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!