4 June, 1998
Today was the blue nose initiation ceremony and it started at about 4:30 AM. The polar bears readied the fire hoses for baptizing the unclean wogs after they crawled through a trough of yesterdays discarded foodstuff. The last "activity" was an audience with King Neptune where the humbled blue noses pledged their devotion to the ruler of the deep. About 150 of the 190 people aboard were blue noses so it was really quite a lot of work and preparation on the part of the polar bears. It was FUN!!
First science station is scheduled for noon today at 68 degrees N latitude. This is about the same latitude as the village of Point Hope but we will be about 60 miles offshore. I am most familiar with Point Hope because of the strong sports program at their high school. Their girls basketball team, The Tigiak Harpooners took the state championship earlier this year and one of their female cross country runners took first place in the regional meet at Unalakleet last fall. Point Hope is the second largest village on the north slope with a population slightly over 1,000. There is a musk ox herd that lives near the village and the nearby cliffs are full of Puffins and Auklets.
Things here on the ship are going well and the whole place is bustling in preparation for the first science station. Once we stop the whole place will take on an even greater level of busy as hoists and cranes are brought into position for use. The first people off-loaded will be the bear watches and they will station themselves off the starboard side on the ice. The next platform load to be craned from flight deck to ice will be Terry, Bill, Aaron, and myself. At this same time the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) rosette will be lowered off the port side to record data and also to collect sea water samples. It carries ten 30 liter bottles that can be remotely operated from within the ship to collect samples at various depths during a cast. A fluorometer will also be lowered off the port side to measure presence and density of phosphorescent plankton. Once the port side water work is complete the box core will be lowered by crane off the fantail in order to bring up samples of mud from the bottom. We have an ROV (remote operated vehicle) on board but it was damaged in transportation and will not be repaired in time for this first station. A station can last anywhere from several hours to several days depending on the depth to which the equipment is lowered. Since this station will be in approximately 50 meters of water we expect to have everything wrapped up in about 6 hours.
One of the interesting aspects of preparing for a station is the maneuvering that is required to get the ship parked properly. We need the ice to be butted up to the vessel on the starboard side but we need open water off the fantail and port side. Sometimes we can find a lead to pull into and parallel park along the edge. Other times the vessel must move back and forth to "clear" an area and then nestle up starboard side to the ice. Throw in some wind, currents, moving ice, and a 400 ft long vessel with 30 to 60 ft. high sides, and it becomes easy to see why this is not an easy task.
Due to some of the conditions I have already suggested it was 6:30 PM by the time the ship was parked and science operations were able to begin. The ice team's gear went over on the crane operated platform and the brow (gangplank)was put across from the ship to the ice to accommodate foot traffic. The ice was fairly thick and the 5 cores we collected were all about 1.7 meters in length. Aaron worked with Bill to do a snow line and Pete Tillney, a member of the group from Bates College worked with Terry and I to collect, cut, and bag the cores. The ice is a bit soft so the cores were collected quickly and without any problems. While coring, a huge bearded seal came to the surface in the lead near where we were working. She slapped her hind flipper and made quite a racket and we think it was because our activity disturbed her dining. A small seal was sighted near the ship so it was thought that mom was the one we saw.
After coring we set out in search of sediment on the surface of the ice. This is of parcticular interest to Terry and Deb(who is not with us) because they are looking for radioactive isotopes in the sediment. Mineral analysis of the sediment provides a "fingerprint" of the area of origin which can then help provide information about the radioactive material. There has been some speculation that several countries have been disposing of nuclear waste in the arctic waters and that this material is finding its way into various levels of the food chain by way of sediment transport. The mechanisms by which sediment is deposited on the surface of multi-year ice is an area of interest that is also being investigated.
As I write this journal at 11:00 PM the science station is far from over. The benthic team is waiting to start their box core drops until the helo is back aboard. They will do 3 or 4 drops and then sample the mud for various types of bacterial activity. The water and bottom teams have a common interest in trying to correlate the algal activity in the photo-active zone of the water column with the same activity at the bottom in these relatively shallow areas. When the ice algae drops from the bottom of the ice surface, and how much of it is taken up by zooplankton on the floor of the shelf are questions that the science teams are hoping to answer.
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