The cruise is truly winding down at this point, although the fish group will continue to work in the Being Strait. Jackie decided to do one last station yesterday, and we´re now busy rinsing everything in fresh water, including our incredibly muddy mustang suits, doing an inventory, and packing and labeling boxes to be off loaded and shipped. It seems like such a long time ago that we were tracking down lost luggage and gear and loading it all on board. Since that time, the ship has stopped for more than 135 stations, worked in both US and Russian waters, crossed the international dateline four times, and steamed to 77°30.0 N. We´ve been in the Bering, Chukchi, Beaufort, and East Siberian Seas along the way, and we´ll pass back through Bering Strait on the way back to Nome. Although we didn´t see much ice, we´ve passed gray, humpback, and bowhead whales, ringed, bearded and spotted seals (likely), lots of walrus, and numerous Arctic birds. Those sampling the various stations will bring back countless samples to be analyzed and processed once they return to their labs/research institutions in Russia, the US, Korea, and even Bermuda.
What a privilege it has been for me, a retired high school science teacher, to be a part of this historic RUSALCA 09 mission. This cruise is unlike my last four cruises with Jackie, since there is such a large science team on board here, and my other "job" on board, posting journals and photographs, has given me to opportunity to talk with members of each of the science teams. It´s been a great learning experience for me, talking with them and watching them work. There is much yet to be discovered and so much scientists still don´t understand about this part of the Arctic, but each cruise adds data to help scientists unravel the complexities of this system. The fish, the sediments, the water masses, the zooplankton, the benthic organisms, and the mammals - all have stories to tell.
There are so many on board who deserve thanks. First of all, thanks go to all of the incredibly busy members of the science teams who found time to talk with me and share their work. Thanks also to Alexsey Ostrovskiy, Group Alliance Representative, who was kind enough to help with translation when I spoke with some of the Russian scientists. A special thanks goes out to the scientific support team, the men who worked the winches and/or were on deck during all operations, day and night, in all weather. They are Alexey Sherbinin, Sergey Yarosh, Evgeny Vekhov, and Iouri Pashchenko. For pictures of our work (or pictures I was unable to get), I would like to thank Christine Patrick, NOAA outreach. Her photos and blogs are posted at http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09Arctic. Last, but by no means least, a great big thank you goes to Dr. Jackie Grebmeier who has invited my to travel with her, work with her, and share her boundless excitement about the Arctic for 6 cruises since 2002. While still teaching, my students were a part of my amazing experience and now that I´m retired, I hope that my journals will continue to help others understand and appreciate how science is done on board a research cruise, and to learn more of what is happening, biologically, geologically, physically, and chemically, in this unique part of the world.
I´ve posted a couple of pictures of myself with this journal because friends and relatives often remind me that they don´t see me in any of my photographs. I had someone take a picture of me in my mustang suit, getting ready to go on deck to work (I don´t have my gloves and hard hat on yet), and Jackie took the other one of me working on my computer in our room.
This morning was truly the last station for Jackie and me. We sieved her last two cores, and decided to do four more grabs, hoping they would be quick and easy, but thinking we might find gravel due to our location. We were right. If it had been completely gravel, with few organisms, we wouldn´t have saved it. However, it was obvious that the gravel had a number of clams, worms, and other invertebrates. That meant sieving each grab, dumping the gravel into buckets, and repeatedly decanting the water to then pick out the organisms. It took time but was worth it. Jackie then decided to do surface sediments only on two more grabs; with her analysis, she won´t be completely done until tomorrow morning.
After lunch, I spoke with Dr. Sang Lee, a senior research scientist at the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI). He´s here on this cruise with his graduate student, Hyoung Min Joo, also from KOPRI and Mike King, a graduate student from UAF. Interestingly, Sang came on the `04 RUSALCA cruise as a graduate student working with Terry Whitledge, senior scientist for this cruise (see my journal of September 13). Sang may not be coming out to sea as often now that Korea is building their first icebreaker and he´s responsible for designing their Arctic program, what to study and in what areas. The icebreaker will go to the Antarctic in January for a test of the icebreaking capabilities, and will hopefully be ready for its first Arctic research cruise in July 2010.
On this cruise, Sang is doing work on the primary productivity of phytoplankton and Hyoung is doing the related work of species composition of phytoplankton. Remember that phytoplankton are algae that photosynthesize and thus are the main producers in a food chain. Despite the critical role of phytoplankton, it is still not known if phytoplankton production is limited by availability of nutrients or amount and intensity of light. Productivity stations always take place during the day, hopefully around the same time. During a productivity station, they will first collect water from the CTD from six different euphotic depths (light depths where phytoplankton grow), from 100 % to 1% light penetration. They´ll then add stable isotope tracers and incubate their samples on deck since phytoplankton need daylight. To compensate for the variability of daylight, Sang will measure the light intensity during the incubation time. After an incubation period of three-five hours, they´ll filter the water and return the samples to UAF for analysis of the level of stable isotopes in each sample. By knowing the uptake of the isotope tracers, Sang can calculate how much the phytoplankton grew during the incubation time and then estimate their growth for the entire daylight period. With this daily production, he can calculate annual growth.
Next to Sang´s incubation chambers on the upper deck is a small, brightly colored, plastic child´s swimming pool. Although the one-liter productivity samples incubate easily in the chambers, Sang is also doing a macromolecular experiment, which involves ten-liter water samples. This is where the swimming pool comes in; it becomes the incubation "chamber" for the larger samples. Once analyzed for several variables, these samples give Sang an idea of the physiological condition (the way they function) of the phytoplankton. For example, if the phytoplankton are producing more protein, that´s an indication of good conditions. If he finds more lipids (fats), he knows that the physiological conditions aren´t as good. Sang is especially interested in comparing results from the ´04 and ´09 cruises for both of his sets of experiments since environmental conditions are definitely changing, and some previous studies have found that recent phytoplankton productivity in the Chukchi Sea has declined significantly compared to decades ago. This cruise is unique because Sang will not only be able to collect additional data, but much of it will be from the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea.
Hyoung Min Joo (standing) and Sang Lee collect water from the CTD.
The incubation chambers on the upper deck are for the one-liter samples and the pool works for the ten-liter sample.
If you´ve read my journal from September 25, you know that, prior to any coring work done in the pockmark areas, the side-scan sonar is deployed to survey the area. Boris Smirnov, engineer at the Laboratory of Hydroacoustic Research in the "All Russian Scientific Research Institute for Geology and Mineral Resources named of I.S.Gramberg" (VNIIO), St. Petersburg, is the man in charge of the side-scan sonar and the ROV. Although he has worked in oceans around the world, Boris works primarily in the Arctic now and was a part of the RUSALCA ´04 mission. Working with him on this cruise are Alexey Sazanov, an engineer and computer programmer (VNIIO), and Dmitry Korshunov who also helps Elizaveta Longvina (Sept. 25 journal). Boris and Alexey are responsible not only for the side-scan sonar but also for the ROV that has been used throughout the trip. The ROV (remotely operated vehicle) is essentially an underwater TV camera that can go to depths of up to 130 meters to get a live time recording of the bottom. It has three small engines, one for vertical and two for horizontal stabilization because currents along the bottom can be strong. The ROV was used earlier in the cruise and will be deployed five more times in our southern stations because we´ll be back in shallower depths.
As I mentioned, Boris and Alexey are the two who deploy the SONIC-3 sonar system on this cruise. The system consists of a deep water side-scan sonar which, once in the water, can "look out" to 1.5 Kilometers and the sub-bottom profiler that can look up to 40 meters into the sediments. They´ll send the entire system down to approximately 100 meters off the bottom (less if we´re at shallower depths) and will tow it for several hours to get a picture of the structure of the bottom, much like a photograph. At both pockmark areas, the SONIC-3 system was used to help the geologists identify the pockmark area. The four lines they ran in the northern area totaled 65 Km. and, in the Herald Canyon, 118 Km. Once these have been processed (in about two months,) the team will have a mosaic of the entire area.
One other group within the seven-member geology team is composed of three men from the Pacific Oceanology Institute in Vladivostok (POI). Dr. Alexander Bosin is a paleooceanographer (someone who studies the ancient environment through the use of ocean sediments) who has a particular interest in the Sea of Okhotsk where he did his work for his doctorate. He is assisted on board by Konstantin Kramchanin and Alexander Kolesnik. Alexander told me that he can study up to a 200,000-year-old history of the environment in the Sea of Okhotsk by using both short and long corers. Interestingly, if the sedimentation rate is high (perhaps from river run off and lots of organic material in the water), a corer as long as 18 meters, might only get sediments from 10,000 - 14,000 years ago. But, if the sedimentation rate is low (e.g. in the deep ocean), a 3-meter core can yield sediments up to 200,000 years old.
The goals for this cruise for Alexander´s group are a bit different. First of all, they want to measure mercury content in the air using a device situated near the bridge; this gives them a background level of mercury throughout the trip. Unfortunately they have had a few problems with the equipment, and their data for this cruise isn´t reliable. Where I usually see Alexander and his team is on the deck when they take surface sediment samples from the van Veen grabs or when they deploy the 3-meter corer. They´re looking for mercury content as well as the composition of heavy metals. Mercury may be increasing as a result of the shifting of tectonic plates with resulting discharge of mercury. By monitoring changes in mercury content, they can estimate the percentage of mercury in the air and sediments that are of natural origin and those that are anthropogenic (a result of human influence). They will also look carefully at areas where there is known tectonic activity (e.g. near Wrangell Island and in Herald Canyon) and where they would expect greater mercury/heavy metal content. When Alexander takes half of the core from the 3-meter corer, he´ll bring back sections of it to POI for analysis, not only for mercury content but for paleooceanography studies as well. In addition to Jackie´s work and the work of Alexander´s team, there are at least 4 other teams who take mud from the surface of the grabs or from the corers; the ocean sediments have lots of stories to tell!
The ROV is deployed off the starboard side.
Alexander Bosin (left), Dmitry Korshunov (center), and Alexander Kolesni (right) take mud from the surface of the van Veen grab.
Technically, after more than three weeks on board, we´re "winding down." However, we´ve made it to the southern stations, most of which were sampled during the 2004 RUSALCA cruise, and it´s important to sample them again. We started the Cape Lisburne line, running from the Alaskan coast to the Russian coast, on Thursday morning around 5 AM. It´s now Saturday morning (actually it´s Sunday due to the date line, but I won´t go there, because we´ll cross back tomorrow and it will be Sunday again.) Between Thursday morning and this morning (Saturday), we completed five full biology stations and we´re now just off the Russian coast near the small settlement of Cape Serdtse Kamen. These have been, once again, round-the-clock stations, with three in the early morning hours, and two in the daylight. The only constant has been the ship´s roll as bottom conditions, types of organisms coming up in the grabs, and weather conditions have changed throughout. During our two daylight stations, the sun was shining in a clear sky until we went out on deck when it began snowing and then sleeting. Overall, however, the weather has been sunny and the temperatures considerably warmer. Last week we were bundled up with all of our cold weather clothing, and now it feels warm inside just our mustang suits.
Yesterday, while collecting water from the CTD with the sleet and snow hitting us in the face, I heard Marlene Jefferies say, "I want to go back to Bermuda!" Although originally from Port Alberni, Canada, Marlene is now working as a research specialist at the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences. She is a one-person team onboard, collecting CO2 samples for Dr. Nick Bates of the Bermuda Institute. Since she works alone, that means that Marlene gets no relief from collecting water at every CTD cast throughout the cruise, a total of well over 100! During the high speed CTD transect, she personally collected 300 plus samples in a 3+ day period, with no more than 4 hours of sleep at a time. During our move south, she´s finally been able to catch up on sleep, and I had a chance to talk with her about her work.
Marlene is the first to collect water (to prevent loss of gas from the water) from each of the triggered bottles on every CTD cast, and she does it with rubber gloves to protect the samples from contamination. Because CO2 is a gas, it will off gas easily, particularly from the deeper bottles, because concentrations increase with depth due to pressure. Once she has her samples, Marlene kills them quickly with mercuric chloride since any organisms in the sample would impact the dissolved inorganic carbon (CO2) count either by utilizing available CO2 (phytoplankton) or by producing it (animals). She´ll store her samples on board in a fairly constant temperature before bringing them back to Bermuda for DIC (dissolved inorganic carbon) analysis. Scientists are particularly interested in areas such as the pockmark site we visited because the far northern Arctic Ocean is losing a lot of ice, and the water there is low in CO2 . With ice loss comes additional exposure to the atmosphere, and the ocean make take up more of the CO2 . It may become an additional carbon "sink."
The study of DIC is important for many reasons, one of which has been recognized relatively recently. Ocean acidification results from the interaction of CO_2 with the water, a reaction that produces a mild acid. With an increase in atmospheric CO_2 , scientists are concerned that an increasingly acidic ocean could impact those organisms that depend on the DIC for processes such as shell production in mollusks and gastropods or the production of a calcium carbonate base for reef building corals. Using data collected from a number of areas for more than 25 years, scientists have shown that DIC increases yearly due to increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 , and it´s important to continue to collect data and measure these changes. Marlene´s work in the pockmark area is of particular interest since there is very little historical data from that part of the Arctic Ocean.
Marlene´s last job for the cruise will be to ship more than 700 bottles home to Bermuda!
Marlene collects water from every one of the CTD casts during the cruise.
We are often on deck with members of the geology team and Elizaveta Logvina (Liza), research assistant in the Laboratory for Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources at the All Russian Institute for Geology and Mineral Resources of the World Ocean in St. Petersburg, is one member of that team. Dmitry Korshunov is also working in the geology team and helping Liza in core description and sampling. Liza´s work on board involves coordinating the geology and geophysics investigation as a part of the RUSALCA project. Her team is concentrating on the methane anomalies and geological structures that may be connected to gas discharge from the ocean bottom. During the cruise, the main interest of the group was the pockmark area in the north and an additional area north of Wrangell Island and into Herald Canyon. At each site, they looked at the results of the side scan sonar and sub bottom profiler in order to find some methane escape in pockmarks in which to core. Pockmarks are conical depressions in the ocean floor up to a Kilometer in diameter and up to 50 meters in depth, and scientists believe they may be formed as a result of gas discharge, first of all, methane.
At the northern site, the side scan sonar clearly identified the pockmark depressions but saw no bubbles to indicate gas discharge. They were hoping to find gas hydrates which form more easily at low temperatures and high pressure, making the northern station ideal. The geological team took several cores in each of the three pockmarks. They saw no immediate evidence of methane and gas hydrates, but will wait for additional analysis once the cruise returns. (See my journal of September 22, which describes Alexander Savvichev´s work.) Interestingly, the cores from the pockmarks, even those from within the same pockmark area, were each unique in terms of the sediments. At the more southern station by Wrangell Island, the side scan sonar showed interruptions along the bottom but nothing to indicate methane input. They did three cores along the lines of the sonar, but found only "typical" sediments, possibly not surprising because the temperature and pressure conditions there are not ideal for gas hydrates.
I´ve shown you a picture of the Haps corer that Jackie uses (September 17 journal), but the Russian 3-meter corer is very different (check out the picture below.) Once the corer comes to the surface, the team removes the plastic liner with the sediment core inside and slices it longitudinally. The core halves are split between Liza´s group and the team from Pacific Oceanographic Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. If it´s a "typical" core, they´ll cut it into 10 cm. sections. If there are interesting layers, they´ll sample each layer. Some of the samples are frozen for further analysis; others are squeezed to remove pore water. The latter are used for later chemical analysis and isotopic composition. In addition, they´ll analyze grain size, age of the sediments, TC (total carbon) and TOC (total organic carbon), and possibly complete a mineralogical investigation. Liza is working hard on this cruise, but also thinking of her return home where she will make final preparations for her thesis defense, at the end of October, for her doctorate degree. Her thesis work is "authigenic carbonates in gas hydrate-bearing seeps." Sounds impressive - good luck Lisa!
Members of the geology team use this three-meter corer to get their bottom cores.
Liza Logvina examines a core sample that has been sliced lengthwise.
The small lab adjacent to the one where we work is always busy and full of people. Those doing fish assessments work there in addition to Dr. Russ Hopcroft, UAF, and Dr. Ksenia Kosobokova, from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. Working with them are graduate students Cornelia Jaspers and Elizaveta Ershova. Russ and Ksenia are interested in zooplankton, animals that drift in the water. Although many think of zooplankton as small, even microscopic, they can be as large as a jellyfish and may be passive drifters or slow swimmers. In order to sample all zooplankton, Russ and Ksenia use three different nets, a paired, vertically deployed net which captures the smallest zooplankton, a bongo net which is trawled for up to ten minutes for the larger ones, and a smaller single net which is deployed off the back by hand. They´ve been busy on this trip; they´ve done all stations with the exception of some of those during the high resolution CTD transect.
After they have collected their samples, Russ, Ksenia and their students will look through them to identify and enumerate rare species, and then preserve them, either in ethanol (for later genetic analysis) or in formalin for determination of community composition. Review of the samples from the hand deployed net allows them to describe, non-quantitatively, what´s at each station, and photograph the species present. From unpreserved collections they´ll select female copepods (tiny crustaceans that are an important food source for many animals) for experimental work. Finding adult females of the one genus they are studying in numbers sufficient for their work can take anywhere from one to four hours as they search through thousands of zooplankton. This can be tricky if these females are rare or overwhelmed by sub-adults of the target genus.
Once they´ve found enough adult females, they fill small bottles with water from the CTD and, after placing one female/bottle, they´ll move the bottles into an incubator. Most think of an incubator as a warm place; these are at the temperature of the seawater (e.g. 1-4 degrees Celsius). After 24 and 48 hours, Russ and Ksenia remove those copepods that have laid eggs and preserve them. All those that have laid eggs are individually preserved and will later be examined to determine species and number of eggs laid from the total population incubated.
The particular genus with which they are working is the most important and prominent one on the ocean shelf, and Russ and Ksenia are interested in overall reproduction rates. They´ll try to compare their data with the data collected on the ´04 RUSALCA cruise, but it´s difficult. The ´04 cruise was a month earlier, and food, amount of light, water temperature, and even water source are all a bit different. They believe they´ve already seen some differences in community structure although they´ll have to tease out these variables before drawing any conclusions. Without more comprehensive data from regular sampling this will be difficult, but RUSALCA will return to the same area in 2012. Russ and Ksenia worked together on the ´04 cruise, and are here in ´09. They hope to be sampling the zooplankton again in 2012.
Ksenia Kosobokova spends hours in the lab identifying and working with the female copepods.
Russ Hopcroft helps to bring in the samples from the vertically deployed net (on an extremely cold day!)
The satellite maps had indicated that the ice edge was at approximately 77.30° and the ship steamed for the better part of two days to reach it. According to the maps, we should have reached an area of nearly 80% ice coverage by noon on Monday. Early that morning, we began to see grease ice (has the appearance of oil freezing on water) and later we moved into an area of pancake ice. Pancake ice is exactly as you might picture - large, irregularly shaped, but still roundish pieces of ice that, as we moved further north, began to coalesce into even larger chunks. The ice was beautiful and, as always, it kept the rocking of the ship to a minimum, but we never reached the ice edge itself. Throughout the day, whenever speaking with someone who has done Arctic research for a number of years, I heard the same story; the lack of ice this far north was unusual (even for September), unsettling, and something they never thought they would see.
We´re now heading south again, to hopefully sample several of the stations done in 2004. That´s given me time to speak with Dr. Stanislav Denesenko, Zoological Institute, St. Petersburg, and his assistant on this cruise, Petr Strelkov, a senior teacher at the State University in St. Petersburg who is also affiliated with the Zoological Institute. Stanislav and Petr are usually on deck with us, helping with our grabs and following with their own. They take three grabs at each station and sieve the mud to get the benthic invertebrates. Although we do the same, their methods are a bit different. While we sieve through a one-millimeter screen, their final sieve is through a silk mesh, allowing them to protect the whole animal as much as possible. After identifying the dominant species in each sample, they preserve the entire sample for analysis and identification at the Zoological Institute once they return home. Stanislav is looking at numbers and diversity of species, particularly the dominant species, because it is known that nearly 50% of the total zoobenthos biomass (the mass of all animals living on the bottom) of the Chukchi Sea is from only 7-10 species, and the majority of those are mollusks. By combining data from this cruise with data from other cruises and from colleagues in the US, Stanislav hopes to continue to build a model of the zoobenthos communities of the Chukchi Sea.
Although Petr assists Stanislav in collecting during the cruise, he is also collecting samples for a project of his own. Peter is collecting not only mollusks and other invertebrates, but tissues from fish as well, and he is adding data from this cruise to data from cruises in the Berents and the White Seas in order to compare the populations of these amphiboreal species (amphi=both, boreal=region with a northern temperate climate) that live in both the western and eastern Arctic. Scientists believe that this amphiboreal distribution formed during a species migration approximately 3.5 million years ago, when the Bering Strait opened, allowing Pacific water to flow into the Arctic Ocean (Atlantic water) and, until recently, they felt this was the only migration. However, Pacific invaders in the Berents and White Seas have been shown, through genetic analysis, to have migrated more recently, possibly during a warming period in the Pleistocene. Peter is working with colleagues in Finland on the transarctic migration of species and is hoping that he will be soon be able to work with colleagues from the US to study all transarctic mollusks, more than 300 species.
Pancake ice as seen from the bridge of the Khromov.
Stanislav (l) and Pter (r) wash the mud from the van Veen grab.
The original cruise plan for RUSALCA ´09 called for stations at 76.5 degrees latitude, but few on board thought we would get there. On the 2004 RUSALCA cruise, they were stopped by ice well below many of the stations we´ve already sampled, and we´re now headed well north of the "top" station we´ve sampled so far (73.8 degrees). With the south wind we had earlier in the cruise, the ice has been blown out of this historically ice-covered area, allowing the ship and the science teams on board easy access. One of those who are especially interested in our upcoming stations is Alexander Savvichev, a scientist/teacher from the Institute of Microbiology, Russian Academy of Sciences. Alexander describes himself as a teacher of biological ecology with a special interest in water microorganisms.
When we bring up the van Veen grab for the first time, Alexander is often one of those taking samples of the surface sediments. He explained that there are microorganisms in the surface sediments that oxidize organic compounds from the water column, and his interest is in two particular groups. The first are the methane generators, archaebacteria that require an environment without oxygen and actually live in the sediment particles. The second group is those that oxidize the methane generated by the first group. Methane generated in the sediments can penetrate from the sediments to the water column and, if in high enough concentrations, can pass to the surface. While we often hear of the role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas and, with pollution or an increase in temperature, more methane may be generated and potentially released to the surface. However, bacteria in the water column have a chance to oxidize it. It´s this generation/oxidation cycle of methane that Alexander finds so interesting.
He and his associate, Elena Zakharova, will also collect surface and bottom water from the CTD with three goals in mind. First, they microscopically examine the samples to determine numbers of all bacteria present. (It´s impossible to identify species with this method.) Their next step is to use chemical analysis to evaluate the concentration of methane in the sample. Lastly, he assesses the activity rate of methane oxidizing bacteria to determine if the activity of bacteria in the water column is high or low. It´s not known yet what the variables are that might cause differences in activity level. Could it be water temperature? Perhaps salinity? One of the reasons Alexander is so excited to be a part of the RUSALCA mission is that he feels he can benefit from the joint work of all the science teams on board, using the combined data to possibly provide answers for some of these questions.
The area where we´re headed was first identified as one with pockmarks, during a 2003 cruise of the USCGC Healy. Pockmarks are circle-shaped holes on the sediment surface, often associated with methane. It is known that methane has two origins, modern (the result of present time bacterial activity) and old (coming out of the deep sediments). These two types of methane can be identified with a mass spectrometer. Alexander was on the Haakon Mosby mission in the Norwegian Sea ten years ago, when they found a very active pockmark area. The methane oxidizing bacteria there are the basis of that food chain, and he is very interested to see if he will find a similar area here. If the side scan sonar shows bubbles of gas in the sediments, he´ll be ready to sample.
Note: I wrote this journal 4 days ago, and we´ve now left the pockmark area. Although there has been no visual indication of the presence of methane found yet, only laboratory analysis of collected samples will yield a final conclusion.
Alexander Savvichev (green hat) and his colleague, Elena Zakharova, collect both surface and bottom water from the CTD.-
I´ve already described the fish work of Brenda Holladay and her group in an earlier journal (Sept. 5) so I´ll call this "Fish Journal, part two." I need two parts to the fish journal because so many on board work with fish, and so much interesting work is going on, most of it in the small lab right behind where we work. I often see Catherine W. "Kitty" Mecklenburg and Natalia V. Chernova carefully examining fish from the trawls long after we´re done with our work from a station. Kitty is a research associate with the Department of Ichthyology, California Academy of Sciences; as she says, she´s their "man in Alaska." She´s RUSALCA's Principal Investigator for the U.S. for study of large juvenile and adult fishes, primarily fishes that live on (benthic) or near (demersal) the bottom. As an ichthyologist (ichthyology = the study of fishes), Kitty´s special interest is the systematics of fishes and their evolution, and her work includes the study of morphology (anatomy) and zoogeography (where the fish live and how they´ve evolved to get where they are). Kitty may be best known from the monograph /Fishes of Alaska/, published in 2002 by the American Fisheries Society with coauthors Theodor A. ("Tony") Mecklenburg (her husband and colleague), and Lyman L. Thorsteinson, U.S. Geological Survey.
Fishes from the Arctic are not as well studied as those from other oceans and, until RUSALCA 2004, there was no concerted effort to study the fishes in this area. The fish preserved from the ´04 cruise went to museums in Russia and the U.S. to document the catch and enhance the historical collections. Together, the historical and RUSALA 2004 collections will serve as the baseline against which to compare catches from 2009 and beyond, to detect possible effects of climate change on the distribution and diversity of fishes. On this cruise, Kitty and Natalia take fish from the beam and otter trawls and will first identify them as exactly as possible. Identification of some of the fish can be difficult and sometimes controversial, and will be evaluated later using lab procedures such as x-rays and techniques such as DNA sequencing. Kitty preserves and deposits representative samples of the fishes from each station in museums so they may be available to researchers in future generations, as well as to document what the team caught. As an additional line of evidence to the morphology, she takes tissue samples for molecular/genetic analysis for two programs. The first is the Barcode of Life at the University of Guelph, Quebec, Canada, which is part of a ten-year program to complete a census of marine life. The second is a genetics lab at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where standard DNA procedures will provide another line of evidence.
Dr. Natalia Chernova, from the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, is Kitty´s Russian counterpart on this cruise, and they work together with the fish they get from the trawls. During the first half of her professional career, Natalia went to sea often, spending much of her time on small research vessels in the Berents Sea (between Norway and Iceland). Once she moved to St. Petersburg, she continued to study the taxonomy of fishes, primarily those from the Arctic, working extensively with A.P. Andriashev, the famous Russian zoologist and author of /Fishes of the Northern Seas of the USSR. /He´s the one who taught her to describe new species, and Natalia is currently at work on the updated second edition of his book.
Although she didn´t come on the ´04 cruise, Natalia helped to write the original RUSALCA proposal and has spent time analyzing specimens from that mission. Her main purpose on this cruise is to collect and preserve fishes for museum collections. Once back home, she´ll continue her taxonomic analysis to compare the fish caught on this cruise with others from the Arctic. She´s especially interested in fish from two families, snailfishes from Family Liparidae and gymnelids from Family Zoarcidae. She has just completed a review of the first family and has personally identified 12 new species from the second, all from the Arctic and far eastern seas of Russia. Her interest is in the distribution and variability of fishes in the Arctic; she sees it as a taxonomic problem. She´ll bring home fish from each trawl and will add those to museum specimens. Natalia has been studying these museum specimens, some going back as early as 1898, and will continue to study them in order to look at the zoogeography (see the definition above) of fish.
As I mentioned in Fish Journal #1, there is much to be learned from the fish caught during the cruise.
Thanks to Natalia for this excellent picture of the otter trawl in the water.
Kitty Mecklenburg and Natalia Chernova check some of the fish from one of the trawls as Stanislav Denisenko looks on.
Sometimes it´s problematic to post journals on a daily basis and, with the joint Russian/US nature of this cruise, language adds another layer of difficulty. As I describe my journaling process, keep in mind that people on board work 24/7, and can often be difficult to find since few keep a regular sleep schedule and most are working when not sleeping. In order to write a journal, I first talk with the person about whom I intend to write. After writing the journal, I have to find them again so they can check the accuracy of what I´ve written. Lastly, I try to take their picture while working. All that takes time and, with the language barrier, it becomes even more difficult. Although many on the Russian science team speak very clear English (no one on the US team speaks Russian), they often want Aleksey Ostrovskiy to double check translation when I first interview them and/or when they check my journal. Aleksey speaks excellent English and serves as the official translator on board. So, now I have to find both the person I wish to interview and Aleksey and hope they both have time available for the initial interview (in some cases) and often for the second. You might be thinking that this seems like an excuse for delayed journals: you´re right! I currently have three journals ready to post, but all are missing at least one of the above-mentioned steps. So, in the meantime, I´ll tell you about our long, cold station today.
We arrived at our highest latitude station yesterday (Sept 19^th ) morning, and immediately started the side scan sonar run. Once that was complete, the geology team went back to areas along the way to deploy their three-meter corer. All of that lasted until 1:30 AM when the full biology station started (Sept 20^th ). Lucky for me, Jackie always wakes up at the start of a station and lets me sleep until our turn is up. This morning, that meant an extra two hours for me before I got up and put on all my cold weather layers since it was dark and I figured it would be pretty cold. I was correct. Not only was it cold, but the wind seemed to cut through even our mustang suits and warm boots. By daylight, there were icicles above us, the deck was covered in muddy slush, it was difficult to sieve our cores due to ice on the screens, and the hoses had frozen. In addition, because of the 500+ meter depth, everything that went to the bottom took a minimum of 20 minutes. With 10 van Veen grabs, 3 Haps cores, and repositioning of the ship in between, Jackie and I finished our station work in time for lunch, nearly 12 hours after starting the station. Jackie had to go back after lunch to set up her respiration experiments. Even though we had found a place in the engine room to sit while equipment was going in, we both ended the station feeling completely chilled. Today made if clear to everyone that we are indeed in the Arctic and heading into winter!
I should note that, although conditions on deck weren´t great, Jackie was thrilled to get three good cores on three tries, and we found great variations in the core we sectioned. She´ll have fun analyzing it once she gets home.
By the time it was light, icicles had formed above us, the deck was covered in muddy slush, and the hoses had frozen.
Check out the variability in the mud from the top to the bottom of the 19 cm core.
As I mentioned earlier, this is my 6th research cruise with Dr. Jackie Grebmeier. When I first traveled with Jackie in 2002, she was at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, but she is now at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL), University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). The web page where you can read about all of Jackie´s work, the work of her husband, Dr. Lee Cooper, and find my present and past journals, is http://arctic.cbl.umces.edu. Jackie´s work involves benthic organisms (those that live on the bottom), and she´s been doing work in the arctic every year since 1984. RUSALCA is a unique program because of the long-term nature (2004-2016), but this isn´t the first time Jackie has been part of a joint US/Russian research cruise. She first started her international Russian collaboration in 1988 as part of the US-Russia BERPAC program to study the Pacific Ocean and Bering and Chukchi Sea ecosystems. On the current RUSALCA cruise, she´s particularly interested in reoccupying stations for time-series studies that she has investigated in both Russian and US waters since 1988, including the 2004 RUSALCA cruise. In addition, she is very interested in sites in Herald Canyon in the Chukchi Sea that were only occupied in a limited fashion in 2004 since Herald Canyon has traditionally been difficult to sample due to ice cover.
Much of Jackie´s work over the years has been in three "hot spots" in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. These are relatively shallow areas where most of the food in the water column goes to the sediments. By studying the organisms living on the bottom, as well as the characteristics of their environment, Jackie hopes to understand the role they play in the cycling of carbon, the element critical for all living things. By studying these same areas repeatedly over the years, Jackie gets a time series that allows her to better understand the forces at work in the water column and the sediments and any changes over time. She looks at carbon supply to the sediments, recycling of carbon within the sediments, and the community structure of the invertebrate macrofauna (large animals living in or on the sediments). I showed a picture of one of our grabs in the September 10-11 journal, and mentioned some of the organisms we had found up to that point. Since then, sampling in Herald Canyon has yielded a few others - chitins (a type of mollusk), sea urchins, and sea cucumbers.
In addition to the four van Veen grab that we sieve and preserve at each station, Jackie also sends down a piece of equipment called a Haps corer, designed to bring up a core sample of the sediments. Her goal is to get two cores that are approximately 2/3 full of undisturbed mud with overlying seawater for experiment studies. With her first two cores in collection chambers, Jackie will do 12 - 24 hour respiration experiments, allowing the organisms to remain in their "natural" environment in order to study total sediment community metabolism. She measures the flux of dissolved oxygen during the experiments as an indicator of carbon supply to the benthos, as well as takes measurements of nutrients and water for carbon dioxide exchange over the course of the experiment. Once the experiments are completed, we´ll sieve the core mud and preserve the organisms.
We also collect another core at the site for us to section, can, and freeze for radioisotope work by her co-Principal Investigator on this project, Dr. Lee Cooper. Although he´s not on the cruise with us, Lee is also researcher at CBL/UMCES and will measure the levels of radioisotopes in the sediment sections to determine particle deposition rates and down core dating of when material settled to the sediments. During the cruise, Jackie has also taken water samples from the CTD for Lee to determine the ratio of oxygen-18 (18O) to oxygen-16 (16O) in seawater. By comparing the ratio of 18O/16O, Lee can track the fresh water components, which include melted sea ice as well as precipitation. At these latitudes, colder temperatures result in precipation that is depleted in 18O relative to the freshwater component of sea ice.
The Haps corer goes into the water.
Jackie carries the core back to a level spot where she can remove the metal corer and check to see that she has the right amount of undisturbed sediment and overlying seawater in the actual core sample.
While waiting for the end of the high resolution CTD transect, I have had a little extra time to talk with others on board. Dr. Sarah Mincks is a newly appointed assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Sarah is one of those on deck just after Jackie and I finish our work. She and her colleague Jared Weems, also from the University of Alaska (check the journal from September 9 to see a picture of Jared weighing some of their samples) are working for two Principal Investigators, Katrin Iken and Bodil Bluhm, who were unable to come on the cruise. As we move inside to complete our work, those working the trawls come on deck. There are three types of trawls (see yesterday´s journal entry), but Sarah and Jared work primarily with the organisms brought up with the beam trawl. Their goal is to look at the community structure (what´s there, number of species, number of individuals, biomass) of the invertebrates in the epifauna (epi=upon, fauna=animals, epifauna=animals on the bottom). They sort the invertebrates brought up in the beam trawl because they are easier to quantify due to the large stable bar that keeps the size of the trawl opening constant. Once they know the amount of time the trawl is on the bottom, they can calculate the area trawled.
So, what happens at a station for Sarah and Jared? Once the trawl comes to the surface, they will first rinse it if it´s muddy and then dump it onto a large table on deck. They´ll remove the fish for those who study them, and evaluate the amount of organisms remaining. If the trawl is too large to sort, they´ll first try to distribute the organisms evenly and then split the amount before doing their quantitative counts. In order to count, they´ll get trays and start sorting by species, a process that can be time consuming (2-3 hours is not out of the question). For example, although they are seeing only one species of brittle star, they are finding several species of clams and must use a taxonomic key to identify them. Use of the keys on board adds another layer of difficulty as most are in Russian. Petr Strelkov and Stanislav Denisenko, Russian scientists doing additional work on epibenthos, have been a great help to them as they not only know many of the species, but also can utilize the Russian keys. Sarah and Jared will then count each group and weigh them before throwing them over board. Lastly, they´ll keep out and preserve voucher specimens of those they´re unable to identify.
Jared and Sarah are also repeating isotope work done on the `04 RUSALCA cruise with the goal of looking at food web structures. Essentially, a food web describes what eats what in a community, and they would like to evaluate how many "links" (trophic levels) there are in the chain by comparing different water masses with differing levels of productivity. In comparison to food chains in other areas, polar food chains are relatively short. Their work involves using the ratio of stable isotopes (different form of the same element) of carbon and nitrogen. They first collect samples (from the van Veen grabs and from the otter trawl) of representative species, concentrating on those that were sampled in ´04, and dissect out small pieces of tissue. In addition, they filter water to get the phytoplankton (algae) and take samples from the surface of the sediment grabs (to analyze for chlorophyll) as well as algae that have sunk from the water above and serve as food for detritus-feeders. (Detritus is the remains of plants and animals found on the bottom.) Since algae are plants, they perform photosynthesis and are thus the organisms responsible for the production of food and the incorporation of carbon at the base of the food chain. Carbon-12 (12C) is the most common isotope of carbon, but plants also incorporate carbon-13 (13C), which has an extra neutron. The ratio of the two naturally varies slightly during photosynthesis. For example, ice algae grows under conditions where 12C is not incorporated as fast as it is in open water, so the carbon that is produced within ice has relatively more 13C, a nice marker for identification. By looking at these ratios, they hope to discover the relative importance of ice algae versus open water phytoplankton because both are at the base of the food chain. In a system where the benthic pelagic coupling is tight (when coupling is tight algae sinks quickly to the bottom before it can be degraded by bacteria of other organisms in the water column), you would expect that what´s entering the food web is relatively fresh algae, not algae that has degraded.
In addition to her other work on board, Sarah is collecting samples for own project. She´ll bring back tissue samples for genetic analysis that will hopefully allow her to identify planktonic (drifting) larvae of some of the invertebrates. On an earlier cruise this summer, Jared collected krill (tiny, shrimp like animals) and Macoma clams and is attempting to maintain them in an aquarium where he will feed them with a lab grown algae "labeled" with an isotope signature. He´ll then feed the algae to his animals and try to figure out how long it takes for the signature to show up.
Sarah Mincks (green hat) looks at some of the invertebrates that have been brought up in the beam trawl.
Each time we do a full biology station, Jackie and I cut one of her cores and can and freeze the mud. As a result, I have not had a chance to watch the scientists dragging trawl nets to collect fish and epibenthos (epi=upon, benthos=bottom, epibenthos=things that live on top of the bottom), since those scientists go on deck as soon as Jackie´s cores are up. However, we often see the organisms they bring up since the catches are placed in a large table on the deck for sorting, and it can easily take 2-3 hours to complete the identification, sorting and weighing that must be done. I also see those who are sorting fish in the lab space behind where we work. In order to find out more about their work, I talked with Brenda Holladay, a research scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), in the school of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Working with Brenda on the fisheries ecology team on this cruise are Morgan Busby, NOAA, and Christine Gleason, UAF, but several other onboard research teams are working together to collect and assess the fish and invertebrate communities on the seafloor and in the plankton. In order to collect samples for the fish ecology team to study the ecology, distribution and abundance of fishes in the Chukchi Sea, they deploy a bongo plankton net, a beam trawl, and an otter trawl, all off the stern. The bongo trawl (two plankton nets attached to a frame with openings that resemble bongo drums) picks up fish eggs, larval forms of fish, and other zooplankton, the beam trawl is a small meshed bottom trawl that opens to one meter above the substrate and picks up juveniles and small adult fishes as well as epibenthos, and the otter trawl opens a little higher off the bottom and is larger meshed to avoid catching the smaller gastropods (snails), bivalves (clams) and substrate (mud!).
The bongo trawl catch is split into two parts, one of which is preserved in formalin so the fish eggs and larvae will be examined after the cruise. The zooplankton project will examine the other part of the bongo catch, which has larger planktonic animals than the finer-meshed nets they deploy.
The bottom trawl catches are dumped upon the sorting table on the back deck, and poked and shifted about while a dozen eyes search for fishes among the more abundant sea stars and crabs. From many bottom trawl samples, epibenthic invertebrates are examined by collaborating projects, and from others only the fishes and unusual invertebrates are removed. As the sorting comes to an end, the non-fish portions of the catches are spirited off to be analyzed by a multitude of researchers, and the fishes are moved from the cold and windy deck into the warm laboratory to be examined further.
Once they have their fish specimens identified, measured and weighed, several people want the fish and/or pieces of them. Brenda´s team will look at trace elements in the otoliths, bony structures in the ear that are laid down in layers as the fish ages (somewhat analogous to tree rings). At the core, the otolith will show a record of what was in the environment when the fish was hatched from its egg, and the outer edge of the otolith indicates the environment of the capture location. The team will also look at developmental stages of the fish and, from the eggs and larval fish in the plankton tows, they can get an idea of where the fish were spawned, where they´ve moved, and what geographic region and habitats they are most abundant in. Ultimately, they would like to be able to identify population changes (e.g. are populations moving, expanding), but they are still establishing baseline data to see where fish species are at the present time. Combined with work being done in the northeast Chukchi Sea and on other cruises, they hope to compare fish communities with water masses and examine a host of other variables that may impact fisheries management decisions.
While Brenda´s team is most focused on the more abundant fish, another team is particularly interested in rare fish that might appear in the trawls. That team will identify, measure and preserve one fish of each species found at each site. Another scientist on board is looking at population genetics and will take a small tissue sample of representatives of several fish species, while Brenda is collecting Arctic cod tissues for an offboard researcher who is studying population genetics of that species. Christy Gleason of the fish ecology team is collecting fish blood samples for her Masters´ degree work, and another team needs fish muscle tissue samples for stable isotopes. Some fishes are also being saved for offboard researchers to assess fatty acid content. There is much to be learned from these fish!
The otter trawl has larger mesh and therefore avoids picking up smaller gastropods, mollusks, and mud.
Brenda Holladay gets the otter trawl ready to send over the stern.
We finished our biology station around 8:00 last night, and the high-speed CTD transect began. Those involved have been trying hard to catch up on sleep since the CTD stations can be as close as 45 minutes apart, and they´ll be taking water from the CTD for the next two days. In addition, they must label samples, process them on board (in some instances), and find storage for them. So far, we have seen very little ice and it´s been calm - ideal conditions for their work. During the CTD transect, the rest of the science teams will once again have a bit of time to catch up on work and sleep before resuming full stations.
The joint US/Russian aspect of this RUSALCA mission makes it unique, and brings with it a number of considerations. While on board, it´s extremely important to have someone to act as a liaison between the US and Russian scientists, ship´s officers, and port authorities. RUSALCA is the result of a very strict cooperative agreement, and all teams must have equal access to ship time. Potential problems could arise around issues such as clearance of data, permission to utilize instruments, etc. Kevin Wood, NOAA, acts as the US representative for oversight and logistics, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Bakhmutov, serves as the Head of Expedition. Kevin told me that the only "problem" so far, for RUSALCA ´09, has been the bad weather in Nome that delayed docking at the end of the first leg. Kevin is a former merchant marine captain who has spent most of his career on research vessels. In addition to his oversight role on board, he can also help out on deck and even navigate if necessary. He was a part of the first RUSALCA mission in 2004 and, in the intervening years, he´s been on the summer RUSALCA mooring cruises. When he´s not at sea, Kevin is a research scientist pursuing his PhD in historical climatology. There are those who study ancient climate (paleoclimatology) and, of course, modern meteorology, but there are few who work with historical records (e.g. where people moved and settled) to find climate information. For example, he hopes to look at some of the weather data, now in Russian archives, from the Russian-American period in Alaska.
When not at sea, Vladimir Bakhmutov works at the State Research Navigation-Hydrographic Institute, part of the Ministry of Defense, in St. Petersburg, the "marine capital of Russia." Vladimir told me that, historically, in many countries, the navy does hydrography, and the Institute where he works possesses a unique database on the parameters of the world´s oceans. As a result, they are especially interested in some of the data, particularly the CTD data, from this RUSALCA mission, and they are pleased to be working with the US on this. There have been joint efforts in the past, and some of the phenomena in this area are of special interest. In addition, Wrangel Island is now a nature reserve and they are very interested in protecting it. Vladimir hopes that this mission will be a win-win for all. After serving in the Russian navy for 20 years and becoming a captain of the first rank, Vladimir is now in the reserve. He is currently the Chief of the Information Division at the Institute, and his department publishes the journal, /Navigation and Hydrography. /
With his background in oceanography, Vladimir is pleased to be a part of the RUSALCA mission, which he joined for the mooring cruise in 2008. He said that a significant part of his job is preparation for the cruise, including expedition planning and obtaining all clearances for equipment, as well as the logistics of loading equipment in Russia and bringing in all of the Russian scientists. He also communicates with Russian officials during the expedition. His main goal is to complete the program of the expedition with minimal loss of time and experiments. Vladimir ended by telling me that he doesn´t get out to sea regularly now that he is not in the navy, and he finds that he sometimes misses it and gets bored working on land.
Kevin Wood (l) and Vladimir Bakhmutov (r) spend a good deal of time on the bridge as they help to coordinate the many aspects of the RUSALCA mission.
The side scan sonar ran through the night and into early morning. Once the scan was complete, the ship sped up in order to reach the top of the line, in Herald Canyon, where the high-speed CTD run would begin. Prior to that, however, the plan called for a full biology station. Before going on deck for our work, I had a chance to talk with Dr. Terry Whitledge, chief scientist for both legs of the `09 RUSALCA cruise. Terry is a chemical/biological oceanographer currently working as the Director of the Institute for Marine Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. In addition to his work at the University of Alaska, Terry is the Principal Investigator on a project to build a new NSF ship to be operated by the University. As result, he doesn´t go out to sea as often as he once did, but he commented that, even after more than 90 cruises over the years, he still learns something new each time he goes out. He´s very excited about the RUSALCA program as it is the only US program with access to both US and Russian waters at the same time.
As Chief Scientist, it´s Terry´s job to try to meet the goals of each of the individual science teams on board. All but one of the current projects are a continuation of work from the ´04 cruise which makes things a bit easier, but it´s still a balancing act to work with 44 scientists amidst changing sea and ice conditions. Terry spends considerable time on the bridge as he is also a conduit to the ship´s captain and crew.
In addition to his role as Chief Scientist, Terry is also doing hydrography and biological oceanography work on the cruise. He´s analyzing nutrients in the seawater and collaborating with the primary production group. Terry´s work also supports the egg production work of the zooplankton group as well as the work of the water column and benthos teams. In addition, his work ties in with the fish work being done on board since the primary production feeds the upper trophic levels (organisms that feed higher up in the food chain). This area has been closed off for commercial fishing until they can find out what resources are here. Mike Kong, a graduate student working with Terry, helps to collect water from each CTD cast and to run the nutrient samples while on board. He figures he´ll get approximately 300 samples in this next 48 hour run alone. It´s important to run the samples when they´re fresh as preservation degrades accuracy and precision. In addition, Mike takes samples for chlorophyll analysis, and Terry figures he´ll take 2,000 - 3,000 samples back to the university for analysis. Mike takes closely spaced chlorophyll samples from the upper 50 meters, more spaced out samples at deeper depths, and none after 200 meters. For years, scientists believed that the 1% light level was the limit for phytoplankton growth, but they now know that phytoplankton brought up from areas of even less light will grow once at the surface.
As the ice cover changes in the Arctic. It´s important to understand the effects of light on primary production and nutrients. Based on early work done in the 1960´s, scientists assumed that ice cover limited production. However, as equipment and procedures have improved, scientists realized that there are no easy answers, and there are numerous variables to consider. For example, with increasing temperature and light, melting ice adds nutrient poor fresh water in addition to increased river run off which also adds water low in nutrients. Thus, less ice cover, not more, could actually limit production. In addition to his work on this cruise, Terry had nutrient sensors on moorings from the first leg of this cruise as well as several others situated in the Bering Sea. It´s important to get data from several stations in order to see if there are general trends over a large area or if there have been any changes over time. Although the ´04 RUSALCA cruise was unable to get to this area at all due to ice cover, we´ve seen surprisingly little ice in this area, something which Terry finds unsettling.
The others on board who are working on nutrients and primary productivity are Mike Kong, University of Alaska, Sang Lee, Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) and Hyoung Min Joo, also from KOPRI.
Dr. Terry Whitledge, Chief Scientist, waits on deck for the CTD to come up.
OK - an admission - I started this journal two days ago, but chose to focus on Jackie´s work in between since someone was kind enough to take some photos of us working yesterday. Therefore, the first part of the journal is actually from 9/9 - 9/10. I would have just skipped it, but there´s some interesting info in it, so here goes.
Yesterday (9/9) was a busy day for everyone. You might remember, from an earlier journal, that the first station we did on board took 12 hours. Now that everyone has their routines, knows where equipment goes before, during and after a station, and understands how best to share space and time both on deck and in the labs, stations are running much more smoothly. The first station yesterday started at 2 AM, and the third started at 10 PM. We didn´t finish the third until early this morning, but that time period also included transit between stations. All in all, a busy day and a good day for getting great samples.
Breakfast this morning (9/10) was sparsely attended as many slept in after a long night of work. By mid morning, however, the sun was breaking through the fog, the water was glassy smooth, we were in patchy ice, and someone had spotted polar bear tracks on an ice floe. People, cameras, and binoculars popped up on the bow and the bridge and everyone searched for the elusive bears. I had seen lots of floes with obvious tracks, a few ringed seals (a popular polar bear meal), but no bears, so I moved to the other side of the bridge. Soon after, those on the starboard side spotted a mother and two cubs. I missed them but will hopefully see others. Some of those who saw the bears had never seen one before and were thrilled! Even after we got out of the ice, people enjoyed spotting gray whales and both ringed and bearded seals all around the ship.
Now for the real September 12 journal.
People often ask, when I go out, about the food on board. I thought I would send along today´s menu so you can see that no one is going hungry! Keep in mind that today is Saturday and that means a special meal. However, all meals have been great so far. Here´s what we´ll have today:
Lunch - oven-baked frittata with freshly baked baguettes and salad, double chocolate chip biscuits.
Dinner (with a complimentary glass of wine) - pumpkin and feta filled crepes (starter), artichoke and bacon stuffed pork fillet served with a capsicum coulee and potato and cannellie bean casserole (main), and cheese platter with peach and mango chutney and walnut bread (final)
I had a chance to speak with our two chefs on board, Ralf Barthel (head chef) and Ben Loader (sous-chef). Both joined the ship in Nome for the two legs of the RUSALCA cruise, but each of them has traveled on the Khromov/Spirit of Enderby on Heritage Expeditions tours in the past. It was interesting to discover that all of the main provisions such as meats, dry goods, and some dairy products were loaded onto the ship in New Zealand in May. Since then, the ship was busy with tourist travel until it picked up the members of the first leg of the RUSALCA mission in mid August. Throughout that time, they picked up fresh food items at stops along the way. On this leg of the cruise, Ralf and Ben are preparing 3 meals/day for the 44 members of the science team and the 3 Heritage Expedition personnel. In addition, they make certain that fresh coffee and hot water for tea are available at all times, in addition to the snacks everyone loves (e.g. a minimum of 15 packs of cookies/day). A Russian chef prepares separate meals for the 22 Russian crewmembers. I mentioned my personal stress level when planning and executing even a small a dinner party for a few friends, but Ralf said that, with two chefs, even up to 80 people/meal would be no problem.
Today is a bit of a break for most on board. The Russian geology team (I´ll write more about them in a later journal) is doing a side scan sonar run of 6-12 hours as we head south in Herald Canyon. Depending on what they find, they will most likely want to come back along this line to take core samples. Once that happens, we´ll get in a full biology station tomorrow morning before either starting a line of stations going north or the long hydrology transect of tightly spaced CTD casts. Although it´s a "break" for many, that actually means just a break from the sampling done at a station. Jackie, for instance, is using this time to catch up on processing her previously collected samples. Others are sorting samples, downloading data, recording information, or, in some instances, catching up on much needed sleep. I wrote at the beginning of this journal, about the two stations we completed and the third we started in one day, so you can see that science work on board is truly 24/7.
Ben Loader (l) and Ralf Barthel (r) are the ones who prepare the delicious meals for the science team on board the ship
When work on board goes on 24/7, stations, times, and days seem to run together. While working, we often have to check among ourselves to figure out the exact day and date. The past couple of days have been like that which is why I´m combining two journals in one.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the 6^th time I´ve been on a research cruise with Dr. Jackie Grebmeier. This time is a little different because, unlike cruises where I´ve been a part of a 4-5 person team, Jackie and I are the entire "team" this year. I´ll try to give you an idea of the work we do as a team at each station and, in a later journal, the additional work that Jackie does on her own in between.
Early in a full biology station, one of us will collect bottom water from a bottle on the CTD rosette. Jackie needs the water from each station for use in her sediment respiration experiments. While everyone is still collecting water from the CTD, Jackie and our Russian counterparts Stanislav and Petr will start getting mud from the van Veen grab. The van Veen is essentially a large two-sided scoop that goes into the water open and then closes to gather mud when it hits bottom. This cruise stays in relatively shallow water, so it doesn´t take long for the van Veen to go in, reach the bottom, and return to the surface with mud. From the first grab, Jackie takes sub samples of the mud through a small door that opens on the top of the van Veen. Other members of the science party, both Russian and American, also take mud from this first grab as well as the second. Jackie´s samples are for TOC (total organic carbon), sediment grain size, and for sediment chlorophyll analysis. By analyzing these samples, Jackie will get information about the TOC reaching the sediments, including phytoplankton (tiny plants in the water) and plankton detritus (organic debris formed by decomposition). By analyzing the grain size, she´ll get an indication of the speed of the current as well as the physical environment the animals are living in. The next four grabs are for us, for quantitative infaunal population analysis, followed by three more grabs for the Russian team.
For each of our four quantitative grabs, we dump the mud into sieve boxes with one-millimeter screens on the bottom and use hoses to clear all the mud. We then preserve the organisms that remain. Jackie will take them back with her to the Chesapeake Bay Marine Lab/University of Maryland, where they will be analyzed to learn what lives in the bottom sediment and how the animals interact with its environment. So far, we´ve found a variety of organisms in the grabs, including several types of clams, anemones, brittle stars, worms, isopods, snails, tunicates (our earliest ancestor), and amphipods (small, pink, shrimp-like crustaceans that are a major food source for gray whales.)
Once we have our grabs, Jackie sends down the Haps core, a piece of equipment designed to bring up a core sample of the bottom. Her goal is to get a core approximately 2/3 full of undisturbed mud with a layer of seawater on top to use in her respiration experiments. By allowing the organisms to remain in their "natural" environment, Jackie can study total sediment community metabolism that provides an indication of the amount of organic carbon reaching the sediments and being used by the animals and bacteria (since I have no pictures yet of the Haps core work, I´ll send those and tell you more about this part of Jackie´s work tomorrow.) We will also take one core from each station to "cut." We´ll take 1 cm. samples of the core from the top down to 4 cm. when we´ll switch to 2 cm. sections. We can (actually put the samples into cans and then seal them) each mud sample and freeze it for later analysis in Jackie´s Maryland lab. These sectioned sediment cores allow her to determine how long it has taken for phytodetritus (phyto = plant) to reach the sediments and what the longer-term sedimentation rate is for the core sample.
Jackie takes sub samples from the first van Veen grab at each station
The van Veen must be cleaned of all mud before going back down
The sieve boxes are in the background as Betty transfers the sieved organisms.
This particular grab contained clams, a few worms, isopods, a starfish, and a few tunicates (the larger brown organisms).
It´s interesting that, for the boat, this is September 9, although we are actually in the East Siberian Sea and have crossed the International Date Line and, technically, today is "tomorrow." However, since it would be much too confusing, for the scientific records, to change times and then change back again, the boat stays on Nome, Alaska time. The only thing that changes is when the station latitude and longitude are recorded, the longitude is now east, not west.
We´ve gotten into a cycle of early morning stations, and this morning´s station started once more around 2 AM. The seas had picked up again, and our work time on deck was a bit shorter since it´s difficult to put in the Haps core when the ship is rolling and the winds are high. The goal with the Haps core is to go straight to the bottom to get a sediment core sample and bring it up undisturbed - a tough job under these conditions. We ended our work at 5:15 AM and had a chance to catch a little sleep, unlike those who had done trawls after our work and were taking a short break from sorting animals when I saw them at breakfast. They looked pretty tired!
At 11 AM, we were told that lunch would be at noon instead of 1, since we would be at the next station by 12:30. Because we haven´t hit ice yet, the chief scientist has decided to gather data at as many stations as possible while we´re in open water. The RUSALCA mission provides a unique opportunity to sample in these Russian waters, and all the scientists want to take full advantage of their time here, particularly since there is no ice to limit sampling. Historically, this area has been very difficult to sample due to high ice cover. My work at the station was completed for the station by 3:50, but Jackie needed to continue processing her samples. I´m trying to post journals and photos so I can be caught up before we start our next station this evening.
Another interesting aspect of coming out this time of the year is the daylight, or lack thereof. Each of my previous trips with Jackie was in the summer when we had nearly 24-hour sunlight once we moved far enough north. It´s exactly the opposite now, and we´re losing daylight each day. At the start of the trip, only a week ago, the sun was coming up by breakfast time at 7:30. This morning, it was easy to go back for a little extra sleep after breakfast since the skies didn´t really lighten until after 9 AM
One of Jared Weems´s jobs is to sort and weigh animals from the beam trawl done at each full station.
This morning´s station started at 3 AM, but we didn´t go on deck until approximately 4. We finished all of our work with the exception of cutting the core, and went to breakfast. Once we finished the core, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Bob Pickart of the hydrography team. Bob is a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and he and his team are responsible for all of the hydrographic measurements on this leg of the cruise. They are the ones who deploy the CTD bottle rosette and collect the core set of physical measurements for all the science teams. These measurements include temperature, conductivity (which gives them salinity of the water), depth, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence, and CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter - an indication of decaying marine and terrestrial plant material). The rosette itself currently consists of 21 bottles that are deployed from the stern and sent as near to the bottom as possible. On the way up, the bottles trigger and close at different depths to capture water. The CTD instrument is actually on the bottom of the rosette, along with an altimeter that tells them how far the instrument is from the bottom. It´s a tricky job to send the CTD to the bottom because the boat is moving up and down, and the last thing the team wants is to have the CTD ram the bottom. Two other instruments on the cluster are an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) to measure the velocity of the current, and a Video Plankton Recorder to keep a video record of the plankton passing by as the CTD descends and rises.
Marshall Swartz (l) and Bob Pickert (r) check the CTD monitor screens.
The CTD is deployed at every full station and often at shorter stations in between. Although the data collected is for the entire science team, Bob’s team is most interested in data they hope to collect over a series of casts, very close together, over Herald Canyon. It’s very important to get closely spaced stations because the water currents are extremely narrow here and, if the stations were more widely spaced, it would be very difficult to interpret the data. Their ideal scenario is a 48-hour, high speed transect of closely spaced stations (they can get up to 4 stations every 3 hours) with good weather. High winds during the transect could easily shift the currents and impact their work. The first ever high-resolution survey of the hydrography of Herald Canyon was done on the 2004 RUSALCA cruise, and the team looks forward to comparing results from the two cruises.
The purpose of the survey is to analyze what happens to Pacific water as it comes into the Arctic. Data demonstrate that cold winter water comes into the Chukchi Sea and fills the shelf during the winter. As the northerly winds relax in spring and summer, Herald Canyon on the west, and Barrow Canyon on the east, act as “drains” for the cold water to flow into the deep Arctic basin. At the same time, summer water enters the Chukchi Sea from the south during this time. By studying the water in Herald Canyon at this time of the year, the team expects to find the remnants of winter water interacting with the warm summer water. The RUSALCA ’04 data showed that, at the head of Herald Canyon, the winter water comes in on the left and the summer water on the right. As the water moves through the canyon, the cold and warm waters mix and switch over. The water on the right, now containing both cold and warm water as well as a mixture of the two, moves east and into the Beaufort Sea where it eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean. The expectation is that the data gathered on this cruise may support the findings of the ’04 cruise but, with a system that is so highly variable, it would not be at all unusual to find something very different. In addition, the team is hoping to go further outside the canyon in order to see the formation of the boundary current at the edge of the shelf. After coming all this way, their work is completely dependent on ice conditions. During the first leg of the cruise (August 23 – September 2), this area was entirely ice free. Since then, winds have moved the ice considerably closer, and it’s possible that the ship won’t get to all the posted stations.
The hydrography team consists of Bob, Dan Torres, the ADCP technician, Elena Bondareva, a young Russian woman working on her PhD in oceanography, and Marshall Swartz, a research associate from WHOI. Marshall’s job is to set up and operate the CTD and water sampling system. The entire team works a 12-hour watch each day, either 4 PM to 4 AM or vice versa, to operate the equipment and gather and back up data. Marshall describes his job as the equivalent of a production and maintenance engineer.
This morning, at our 2 AM station, I truly began to feel better. It turned out to be a short station as we were close to Wrangel Island, and the bottom was very rocky with little mud. Jackie did one van Veen grab and the Russian scientists who are also doing sediments did two more. After deciding not to try any others, Jackie processed her chlorophyll samples, and I went back to bed. I finally woke up ready for food again and headed down for breakfast. After breakfast, I went up to the bridge where Dr. Sue Moore, the marine mammal observer on board, was looking for whales.
Sue is a research scientist working for NOAA Fisheries, Office of Science and Technology. When I got to the bridge, Sue was explaining how she tells the difference between bowhead, gray, humpback, and right whales when trying to record what she spots. In order to identify a whale to species, Sue needs to see some part of the body in order to look for what she calls, specific diagnostic bits. Right whales are identified by callosities on their heads, clusters of a particular species of barnacle unique to right whales, bowheads by their `stack´ the conical shape of the top of their massive heads, grays by the knuckles (ridge of dorsal bumps) near the tail, and humpbacks by their dorsal hump and distinct small dorsal fin. Sue calls her work a `marine mammal watch´ onboard a platform of opportunity. She will observe and record sightings of marine mammals throughout the cruise, but her count can´t be considered a survey. A true survey takes several people using exceptionally large `Big Eye´ binoculars, and watching round the clock. On the second day of the cruise, when we woke to that beautiful sunrise, Sue was greeted by gray whale blows across the horizon. Later in the morning she identified a few humpbacks amongst the gray whales. While we were on station, whales were all around the ship, particularly the grays. Sue doesn´t expect to see right whales, as the population in the north Pacific is very low. In an extensive `09 survey done in the Southeast Bering Sea, only eight right whales were found.
Sue is really hoping to see bowhead whales. Eleven native Alaskan communities take bowhead whales and share a five-year quota set by the International Whaling Commission. Management is primarily local and is done through the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission in conjunction with NOAA. Barrow, Alaska, is one of the communities that takes bowheads. Their hunt had traditionally been in the spring, conducted from the sea ice, but now the largest hunt is often conducted in the fall from boats, due to the changing pattern and potential instability of spring ice.
Sue began her career at NOAA at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, and then accepted a detail at the University of Washington where she worked to develop `listening´ capability for sea gliders (autonomous submarines) with a research team at the Applied Physics Lab. Prior to joining NOAA, she flew aerial surveys over the Beaufort and Chukchi seas for 10 years, funded by Minerals Management Service, in part to investigate the effects of noise from oil and gas development on the bowhead migration. Throughout this time, she was trying to integrate marine mammal observation data with oceanographic data only to find that the oceanographic data were not available at a comparable spatial and temporal scale. She had to look at `generalized´ ice patterns, currents, and other information in order to describe habitats for bowheads, gray and belugas. Today, that link is made based on assessment of major fisheries and linked to the Pacific Marine environmental Laboratory.
One interesting note about Wrangel Island. It is now a Russian biological reserve. Two people, a polar bear biologist and his wife, an ornithologist, live there year round. The island is the nesting site for all snow geese from the western United States. For two weeks every year, the researchers can´t go outside because to do so would disturb the nesting geese.
Sue Moore gets some help with whale spotting
By the time we made it to the full station around midnight, the waves had decreased a bit and the moon was out. After the bongo nets and CTD were finished, however, the waves picked up again. We got all the van Veen grabs, but when Jackie tried her first Haps core, the winch wire went in at a diagonal and the core apparatus didn´t trip and close. After the second try yielded only mud with no water on the surface, she decided it was too windy to continue. As it began sleeting, Jackie took the core inside to "cut" it for samples. I went back to bed. After starting the station feeling mildly better, I had regressed and needed to be horizontal.
After clear sunny skies and calm water, things changed abruptly overnight. By the time we woke up, the boat was really rocking and rolling. Attendance at breakfast was lighter than usual as some stayed in bed to adjust to the change. We found out at breakfast that the short station for van Veen grabs only would be closer to noon than the originally planned 9 AM, so I made plans to talk with one of the scientists on board, went back for a shower, and gathered camera and notebook to get some work done. When I found Jackie, we were on station, and I got my gear on to go out on deck. The ship was rolling and water sloshed across the deck as I attempted to walk out. I seemed to be the only one having difficulty as others simply moved with the motion of the ship. By the time the grabs came up, Jackie was on her own to sieve and sort as I sat in an entryway to put the samples in containers and seal them. By that time, I was feeling seasick for the first time in all of my trips with Jackie. I went back to my room and slept, skipping lunch (I never miss food!) to try to recover my sea legs. Since the morning station had been delayed, we were scheduled for a full station at midnight instead of late afternoon.
Everyone woke up to a full moon on one side of the ship, a beautiful sunrise on the other, and lots of whales in the distance. Thankfully, the weather has cleared, making our early work on board considerably easier. Jackie and I still had work to do this morning to prepare for the first station (a station is when the ship stops for sampling), and we were discussing how to proceed, when the announcement came that we were 10 minutes from station. We had expected to be on station just after noon, but we arrived at 9:45 AM and had to scramble to get things ready. Customarily, the first order of business at a station is to send down the CTD to collect water and to measure conductivity, temperature, and depth along the way. This time the bongo nets went first to sample zooplankton, and we followed after with 10 van Veen grabs, 5 for us and 5 more for others who needed mud samples. Once we completed the grabs, we lowered the Haps core three times in order to get two cores for Jackie´s respiration experiments and one core for sampling. (I´ll fill you in on the details of Jackie´s work in a later journal). The remainder of the work at the station included an oblique tow for zooplankton, an otter trawl and a beam trawl for fish and epibenthos (large critters that live on the surface of the bottom, such as crabs and snails), ongoing observation of marine mammals, and the collection of water from the CTD for CO2 processing, nutrients and productivity.
The station work went extremely well for a first station, and it was completed by 7:30 PM. As everyone becomes familiar with this ship´s equipment and operations, and gets more settled in, the stations will take far less time. Despite the fact that the station was "completed," however, many worked for several more hours, processing, sorting, and counting samples.
These are some of the many crabs to be sorted from the first station.
By Wednesday morning, the Khromov was at the dock, and the scientists from leg 1 started unloading. By early afternoon, the 45 scientists and support personnel scheduled for the second leg of the cruise were at the dock loading gear and cargo. Amazingly, the crew managed to get everything loaded and piled onto the aft deck. As everyone checked out their assigned spaces and began unloading boxes, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a very crowded cruise. Jackie would be working in both the wet lab immediately off the aft deck, and the dry lab downstairs in the lecture room/lab area. The Professor Khromov has been sold to a New Zealand company, Heritage Tours, renamed the Spirit of Enderby, and leased back to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) for this mission. Any and all open spaces have been transformed into lab and work areas for the scientists, their equipment, and their samples.
Jackie and I worked to find space for as many of her 24 containers as possible since the crew wanted the deck cleared before sailing. We moved as much as we could before quitting work at12:45 AM.
The ship sailed on Thursday morning, and we spent the day unpacking and storing boxes, setting up equipment, labeling gear, and basically reshuffling everyone and everything on board until people were more or less established in their work areas. In between, we all attended the mandatory safety lesson and drill and a meeting to introduce the new people on board and discuss which areas to sample in order to make best use of the ship´s time. Although we still had work to do to prepare for the first station, both Jackie and I fell asleep "for a few minutes" around 8:30 and woke again at 7:00 AM.
Refrigerator being loaded on ship in Nome
Traveling from Burlington, VT to Nome, Alaska, took almost19 hours and included 5 stops - New York, Seattle, Anchorage, Kotzebue, and finally Nome. I arrived, with my computer and backpack, but my duffel with all of my gear didn´t make it. We landed in rain and strong cross winds from a large storm that had blown in that afternoon. Once we checked into the hotel, we heard the news that the ship, the Professor Khromov couldn´t get into port due to the extremely high seas and a southerly wind. Good thing! That gave me time to track my bag that truly seemed lost (neither airline could find any trace of it), and for Jackie to track her missing piece of cargo containing the chambers she uses for her respiration experiments. My bag finally arrived today on Tuesday, when Jackie was still searching for her cargo. If the ship had gone out on Tuesday as scheduled, she would have been without some of the most important pieces of her equipment.
I should provide a little background about why I´m here. In 2002, I had the good fortune to be teamed with Dr. Jackie Grebmeier for a research cruise on board the US Coast Guard Cutter, Healy, through the Bering Strait and into the Artic Ocean. My time was sponsored through an NSF program, Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA), and my job, as a teacher, was to reach out to students by posting daily journals and photos. This is now my 6th cruise with Jackie and, although I have retired from teaching, I´m still planning to post outreach journals The current cruise is part of the RUSALCA program (Russian-American Long Term Census of the Arctic), and our portion will be a 30-day cruise through the Bering Strait and north into the Chukchi Sea. There´s a wonderful link to more information about the history of the RUSALCA mission and the work being done at http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09arctic/
Since Sunday was a full travel day, Monday became the day to search for lost luggage and cargo and to get updates on the ship. We could easily see the ship from shore. Unlike other ships and barges waiting to come in, the Khromov had chosen to ride out the storm in open water so they would be first to get in when the waves and wind died down. Watching the rolling seas and hearing the crashing waves from shores was exciting, but I don´t think the scientists on board felt the same way. They were finished with their work, they could see shore from the ship, and they had all missed their scheduled flights home.
When I first traveled with Jackie in 2002, we sailed out of Nome, and I had the good luck to connect with a science teacher here who had been in the TEA program the previous year. Todd Hindman now teaches at a Nome charter school, the Anvil City Science Academy. We reconnected for dinner at his home on Monday evening. During dinner, I not only got good news about my duffel (it would be on the morning flight) but, when my camera died while taking a picture, he took me over to his school and loaned me a camera from his program. Thank you Todd!!
Tuesday was another day of errands. We picked up my duffel, Jackie continued to search for her lost cargo, we moved things to the home of Jackie´s friend in Nome, and we continued to monitor the weather and the ship. The ship had hoped to come in at noon, but the waves and wind were still too high. Soon after, things had settled down and they hoped for another try at 4. However, between noon and 4, the winds picked up again, and those on board made plans to spend another night on the ship. By evening, Jackie had discovered that her cargo box had been in Nome all along and she would be able to pick it up in the morning. Once again, it was to our advantage that the ship couldn´t get into port.
Musk ox outside Nome