Read more about the GEOTRACES expedition in an article written by Chief Scientist David Kadko in ARCUS' Witness the Arctic publication.

What Are They Doing?

Many trace elements are critical for marine life and therefore influence the functioning of ocean ecosystems and the global carbon cycle. Some trace elements are also of concern as contaminants, while others, together with a diverse array of isotopes, are used to assess modern-ocean processes and the role of the ocean in past climate change. Despite the recognised importance of trace elements and isotopes in the ocean, our ability to exploit knowledge of their attributes is limited by uncertainty about their sources, sinks, internal cycling and chemical speciation. GEOTRACES now fills this critical gap with knowledge of the marine biogeochemical cycles of trace elements and their isotopes at an unprecedented scale. Scientists from approximately 35 nations have been involved in the programme, which is designed to study all major ocean basins over the next decade. Much more information on details of the project can be found at the GEOTRACES website.

The GEOTRACES mission is as follows:

To identify processes and quantify fluxes that control the distributions of key trace elements and isotopes in the ocean, and to establish the sensitivity of these distributions to changing environmental conditions. We will do this by sampling the water column, sediments, sinking particles, atmospheric deposition, snow, and ice.

Where Are They?

US Coast Guard Cutter HealyUS Coast Guard Cutter Healy The research team will be working on the US Coast Guard ice-breaker, the HEALY. We will steam from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to the North Pole and back for a total of 65 days, collecting a variety of marine samples all along the way. Life on the ship will be very crowded with over 50 scientists participating, and working 24/7. The team always say about research cruises, "If you are not working or eating, then you should be sleeping!". The ship, though, will have a "CD Lounge" for watching movies and a small "coffee shop" for socializing with fellow researchers.


Polar Sun
The Sun makes its way across the sky low and parallel to the horizon at the North Pole TODAY’S JOURNAL: There are some pretty amazing things to see above the Arctic Circle, and I discussed many of the region’s unique aspects in various journals throughout the expedition. Some of these incredible phenomena translate well to video, so in this installment of GEOTRACES Cinema I’ll link to a few movies that would be impossible to make in lower latitudes. I’ll start with a time lapse I made of the Sun as we were stopped for a sampling station at the North Pole. The video covers about 6.5...
Seal's-Eye View of CTD Cast
Seal's-Eye View of CTD Cast TODAY’S JOURNAL: One of the major aspects of the 2015 US Arctic GEOTRACES Expedition was to obtain water samples for various trace element and nutrient testing. The most significant tool that oceanographers use for collecting water samples from different depths is a CTD sampling rosette. Several of my journals touched upon this process, including entries from 11 August and 12 August. In the first video, I wore a GoPro on my hard hat to show the process of getting the GEOTRACES rosette ready for a cast. The crew works to clear an open pool behind the...
Drilling Core Sample @ North Pole
Kyle Dilliplaine drills an ice core at the North Pole TODAY’S JOURNAL: In today’s GEOTRACES Cinema installment I have a few videos showing some of the aspects of ice sampling that we conducted on our expedition. The first video shows many of the steps taken to characterize the sea ice at each ice station. It was filmed at the North Pole on 7 September, and I wrote about the process in my 8 September journal: Another type of ice that scientists were interested in is called dirty ice. In short, this is ice that formed in shallow, muddy water and later drifted out into the ice pack of...
Leaping Polar Bear
A polar bear leaps across a bit of open water among ice floes. TODAY’S JOURNAL: One aspect of the expedition that I particularly enjoyed was looking for polar wildlife. I was pretty busy most days with my PolarTREC duties but tried to carve out at least an hour each day to soak in the scenery and watch for wildlife. As we got farther and farther north sightings of living things off the ship grew more and more rare but there was always a possibility of picking up another sighting. The day before we arrived at the North Pole (4 September), we crossed polar bear tracks at 88.63°N, 179.88°...
TODAY’S JOURNAL: I’m happy to say that I’m about adjusted back to “real” life, at least as much as I ever am. I still have a box of stuff on the way that I mailed from Dutch Harbor but otherwise the signs of my long expedition have vanished from home. For scientists there is one more step to accomplish on Healy- unloading all of their gear and shipping it home from Seattle once the icebreaker returns to port next week. School is busy as always but a bit crazy this week and last with the addition of parent-teacher conferences to an already hectic world. I’m really enjoying getting to know...

Project Information

Dates: 9 August 2015 to 12 October 2015
Location: Western Arctic Ocean, aboard the USCGC Healy
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research: the U.S. Arctic GEOTRACES Study

Meet the Team

Bill Schmoker's picture
Centennial Middle School
Boulder, CO
United States

Bill Schmoker is an Earth Science teacher at Centennial Middle School in Boulder, Colorado where he has taught for 23 years. Additionally, Mr. Schmoker was a PolarTREC teacher in 2010 and a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow in 2013, works with pre-service teachers, has authored, edited, and consulted on many Earth Science Education products, and has held many leadership roles at the building and district levels throughout his career. Mr. Schmoker is also passionate about birding and bird photography, photographing over 640 species of North American birds and having his photos appear internationally in numerous books, magazines, web sites, and interpretive signage. He has been an instructor for the Denver Audubon Society, Boulder County Nature Association, The Nature Conservancy, the American Birding Association's Youth Birding Program and the Institute for Field Ornithology.

William Landing's picture
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL
United States

Bill Landing is a professor in Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science at FSU. He studies the input and cycling of trace elements in the environment, especially those trace elements that are required by phytoplankton including Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Cd. On the U.S. Arctic GEOTRACES research cruise, Bill will be responsible for the collection of atmospheric aerosol samples and rain (and snow) samples to measure the input of these essential trace elements to the Arctic Ocean.

Latest Comments

Love these many interesting things, like the walruses on piece of ice that seemed to be tipping it to one side just a bit. But, the polar bear visiting the Healy is outstanding, and the...
Hey Susan- I have my video of icebreaking sounds (and seismometer readouts) uploaded & ready to view: Let me know what you &/...
Thanks for your supportive notes, Sheryl! Getting back to regular life now but will always fondly remember this trip. I'm starting to add videos to the PolarTREC YouTube page:
Thanks for the kind words and for the support throughout the trip! Following up your class interest in the North Magnetic Pole etc., I uploaded the video I made showing my attempts to use a compass...
Thanks for keeping us posted. It was fun following your blog and being able to live this adventure virtually through your pictures & writings.