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14 July, 2003

A Full Day of Science

Our workday began a little before nine in the morning with the arrival at our first stop of the day. SLIP-I, as the survey station is referred to, is located at Latitude North 62.013 degrees and Longitude West -175.056 degrees where the Bering Sea is about 82 meters in depth. A somewhat choppy morning made for a queasy feeling at breakfast but only lasted until I walked out on deck into the cool air of a Bering Sea morning. Besides, there was a lot of science to be done today and no time to feel ill.

Yesterday was a light day with only the deployment of a single CTD. The better part of my day was working with the ship's technology person working out "bugs" in my computer to send and receive e-mails directly. Today promised to be very busy and exciting from the moment the sea rolled me out of bed and challenged me to take my shower as the ship rocked back and forth.

SLIP-I involved a CTD deployment, 5 van Veen sediment grabs and 3 HAPS cores. A van Been grab is an instrument that is similar to the carnival crane games where you have to use a small crane like device to grab a prize. Only in our case the prize is a bucket of sediment from the bottom of the sea.

The van Veen grab is gently lowered to the bottom. The bottom contact trips a weighted trigger that closes the grab bucket while the device is slowly raised. The buckets contents are then poured into a screen sieve to be washed and collected for later analysis. The four consecutive grabs give a one-meter square representation of the areas benthic biomass.

The next instrument deployed is a HAPS single hole corer that resembles an open-sided pyramid with a metal cylinder in the center and a weighted spatula like device on the side. The HAPS corer is lowered to the bottom. Once on the bottom the weights "push" the metal cylinder through the sediment triggering the spatula like device to slam down and over the bottom of the cylinder thus trapping the collected core sample. The instrument is then raised to the surface and the sample is removed for analysis.

Both the core sampling and the sediments grabs are primarily part of the research that is being conducted by our Chief Scientist, Dr. Jackie Grebmeier. Her research involves the study and changes within the benthic, or bottom, community in this region. Studies have shown a reduction in some of the benthic organisms and those creatures that feed on them over the past several years. Another part of today's schedule was the deployment of a subsurface mooring in 78 meters of water between SLIP-I and SLIP-2 survey stations. The mooring array consists of weights chained to the bottom and several instruments spread out along a suspended chain. This parcticular mooring consists of 16 instruments measuring temperature, salinity, current, chlorophyll and nutrients in the water. Bobber like ballasts keep the whole mooring suspended from the sea bottom but well below shipping traffic. Next year the mooring will be retrieved and replaced.

The data collected during the year will be used to look at fluctuations and changes during the year in this region. My primary job today was assisting with the van Been grabs and screening the sediment. This was actually quite interesting because as you gently hosed away the mud you never knew what was going to appear, brittle stars, bivalves, tubeworms, crab, fish, snails and all sorts of other surprises. We completed four stations sites today. The final one at 3:00 in the morning in the cold, wind and rain. As one crew member smiled a remarked, "Anything for science!" As I diligently screened sea mud at the last station I couldn't help to think how this scene - four muddy, wet, cold, rain gear clad adults, washing mud through screens at 3:00 in the morning, on a ship, in the middle of the Bering Sea, would make an excellent coffee commercial. I can smell the endorsements now, or maybe it's the rotten egg smelling mud, at this hour I can't be sure.

After I de-mudded (new science term) I found myself too tired to sleep. It was still fairly light out so I sat down on the helicopter pad and watched the sea fog roll in as the ship's engines once again churned back to life, advancing the ship northward, bobbing up and down to an unheard maritime lullaby that eventually rocked me to sleep.

Deployment of the buoy.

Dr. Grebmeier with HAPS corer.

Successful mud grab.

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