On our cruise, the scientists' areas of expertise are all different, like pieces of a quilt. All of the pieces are important to the whole quilt as they rely upon each other to make the quilt. The study of our quilt is called in the science community, Bering Sea Integrated Environmental Research Project, BEST-BSIERP.
The National Science Foundation and the North Pacific Research Board joined forces to coordinate this approach to understanding how the Bering Sea marine ecosystem works - from the benthos to the atmosphere, and everything in between. They also study the socio-economic impacts of a changing marine ecosystem on humans and communities.
The goal of BEST-BSIERP is to gain understanding of an integrated ecosystem so that fisheries managers can better forecast and respond to...
Sounds aboard the Healy
What do I hear?
While in the ice, the ship can make sounds from birds chirping to loud bangs, squeaks and swooshes.
Listed below are the sounds found at the end of the journal.
Listen to the audio provided by Elizabeth Arnold to the ship cutting through the ice.
Listen to audio from the laundry room next to the hull of the boat.
Listen to other sounds captured with video.
Where are we in relationship with other places in the Northern Hemisphere? Maryland is almost half way around the world from the Bering Sea. Check out the map to see how far the Bering Sea is from the Maryland.
Can you find Maryland?
The next map captured as we arrived to Dutch Harbor shows the entire track of our expedition from Kodiak to Dutch Harbor. The white shows ice coverage from a radar image taken on two days earlier.
On our last day, our ship has arrived at Dutch Harbor.
Once in the ice in the Bering Sea, we traveled around as the ice changed to allow as much science to take place as possible. Dr. Lee Cooper was in charge to plan the course of the ship. Each day, the course could change based on winds and ice movement. Check out how we went back and forth. We transected the...
What is 420 feet long, 82 feet high, breaks ice up to 4.5 ft thick at 3 knots, and can travel 300 miles in open seas in 24 hours? It is the USCGC Healy. The Healy is the largest and newest Coast Guard cutter in the fleet. With new technology, the Healy can operate with fewer crewmembers than other similar ships.
A large ship in a larger sea
Some people call the Healy a floating hotel or city as it has to do everything from generating it's own power, making drinking water, disposing of waste... Everything has backups because when you are out a sea and something breaks, you want to be able to finish your mission.
EMCM Curtis Podhora is the person to ask about the how the ship operates. He gives 4-hour tours of the heart of the ship. It is a different world as I entered into the...
What happens to marshmallow when left out in the cold air for 2 days? Lets check the before and after pictures of the marshmallows.
About 9.9 cm
About the same measurement
A polar bear has black skin and white fur along with a lot of fat. Check out our model of a bear paw to see if the temperature is really warmer in the glove filled with fat.
Starting temperature = 65 F or 17 C.
Did the bear stay warm in the inside? Yes -- about 40 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.
Bringing the bear glove inside (Photo by Dr. Trites)
Scientist Laura Gemery shares her story of "Life on the Back Deck"During this cruise, the chief scientist, Dr. Lee Cooper, has planned 40 collection stops, called stations. Collection is carried out 24 hours a day, so there are two working groups, each taking 12-hour shifts. I'm working the 11:30 am to 11:30 pm shift, so we suited up for our first stop on Friday. It was exciting to walk out on deck for the first time ready for sampling. The sun was still up, and for as far as you can see in every direction, a carpet of ice extends to the horizon.
All suited up on the first day of sampling.
When working on deck, it's required that we wear steel-toed boots, a helmet and a mustang suit, which is a blaze orange one-size that is also a PFD incase of an accidental fall overboard....
What is big, brown, and has two tusks? A tooth walker, commonly called a walrus.
What a pair!
Tonight we were able to see about 80 walruses swimming in the water, creating quite the splash. As the winds are blowing over 40 mph, the walruses stay in the water.
Just like the game Whack-a-mole but with walruses and no whacker.
These high winds keep our two walrus scientists grounded, too. They must wait for the winds to calm to do what they came to do... tag walruses. On calmer days, Dr. Chad Jay and Anthony Fischbach scan the skies for walruses from a helicopter. If they spot a group of walruses, they can land the helicopter downwind of the herd to quietly sneak up. If the walruses get a sniff of these two intruders, off the walruses go into the water.
Preparing to go back to the ship...
Morale is important to keep up and who can do that best? The cooks. If the food is good, everyone is happy. If the food is bad, the cooks hear about it.
A happy, hungry crew. Bill Springer, helo pilot, takes a break. (Photo by Dr. Trites)
A busy place for hungry people. (Photo by Dr. Trites)
Almost endless options on the Healy, but warm food is good for cold hands. (Photo by Dr. Trites)
Food on a ship can be delicious, nutritious, and fresh. After almost 3 weeks on the ship we are still eating fresh fruit, a variety of lettuce, fresh vegetables, and eggs any way you want them. Chef Tysin, FS3 Alley, is one person who tries to do his best when it comes to food. He knows how important his job is to his fellow Coasties and scientists. Not only does he work hard, he is enthusiastic...
Where are those tagged walruses? With the mapserver we can follow the walruses while on the ship. The map below shows us where the walruses are going. The larger red triangles show the current position of a tagged walrus. Notice that 4 walruses are staying to the SE of St. Lawrence Island. Two male walruses are traveling far, one to the west and the other to the southwest. 3 walruses have crossed over the International Dateline.
Satellite radio-tags track the walruses movement.
Walrus need the right ice conditions to haul out. If the ice is too thin, they stay in the water. If the ice is too packed, they have trouble finding ways to haul out or breathing holes. The best ice would have leads, which are openings, and would be thick enough to hold them as they haul out to rest. Ice on the...
A small village on St. Lawrence Island.
On Friday, March 20th, I experienced the second best ride in my life as I traveled by helicopter over the Bering Sea crossing St. Lawrence Island to a small village on the northern side. As we landed the helicopter, townspeople were awaiting on snowmobile (or snow machine as they are called in Alaska) with sleds attached, for the arrival of the next aircraft with supplies and the mail. This small village, tucked away in the snow, experienced record breaking snow fall this year. The snow was as high as many roof tops. Two weeks earlier, harsh winds, 105 mph hurricane force winds, almost removed the roofs of several houses. And many people were sick with the flu.
The new school is in the right corner of the photo.
Jackie Grebmeier, one of the Lead...
After spending time with Steve Roberts, creator of GIS web tool on the Healy, I learned how to use other tools he has created. Different satellite images can be collected and pieced together to provide valuable information about the Bering Sea. Ice flow can be monitored from day to day. Many times winds push the ice in a certain directions, which can open up water in the Bering Sea. We are trying to push our way into a polynya, large open water, so that we can take water samples. Look at the photo below. The dark areas south of land show open water as the winds have pushed ice away. The open waters look like shadows on the image. The red line represents the ship's track south and west of St. Lawrence Island.
The shadow-like areas show open water.
On the radar satellite image, our ship...
Do I hear bongo drums? No, it is Dr. John Nelson, biologist, going to work after several hours of sleep. He works every station so he is up most of the time.
...ready for action
He is collecting zooplankton in a large piece of equipment that looks like a set of bongo drums with nets attached to it. The nets have very small holes (150 micrometers) that allow the seawater and most of the phytoplankton (small, drifting microscopic plants) to flow through but not the zooplankton.
A zooplankton under a microscope, 3.5 mm long.
Zooplankton, are small animals that can drift in the water's currents although they have some means of locomotion They often move vertically in the water as they rise up near the surface to eat at night and fall back down during the day, away from predators. For food...
The Spectacled Eider is a spectacular bird that populates the Bering Sea in the winter. From satellite transmitters that were placed on the birds last summer by scientists Matt Sexton and Margaret Petersen, Dr. Jim Lovvorn is able to know exactly where the elusive birds may be in the ice pack.
A Spectacled Eider. Photo is from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dr. Lovvorn has been studying the birds for 10 years. In those years he has been able to find out what the bird eats, how much does it eat while wintering at sea, how many clams can it get on a dive down to the bottom, what kind and size of habitat it needs in order for the eider to survive the severe winter on the Bering Sea. He is now trying to develop the knowledge needed to predict how those areas will change in the future with...
Knowing where you are, where you have been, and where you are going are very important in on the Healy. The Coast Guard needs this data for navigation. The scientist needs this data for their documentation. Where are the answers? Satellite information and sensors on the ship are constantly inputting data into mapping programs. These mapping programs then are accessible by computer to anyone on the ship.
The Healy started in Seattle, stopped in Kodiak, the large Island south of mainland Alaska. Then it continued through the Unimak Pass north to St. Lawrence island. Now it is heading SW.
The Healy started in Seattle, stopped in Kodiak, the large Island south of mainland Alaska. Then it continued through the Unimak Pass north to St. Lawrence island. Now it is heading SW.)
Look at the...
I was waiting in the hanger for others to come. What happened? Was the time changed? The Coast Guard is always early. Their motto is if you are not there a half hour early then you are late. Something is wrong. Where is the meeting? I am paged. (We have to wear pagers so people can find you on this big ship.) The flight briefing is in the bridge and it has started!?! That is how I almost missed the best ride of my life.
At 19:15 military time, Jim Lovvorn, the Spectacled Eider researcher, Clayton Sandell from the media, Pilot Bill Springer, and I dressed in our MST 900 drysuits, the ones that require the buddy system to enter, and large white helmets with a microphone attached. We climbed aboard the helicopter to take the first best ride of my life.
Up in the air, a seascape, so white...
It was "kids in the snow" day according to Dr. Rolf Gradinger also know as the Ice Man. Today the ship was stopped for 6 hours in the perfect place for all of the scientists aboard. On the starboard side, where the ice was very thin, the scientists studying the water and bottom of the Bering Sea could do their work. From the stern of the ship, the helicopter took off with the walrus team to look for walruses. And on the port side was solid ice, perfect for Rolf, Brenna McConnell and 3 volunteers to collect samples from the ice.
To go out on the ice, one must have a purpose. Rolf and Brenna are studying the animals and plants that live in the ice. My purpose was to assist them with their experiments on the ice. Before going out in the ice, we needed to attend an ice briefing...
The bridge is the area where the navigation of the ship occurs, the place where ship drivers plot and direct the ship. It is a large area that is surrounded by glass windows. At all times, there are at least 2 Coast Guard members on the bridge to steer and watch for any obstacles. In the center, there are many controls and screens to help keep the ship on course. This is command and control for the ship.
In the distance you can see the Commanding Officer sitting in his chair.
The black circles show the location of the ship. The red circles are points for navigation.
The Commanding Officer has a special chair on the starboard (right) side of the bridge. Guests may sit in the other chair on the port (left) side. It is the best seat in the house as the view from the bride is breathtaking...
Pancakes for breakfast? Lunch and dinner? We are surrounded with pancakes. Not ones made of flour, eggs and milk, but ones made of ice, pancake ice. Ice goes through many stages of freezing before it becomes a large floe of ice. There are even names for each stage. The first stage is the frazil stage when small crystals of ice start forming in the water. Next is the grease stage. It looks like a film of grease on the water.
A film of ice.
Pancakes are not just for breakfast anymore.
Here come the pancakes, white, round and dotting the water. I was able to watch the pancakes develop from the size of a Frisbee to ones that are larger than a car. At one stage the pancakes join together to form a small ice cake. Ice cakes grow into ice floes. When the floes become larger they lose their...
Alas, our anticipated Tuesday has arrived. I have the morning free to roam Kodiak one last time. Hidden treasures are found around every corner.
...especially when eagles are around
...especially when eagles are around
An occasional eagle flies by on the drizzly day. Clouds and fog at times rule the skies.
All ready to go
The scenery in Kodiak is breathtaking. Made by glaciers 20,000 years ago, this 5000 sq. mile island is covered with snowy mountains, u-shaped valleys, and fjord-like bays. What a magnificent sight as we quietly leave the dock. The boat is so calm that many of the scientists do not know that we have even pushed off.
As I walked along Shelikof Street that follows the docks, I encountered a slice of life that is very different from Charles County, Maryland. The area was filled with processing plants and warehouses that support the fishing and seafood industry. One warehouse sold nets used in the fishing industry. Click on the video to find out about nets and some of the fish caught in the nearby waters.
Much fish and seafood is processed in Kodiak and sent around the world. As I walked into one processing plant, I saw how they recycled all of the non-edible crab parts. It is a noisy, wet job. Click on the video to watch the workers in action...
With luggage packed and sleepy goodbyes from the family, my expedition begins. After a car ride, 3 plane rides, 8 hours of layovers in airports, and a van ride, I arrive to Kodiak, Alaska, almost 16 hours later. Kodiak, an island, in the Pacific Ocean, is famous for bears and fishing. Unseasonable warm and clear, I am treated to a day of spectacular sights. I am overwhelmed by the beauty, the sounds, the eagles, the boats... Enjoy.
Incredible meandering rivers
A large city from above
Ice near Anchorage
Aerial near Kodiak, Alaska
The center of town
What a view
Many people are curious as to the prices in Alaska. In Kodiak, gallon of milk costs $4.29 and a 1/2 gallon of orange juice costs $5.39.
How do the prices compare?
Look at that beak
Eagles line many...
There is no place like home for tundra swans and PolarTREC teachers. This PolarTREC teacher is not the only one commuting from Nanjemoy to Alaska. Although I call Nanjemoy, Maryland, my home, arctic tundra swans do also … at least for the colder months.
Last of the Tundra Swan in March
Which way to look
Today, I may have seen the last of the tundra swans swimming in the waters of the Potomac River as they are preparing for their trip back home in the arctic regions. Flocks of swans come throughout late November and December, finding areas with underwater grasses called submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). These grasses provide food for the swans throughout the winter months. They also provide protection for fish from predators.
J. C. Parks is ready to go on a polar adventure. Listen to some of the students as they send warm greetings to Alaska. (Even the science room sturgeon would like colder waters. Learn more about our amazing sturgeon, Splurgin' Scutes McFinnister)
J.C. Parks super science students
Faces of the future
Waiting for their car.
taking a break for the camera
Polar bear alert!
3-D polar art
Do penquins live in the arctic polar region?
The final day in Fairbanks was wonderfully odd. Learn to Return survival training in cold climates included using available resources and lots of creativity to stay alive if caught out in the cold. Garbage bags turned into coats; and carpets squares turned into hats and boots. New York runways pale to our snowy parking lot fashion display.
Warmth inside a bag
...only carpet, rice bags, and rope.
Christine models new headware for cold climates
While donning the latest survival gear, we were treated to feeding time for two teams of dogs. One team just finished the Yukon Quest. The second team was heading to Anchorage, Alaska, to compete in the Iditarod.
Sled dogs waiting their turn for some fun in the snow
2 teams of sled dogs ready for some loving
We are ready to run
After a day of...
This site is supported by the National Science Foundation under award 0956825. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this site are those of the PIs and coordinating team and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.