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30 March, 2003

The Science Shack

I woke up to a beautiful Sunday morning. Light flurries of snow, temperature around zero and wind chill about negative 10 degrees F. It was a slow day for me a time to organize my gear and update my journal. The rest of the team is busy with small tedious tasks and minor adjustment to instruments in the science shack.

The science shack is a small plywood shed that contains all of the scientific monitoring equipment that continuously monitor the water. The shack is located outside beneath the high school building. Within the cozy confines of the shack you will find the thermosalinograph, three nutrient sensors, fluorometer, two computers, an atmosphere of science and not much standing room.

Seawater is pumped from the Bering Sea through a hole in the ice located about 400 feet from shore. The water pump itself hangs about five feet above the bottom of the sea in about 15 feet of open water and approximately 11 feet of ice above it. The water is drawn through 420 feet of flexible insulated hose that snakes across the ice and into the science shack.

Upon entering the 6 foot by 10 foot shack the water is diverted to one of three instruments by various valves. The majority of the water is directed through the thermosalinograph where the waters temperature and salinity is measured in order to calculate the seawater density level.

A smaller portion of the water is directed through a series of nutrient sensors, which measure the amount of nitrates, phosphates and ammonium in the water. Still another small portion is directed through the fluorometer where the amount of chlorophyll is detected and recorded.

Once the water is tested it is all returned back to the sea through a drain located at the bottom of the shack. All of the data collected is periodically recorded on two computers that are in the shack.

So why go to all of the trouble to monitor seawater in the Arctic? In simple terms, the Arctic Region possesses some of the most nutrient rich waters in the world and the area around Little Diomede is ideal for monitoring due to its location. By measuring and collecting information on the changes in the nutrient levels and the microscopic beginning of the food chain. It is hoped that the information can be used to interpret the health, quality and stability of organisms higher up on the food chain like beluga whales, walrus, polar bears and seals. This region of the world is extremely fragile and sustained changes in nutrient level, temperature or salinity that are abnormal can deeply impact all of the Arctic species, including humans.

Ready for Arctic research

Hose leading from drill site to science shack

Vince Kelly adds chemicals to nutrient sensors in the science shack.

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