Chukchi Sea Borderland


Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Sandi Thornton and the Chukchi Sea Borderland Research Team from the USCGC Healy on 8 August 2016. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site:

What Are They Doing?

A ribbon seal on the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Andrea Skloss.A ribbon seal on the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Andrea Skloss. The Arctic Ocean is one of the most remote locations on Earth and the area where the impact of climate change may be most strongly expressed. In the Chukchi Borderlands (CBL) area, water masses from the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet and interact over tremendously complex bottom topography, creating intricate currents and sea ice drifts. It is also the region of the most dramatic summer sea ice meltdown in the last decades. This project is a multi-disciplinary group effort to explore marine communities from microbes to mammals and from sea ice to seafloor in this poorly known, bathymetrically and hydrographically complex Arctic region. We will use a combination of photographic mapping using ROV, physical sampling, and state-of-the-art metagenomics to assess the diversity of this region. Field work involves a ~30-day icebreaker cruise in the summer of 2016, with use of the ROV Global Explorer that provides unique opportunities to capture fragile pelagic organisms and observe benthic fauna in relation to the bathymetric and geomorphological features of the seafloor.

Where Are They?

The crew readys the CTD at dusk aboard the USCGC Healy icebreaker. Photo by Andrea Skloss.The crew readys the CTD at dusk aboard the USCGC Healy icebreaker. Photo by Andrea Skloss. The team will live and work from the United States Coast Guard Cutter/Icebreaker Healy. The USCGC Healy is a research vessel designed to conduct a wide range of research activities and can break through 4 ½ feet of ice continuously. They will travel in the Northern Chukchi Sea.


As a PolarTREC fellow/NOAA Teacher at Sea I have been privileged to participate in the Chukchi Borderlands Expedition. In these capacities I have gotten to explore the many different types of research being conducted during this expedition, had access to an amazing group of scientists, students, and technicians, and experienced life aboard a USCG icebreaker/research vessel. I hope, through my daily journals, that I have been able to convey even a small bit of the excitement and wonder I felt on so many levels during this voyage. The whirlwind of traveling home and seeing family again has...
Aleutian Islands
Today was my PolarConnect event, and it was great to have the opportunity to share my experiences with attendees. There were some great questions asked, and I am grateful to the scientists who attended and shared their enthusiasm and expertise. One of the biggest positives I have experienced on this expedition is the willingness of the scientists and students to share their research. I have so many things now to use in the classroom, and I'm excited to be seeing my students in a few weeks. We are headed toward Kodiak Island where the crew of the Healy will conduct some training operations. I...
Rock Life
Camaraderie And Lasagna Saturday evenings on the Healy have usually included a "morale event". A different group prepares the evening meal to give the regular crew a break, and there are often movies or other activities afterward. This week was the science group's turn to prepare dinner. A few weeks back we met to discuss menu possibilities and food choices, and we decided upon lasagna, roasted broccoli, garlic bread, and cake. Preparing a meal for 140 people in a moving kitchen was challenging, but we pulled off a great meal while enjoying the opportunity to give something back to the...
Russian mainland
Lessons Learned I have been preparing for Monday's PolarConnect session and reflecting on the past several weeks. So many really exciting things have happened that it almost became routine to be amazed, and I know it will take me a while to process all that I have seen and experienced. The complexity of the Arctic is difficult to comprehend, and sometimes seems like a barren land until one begins to look more closely. The scenery continues to change as we have moved through the Bering Strait and travel southward. It was beautifully sunny this morning when we passed the Diomedes, and before...
Celebrating A Big Birthday How do you celebrate a birthday U.S. Coast Guard style? With a cookout on the flight deck, corn hole, ping pong, volley ball, and cake. It was a beautifully sunny day, with Cape Lisburne in the distance, as the science group and crew of the Healy enjoyed the festivities. Coast Guard Day is observed on August 4th and commemorates the beginnings of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1790. The original "Revenue Service" was later merged with the "U.S. Life Saving Service" and the name "United States Coast Guard" was signed into law by President Wilson in 1915. Happy Birthday, U...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 29 June 2016 to 12 August 2016
Location: USCGC Healy, Northern Chukchi Sea
Project Funded Title: Ocean Exploration: Chukchi Borderland project

Meet the Team

Sandra Thornton's picture
Broadwater Academy
Exmore, VA
United States

Sandra Thornton teaches biological and physical science courses at Broadwater Academy on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A narrow peninsula that separates the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, the Eastern Shore's abundant natural resources set the stage for extending classroom studies in marine and environmental sciences. A lifelong love of science, fostered by parents and teachers who encouraged her to explore the world around her, motivates Mrs. Thornton to instill this same love of learning in her students. Thornton holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biology, and feels fortunate to have a career that allows her to combine a passion for science with working with teens. When not teaching, Mrs. Thornton is an avid reader who loves to travel and explore with her husband.

Katrin Iken's picture
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK
United States

Dr. Katrin Iken is one of the lead investigators of the Chukchi Borderland project and is a benthic ecologist with particular interest in the Arctic ecosystem. She studies benthic community structure with focus on the biodiversity and structure of epibenthic communities, i.e., the organisms that live on the surface of the seafloor. She also studies food web structures through stable isotope analysis. Katrin has been working in the Arctic for over 15 years, with significant time spent in the field in the summers; previous to her Arctic work, she was mostly engaged in Antarctic research. Aside from several other Arctic research projects, Katrin also is active in the international Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program of CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, an Arctic Council Working group) as the US benthic expert member. Katrin received her PhD at the Alfred Wegner Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany and did post-doctoral work at the AWI and the University of Alabama at Birmingham before starting a faculty position at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Sarah Hardy's picture
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK
United States
Russell Hopcroft's picture
University of Alaska
Fairbanks, AK
United States

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Latest Comments

It looks like you had an amazing time doing this research!
Sandi, Your pictures and explanations have been beautiful, concise, interesting ... just marvelous! I've enjoyed following your adventures and learning a little bit along with you!! Great job!
I hope your trip home went well. And I like the "Greeters" that met you in Seward :)
Yes, Deanna, they are quite hardy and are considered to be in the realm of extremophiles. We often focus on the larger organisms, but there was a whole world of microbes living within the ice!
Deanna - Just lots of luck with the volleyball, I guess :) Many of us at on the flight deck, some ate inside the helicopter hangar. It was such a gorgeously sunny day to be outside!