during NASA’s 2011 ICESCAPE mission. Credit: Karen Frey

ICESCAPE: What interesting science have you’ve seen?

Brittle: We get an interesting mix, including this NASA optics mission with small boat operations, water sampling and other packages.

We’re doing some mapping with the Canadians. I enjoy the moorings, buoy tenders, and deploying equipment. We’re scheduled for phytoplankton work in October-November. I’ve never been up here that late. Early in the season in March and April when we did some duck studies.

In Antarctica one of the things I did was lead the way to a penguin rookery for a team of scientists who wanted to tag them and see what they were eating. They look like cute adorable animals but they get really irritated and flap their flippers when you come close to them, and they’re not the most pleasant smelling.

It’s all just going where not a lot of people get to go. It’s the tough assignments that later on you can tell stories to your kids and grandkids. It’s special to get to do this.

Ship Position at 2011/07/17 06:53:40  

Long: 155 14.064 W   Lat: 72 9.530 N

Sound of the Week

July 15, 2011

ICESCAPE scientists are well acquainted with water. They sample water over the starboard side of the Healy, over the bow of a small deployable boat, and through holes in the ice. They sample at the ice-ocean interface and at depth, and the water from melted ice cores.

The sound you hear is the water sampler cast through a hole in the sea ice. At ice stations, Christie Wood and Holly Kelly lower a canister on a rope to a specific depth, pre-measured and marked on the rope. The initial splash is the sound of a slug traveling down the rope and into the water. Ultimately the slug contacts the canister and triggers it to shut, locking water inside. Scientists reel in the canister and empty its contents into bottles for transport back to the Healy’s lab.

Typically that would be the end of the splashes. On July 10, however, a bent cylinder prevented the canister from shutting. Upon reaching the surface, the cylinder emptied its contents on the scientists’ feet. Undeterred, the team finished the job with the second, more functional canister.

The sampler collects water at the interface, where ice meets water, followed by samples at 1 meter, 5 meters, 10 meters, 20 meters and 30 meters deep. The entire process of about 30-35 casts takes at least 2.5 hours.

Back in the lab the team looks for colored dissolved organic matter, dissolved organic carbon, salinity, suspended particulate matter, nutrients and chlorophyll. Other groups look for measures such as alkalinity, or take a look under the microscope.

Compared to water samples pulled from the side of the Healy, the on-ice sampler can resolve much finer-scale structure, not possible from a ship, particularly at the ice-ocean interface where the water column is most influenced by melting ice.

Ship Position at 2011/07/16 02:26:50
Long: 161 34.569 W   Lat: 72 8.453

Tales from ICESCAPE: Penguins, Planes and Skylights

July 14, 2011

On Tuesday, July 12, ICESCAPE completed its 100th sampling station in just 15 days. Now in the home stretch, science teams are relieved to be over the mission’s hump day and took a break on July 13 for “ice liberty.” Festivities included a penguin riding a unicycle (a penguin in the Arctic?), iceball fights, and a game of tug-o-war with the Healy (above). Needless to say, the ship won. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

July 13 marked the completion of ICESCAPE’s sixth ice station. So far, teams on the ice have noticed an interesting phenomenon related to the way sunlight interacts with the sea ice. “There is more transmittance of light than I would have thought,” said Don Perovich, of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, who leads the ice teams. “This confirms a result we found at a station during the cruise last year.”

In the open ocean, the water becomes darker as you dive down where less light penetrates. The same holds true in water below an expanse of bare ice. Descend below sea ice littered with melt ponds, however, and the water column actually grows lighter before getting darker. Melt ponds are like skylights. Depending on the geometry and location of these skylights, the water column below any given melt pond could receive light contributions from other distant ponds.

The difference could matter for the phytoplankton communities beneath the ice that depend on light to bloom, although exactly how much light they need remains uncertain.

A different kind of excitement hit the sea ice on July 12, as a C-130 overflew the Healy and dropped a small case of supplies onto the ice. Scientists and crew gathered on all decks to watch the operation, and possibly to revel in the short-lived contact with civilization. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Ship Position at 2011/07/15 01:14:50
Long: 158 49.349 W   Lat: 72 45.766 N

Q&A With Karen Frey: At the Seams of Science

July 13, 2011

Biologist, chemist, cryospheric scientist, and remote sensing scientist. Karen Frey, a research scientist and professor at Clark University, dabbles in each, identifying herself as “a remote sensing biogeochemist with an interest in ice.” The approach has allowed Frey and her team to think about science questions in a new way, and to study Earth systems science where the disciplines come together at the seams — a key theme for the ICESCAPE mission.

Credit: Chris Polashenski

ICESCAPE: We’ve previously spoken with a systems ecologist and sea ice geophysicist. How are you involved with the ICESCAPE mission?

Frey: My interest is to bridge the two. I’m a biogeochemist by training but I have experience with ice work as well, so I’m interested the interface between the disciplines — how physical characteristics of the ice are driving the biology and biogeochemistry beneath the ice.

At ICESCAPE’s ice stations, our team quantifies the light field beneath the ice with optical instruments. Light is important for biology and primary production, for determining what kind of critters grow in and below the ice. We also collect ice subsections that we melt so we can filter the ice water and measure its biogeochemical variables: salinity, alkalinities, chlorophyll, oxygen isotopes, suspended particulate matter …

Ice stations are our primary goal, but we’re also sampling and filtering water from the CTD/Rosette and collecting mud from the Van Veen grab to quantify the sediment chlorophyll. [Watch a video of Frey describing the Van Veen grab.]

The mud is interesting because many of the areas we’re sampling are in shallow waters. If we’re sampling in 50 meters, even 100 meters, you have strong coupling between the water column and the sea floor. Algal biomass settles on the seafloor and starts a new food web. But now that we’re off the shallow shelf and in deep water, that’s less important and less interesting.

ICESCAPE: If you could chat with your class right now, what would be the first thing you would tell them about your current experience up here?

Frey: I teach an Arctic system science class, a paleoclimate course, GIS courses, and I have taught remote sensing and a lot of climate related courses. I try very hard to incorporate my first hand research experiences into the class. Whether it’s the data or just photos, I have put together a really a valuable archive of things I can put together to translate to the students. I think they get more out of it, they sense the enthusiasm that I get out of field work, and I hope they think, “wow there are really neat things I can do as a scientist.”

People are intrigued by the megafauna, but also about the ice; what it looks like and feels like. People might feel that it’s scary to walk on sea ice — that they’d fall through — but it’s surprisingly very sturdy, you don’t feel like you’re floating.

ICESCAPE: How does this cruise compare to other Arctic field work?

Frey: My first time walking on sea ice was during field work in March 2008 on the Healy in the Bering Sea. That was an experience. Now, when we have a mix of ice and open water, temperatures pretty much stay around freezing. It can actually be quite warm feeling when the sun’s out. But in March — the time of the annual sea ice maximum — it’s a totally different story.

There was a lot of ice insulating warm ocean from cold air like a blockade, and we typically had temperatures of -40 F. it was incredibly cold. My eyelashes froze. I remember trying to talk to people out there to get or give instructions and after awhile you can’t speak because you can’t physically move your face.

In March, it’s a very different icescape. There are no melt ponds. Snow drifts can be waist deep. It’s a vast expanse of white, but you still get 12 hours of sunlight.

On July 6, 2011, Karen Frey deployed an optical instrument to measure the optical field below sea ice. The measurement is part of Frey’s routine at the 10 ice stations during ICESCAPE. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

ICESCAPE: Work hours are long up here, what motivates you to come out on these field campaigns and work night and day?

Frey: It’s the one opportunity I have to get away from my desk. It’s really interesting because for most of the year I have desk-job hands. I don’t have the opportunity to do things for much of the year but when I get out here I realize you get to actually physically take samples and you watch your hands and realize I’m actually getting away form the desk. I think it’s so important to see and watch first hand the world you’re measuring. If you don’t have that, you don’t really know what you’re studying.

I’m interested in interfaces and bridging things, so I think Kevin and Don and I are all interested in similar things but I look at myself as someone who can bridge the two. In a similar way I’m really interested in bridging and interfacing satellite remote sensing with field observations. You really can’t do one without the other. With field observations you can only be in one place at a time. The beauty with remote sensing is you can spatially and temporally extrapolate those measurements. Satellites give you a really powerful synoptic view of what’s going on. It’s an incredibly complex system up here. If you’re only doing field work then you’re losing a big part of the picture. But there is a lot of heterogeneity. Early ice stations to the west were a lot different that current stations, and you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking with satellites.

ICESCAPE: How did you come to be a “remote sensing biogeochemist with an interest in ice?”

Frey: It’s funny because for a long time I couldn’t define myself. I have all kinds of experience: marine, terrestrial, remote sensing. For a long time that troubled me because if I can’t define myself, what am I? The more that I further myself in my career I realize I can use that to my advantage. I can be involved in different disciplines and understand how everything comes together. It’s at the interfaces of disciplines where the interesting things happen. The seams are where the action happens. You’re thinking about things in a different way, formulating new science questions.

This cruise is very much about bridging disciplines and looking at the seams of science. Before this cruise I thought of myself as an anomaly, but now I see I’m not the only one! I found a niche and who knew you could fill a ship with remote sensing biogeochemists and biologists, but you can! Probably the most famous of which are on this cruise. It’s a great experience for the scientists but the students as well.

I never used to want to be a professor because I though it was an isolated job sitting in your office thinking about research papers. Instead, it’s all about thinking of cool ideas and working with your colleagues and mentors. I think the most fun part is the collaboration aspect. Out here, out with 50 collaborators, we’re all learning from each other. We’re all a piece of the puzzle and ultimately we’ll try to come up with a cohesive picture. That’s the fun part of science.

Ship Position at 2011/07/14 04:38:50

Long: 159 3.519 W Lat: 73 54.819 N

Tech Tuesday: Blob Spotting

July 12, 2011

We’re cruising aboard United States’ newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker, and we brought on board fancy equipment with all the bells and whistles to study the Arctic ice and ocean. But it was small low cost probes — used for ocean science since the 1970s — that turned up an interesting event.

The image (above) shows a slice of the Chukchi Sea, where the shallow Continental Shelf drops off into the deep Canada Basin. The temperature gradient ranges from cold winter water (purples and blues) to warm Atlantic water (yellows and oranges). Credit: Bob Pickart/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

As you look at the image on your computer, a current would be moving along the shelf pulling the cool, purple water toward you, out of the screen. The question is: how does this cool water reach the deep? Here we caught small-scale turbulent processes in action, forcing blobs of the cold water from the shelf and into the basin. 

Data that go into this image demonstrate the mechanism by which blobs of cold winter water are pushed off the shelf into deep basin area. The cold-water blobs bring nutrients for phytoplankton in the basin, and they also provide a cap that prevents warm water from contacting the sea ice.

How is the data collected? The Healy stops at stations for routine deployment the CTD/Rosette sampler, which measures the water’s properties at depth and retrieves samples for testing in the lab. About once a day, teams stop to deploy a full station that calls for deploying a massive suite of instruments. Long hours have made for great progress and today we completed station 100 in just 15 days!

To see what’s happening between stations, however, scientists including Bob Pickart of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution launch simple, low cost probes called Expendable Bathythermographs (XBTs) while the ship is under way.

MST1 Horace Brittle (right) has launched numerous XBTs from the stern of the Healy. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The probe returns temperature and rate of descent data to shipboard recorders along a wire that unspools with the probe. “Picket-fence-like intervals are key for observing small scale turbulent processes, including the blob” said Pickart. “Otherwise we probably would have missed it completely.”

Ship Position at 2011/07/13 04:53:50

Long: 160 18.984 W   Lat: 73 43.386 N

Image of the Week: Under Pressure

July 11, 2011

Karen Frey, of Clark University, displays her pressure-crushed cup adorned with the ICESCAPE mission logo. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The Healy cruised northeast in the Chukchi Sea this morning, out of the continental shelf’s shallow water and into the Canada Basin’s deep-water abyss. Over the course of the day we went from sailing in water just 60 meters deep to more than 2,000 meters deep.

The crossing called for celebration. A common pastime at sea involves deep-water physics and Styrofoam products — usually cups and sometimes heads (the kind used for displaying wigs). Even resourceful ICESCAPE scientists couldn’t turn up any heads, so they adorned cups with commemorative statistics, colorful logos and Arctic icons.

Securely fastened to the frame of the CTD/Rosette instrument, the cups hitched a ride down to a depth of 2,100 meters where the massive pressure crushed them to about a quarter the size of the original.

The celebration was deserved, as ICESCAPE scientists collected the mission’s first data from the deep-water basin. Last year, thick southward moving ice prevented access to the region.

It turns out that scientists saw a striking phenomenon today at the shelf’s edge. Read the Tech Tuesday post tomorrow to find out what we saw, and for a look at the technology that gave us eyes into the deep.

The group of ICESCAPE scientists from Stanford University, led by Kevin Arrigo, displays their Styrofoam plaque before it received a pressure treatment from the ocean. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Ship Position at 2011/07/11 21:07:20 

Long: 159 57.347 W   Lat: 73 25.006 N

Tales From ICESCAPE: Fixes in the Field

July 10, 2011

In the field, resourcefulness is mandatory. Even the most careful planning can’t anticipate every possible complication, whether it’s the breakdown of a tool or a process. Here’s a look at some of the solutions and responses I saw today.

William Balch, of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, spends evenings in the dark room doing microscopy to find out which species of phytoplankton live in the Arctic Ocean. When the light on his microscope gave out, he crafted a new one out of a flashlight and electrical tape. The device is as good as new! Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Christie Wood of Clark University (left), and Holly Kelly of Farragut High School (right) appear distressed upon discovering that one of two water samplers had been damaged. Pushing on, they collected water samples today with just one device, doing a little extra math to compensate for mislabeled depth markers. They finished the job within the 3.5 hours allotted for ice stations! Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Sometimes melt ponds are deeper than they appear. Coast Guard MST2 Owen Dicks paused a moment today to empty ice water from his boots. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Underwater cameras are popular this year because they give a close up at what’s going on within and below melt ponds. Once in the field, however, how do you get that camera through a pond and down into the ocean? Chris Polashenki of Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (left) crafted a device using random scraps of metal, while David Mayer of Clark University (right), affixed his camera to an old mop handle. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

ICESCAPE scientists watch as a plastic bag, used for storing ice core slices, blows away toward a melt pond. The bag didn’t get far before it was scooped up and returned to its owner. We’re careful to leave no trace other than a few curious holes in the ice. Credit: Chris Polashenski

Ship Position at 2011/07/11 05:54:10
Long: 160 45.884 W   Lat: 72 57.856 N

Image of the Week: July 4th Photo Contest

July 4, 2011

Today, July 4th, marks the tenth day of ICESCAPE. I asked scientists on board the Healy to send their favorite photo from the mission thus far. Some submissions featured patriotic symbols, others represented teamwork, and still others showed stunning, rare views of the Arctic environment.

Below are a few of our favorites. See all of the photo submissions here.

Spirit of the Fourth of July

A flag and sea gull fly high over the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy during the 2011 ICESCAPE mission. Credit: Kuba Tatarkiewicz/Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Diatom of the Chukchi Sea

William Balch stays up late at night in the Healy’s dark room doing microscopy to find out which phytoplankton species live in the Arctic Ocean. A particular sample retrieved on July 3, 2011, from just 2 meters below the surface was full of the diatom Coscinodiscus sp. (above). This picture shows one glass frustule (“half of a pill box”) of the diatom photographed under a background illumination with polarized light at 200X magnification. 

“This species pretty much dominated the phytoplankton biomass at this particular station,” Balch wrote about the diatom. “Note the amazingly intricate pattern of holes (aeriolae) in the frustule. These holes are how gases, nutrients, carbon-containing molecules pass in and out of the cell.” Credit: William Balch/Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science

Stars and Strips Over an Ice Core

On July 4, 2011, scientists worked on the sea ice for the first time of the 2011 mission, where they collected ocean, ice and optics data. Credit: Don Perovich/CRREL

Ship Position at 2011/07/04 17:30:50

Long: 168 27.415 W   Lat: 72 40.285 N

Arctic History: Evolutions in Field Work

July 9, 2011

An advantage of being so well connected on the ship is the immediacy of acquiring the data. That quick connection guides the science and speeds up the analysis. It wasn’t always this way, however, so I asked a few scientists on board to share a story about how things used to be. What’s the most interesting change you’ve seen since you first started doing field work?

Greg Mitchell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Since I started graduate school in 1978 my intention was to study the optics of the ocean and how that relates to the ocean phytoplankton and primary production. That’s been my whole career. NASA’s Coastal Zone Color Scanner [which mapped phytoplankton pigment concentration] was flying when I started graduate school, and in fact I went on the first calibration/validation cruise. It was a fantastic first mission for ocean color, but that was very early days and the satellite wasn’t on all of the time. What we all wanted was a time to arrive when these satellites would support our ocean science, because from the ship, the ocean looks about the same. From the bow or the bridge look around and you’re like, “where’s that feature?”

We could map the ocean with salinity and temperature sensors and try to find features. For example, we knew about a phenomenon called warm-core rings, where warm Gulf Stream water breaks off and creates circular eddies that move in toward cool water of the U.S. East Coast.

Eddies are apparent in satellite maps of sea surface temperature and phytoplankton concentration. Image is from “Phytoplankton Blooming Off the U.S. East Coast: A Satellite Description,” published in 1985 in Science.

From satellites, however, the features stood out like a huge target. Satellite measurements of sea surface temperature and phytoplankton concentration revealed big warm eddies, blue where the chlorophyll was low, trapped inside greener shelf water. A program was started called “Warm Core Rings” to go study these phenomenon, becoming one of the first projects to put physicists and biological oceanographers together on a big interdisciplinary project.

As with ICESCAPE, satellites showed scientists where to sample, and a ship mapped along a star pattern through the eddies. Without the satellite data, scientists wouldn’t have known where to map because if you’re standing on the bridge of a ship looking for a needle in the haystack, you can miss it completely. I remember going to San Antonio in 1984 for the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography conference, where the science presentations were stunning the oceanography community. My dream was always to have these satellites supporting our science, and there it was in living color.

Don Perovich, Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

Scientists on the ICESCAPE mission can look at data almost in real time and make changes on the fly. That’s a luxury scientists didn’t always have. Credit: Kathryn Hansen/NASA

Doing Arctic field work over the past 30 years, I have seen a lot of ice and I have seen a lot of changes in the way experiments are done. Two things come to mind.

One is on a personal level. When you left port that was the last opportunity you had to contact your family or anyone back home. There were ways — ham radios and things — but basically you were gone until you got back. And now, just last night, my wife and I were almost instant messaging, sending e-mails back and forth.

The other thing is the accessibility to data. It used to be you went out in the field, you made your measurements, and in order to reduce those measurements you needed mainframe computers. So, you wouldn’t know about the quality of your data until you got home. That had two impacts. One, you never really knew if things were working, and two, you couldn’t adapt your experiment on the fly. One of the things we’ve been able to do in this experiment is look at data almost in real time and if we see something interesting, we can spend more time on it.

Another thing is the accessibility to satellite information. On the Healy they have an application called map surfer which accesses all of the available satellite data. You can look at an image from passive microwave, active microwave or visible satellites and see what the satellites saw just hours before.

In contrast I was on an experiment back in the 1980s working on ground truth for remote sensing, back when they were still trying to figure out what those remote signals meant. An aircraft would fly above with an instrument package collecting measurements and creating a map in microwave. To transfer the data, the aircraft would then make a low pass over the ship and throw the map out of a hole in the plane. We would go collect it, look at it, and then we’d pick our science sites. You don’t see much of that anymore.

Ship Position at 2011/07/09 18:04:50

Long: 162 29.365 W   Lat: 72 21.066 N