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13 April, 2003

Symphony Under the Ice

After a night of strong howling winds the dawn greeted us with calm warm weather (low 30s) and light snow. All morning the sun made several gallant attempts to pierce through the low-lying blanket of clouds with no success.

The day began for us on a routine note of checking water flow, nutrient sensors, fluorometer, thermosalinograph and archived data in the science shack. After a quick breakfast we all began our individual laborious paperwork tasks.

At 5:00 we decided to conduct our water sample collecting at all of the drill sites. We started at the south sites and much to our surprise the first holes had frozen solid in just ten days, most of which were mild. We were accustomed to the six to ten inch freeze over but not the six to eight foot ice we now faced in the drilled holes. We had to abandon the first two sites and head to the third. The third site allowed us to collect our two water samples and data without any complications but now Mother Nature decided to play with us.

While finishing the third site collections Mother Nature played a cruel joke on us. Without any noticeable warning the weather changed. Strong winds and snow pelted us for about 45 minutes reducing our visibility. The wet snow created a frozen coating on my glasses while snow machining to our next locations (A similar situation occurred almost two weeks ago at the same drill site. A snowstorm quickly blew up creating a near white out). The weather finally calmed as we finished the last southern drill site collections and we headed north.

It takes us about 20 to 30 minutes to reach the northern drill sites located about 150 yards from the open lead, which has tripled in size since our last visit. At these two locations we are beyond Little Diomede Island, which has been blocking most of the winds for us. After a few minutes at the first site our light winds periodically transform into strong gusts of wind with blowing snow and ice crystals. Wave after wave of snow and ice spiral through our site creating a less than ideal sampling situation. We quickly collect the last samples then head back south to repeat the sampling tour.

Halfway back we meet up with Gay Sheffield who invited me to accompany her and two Diomede residents back to the northern lead to use a hydrophone and hear which, in any, marine mammals are below the surface.

The hydrophone is a listening device lowered into the water in order to record and collect data on the vocalizing of the marine mammals present in the area. The instrument picks up the sounds made by the animals from a considerable distance away in the frigid waters.

Once the hydrophone was lowered into the water an amazing underwater symphony of sounds began to pour from the speaker. Orchestrated by beluga, walrus, bearded and ringed seals and even bowhead whale the variety of squeaks, squawks, squeals, shrills, clicks and screams were amazingly clear and wondrous. The sounds appeared so close I waited for a seal or whale to pop up in front of us at any moment. A ringed seal finally appeared about seventy-five yards out and seemed to take a bow before slipping back beneath the surface.

We listened for about 30 minutes before packing up and heading to the south end of the island. The open water at the south end is too far away so we stop about 150 yards from the shoreline area and lower the hydrophone down through one of the holes used for crabbing. Not nearly as much diversity here and the sounds were farther away but we still stay and listen for about 45 minutes before heading back to the village.

I returned to the school a little after 10:00 PM and it is still very light outside but I am tired and a little sore from riding in the sled pulled by the snow machine and retire soon after dinner.

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