Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Betty Carvellas Journal Entries
July 22, 2007
This will be my last journal as we are now waiting for the helicopters to take people to shore. It seems very strange to be sitting on board with nothing to do but wait. Even yesterday people were out on deck at 5 in the morning using the underwater camera. Our team was up early to sieve the rest of Jackie’s cores and to pack. We had actually started packing the night before, but it took all of yesterday, well into the evening, to get everything packed, labeled, and duct taped. Rebecca and Lee went into Barrow to ship the samples (the most important part!) back to the University of Tennessee while others went in just to have a chance to see Barrow, the northern most city in the United States.
While we’ve been on board, the crew has been amazing; they always seemed to be one step ahead of us to help out and to get things done. While everyone’s work schedule varied from day to day and people were working round the clock, one thing was always a constant – the meals. Bert Boisseau and Rick Jakimchuk produce three incredible meals each day, and everyone looks forward to the amazing gourmet food, rich desserts, and constantly available treats. When you’re on deck at night or early in the morning, it’s such treat to come inside into the crew’s mess and wrap your cold hands around a hot cup of coffee or tea.
It occurred to me that I haven’t included a pictures of myself in any of my journals this year, so I’ve included a picture of our mud team (with honorary member, Peter Lee) so you can tell that I’ve really been on board. I’m right in the middle between Rebecca and Peter. It’s been an amazing experience once again, to be out here with this great group of people. It’s exhausting work, but I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to participate in such important, on-going research.
July 20, 2007
Yesterday turned out to be another long day (and night). We got to our next to last full mud station at 2:45 PM. We knew it would be a longer station because we were in deeper water (200 meters), but we had no idea it would last nearly five hours. A big part of the problem was that we were in an area with lots of rock and gravel, and it made it very difficult to get a core or even a grab. Once we finally finished, we moved on to our next station, which started around 10 PM. This one was even deeper at 600 meters, and each time any equipment went down, it was a minimum of ½ hour to come back up. We did two CTD casts and five van Veen grabs before my work was done. At that point, Jackie still had her cores to do, but she sent us to bed and stayed up on her own. When I got up this morning, Jackie was still up because we had moved to another station and she was working with the three box cores that went down. When I woke up this morning at 9:30, she was still on deck working!
While waiting for our work to begin last night, I talked with Glenn Cooper, a research assistant and lab manager at the University of Victoria. Glenn is working with the bongo nets while on board. At nearly every station, Glenn and Orla Osborne (I told you a little about Orla in my journal of July 12), drop two large nets over the side and bring them back to the surface vertically. The nets take two samples simultaneously and capture zooplankton (tiny marine animals) in small filter bottles (called cod ends) attached to the bottom of each net. Glenn and Orla will rinse the nets once they come close to the ship to make certain all the zooplankton are washed into the cod ends before dumping the contents into buckets to be filtered and preserved. Glenn told me that their work with the bongo nets involves two projects. The first is to classify and quantify zooplankton for the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria. He preserves these samples in formalin, which preserves their structure in order to study species distribution and population size. He’ll preserve other samples in ethanol to study population genetics. Using genetic analysis, scientists can trace the distribution of genetically distinct populations within a single species. By doing so, they can track the dispersal of populations as currents move through the Bering Sea and into the Arctic Ocean. Lastly, Glenn and Orla are also collecting water from the CTD cast at the same depths as their sample collection. Their goal is to measure copepod (the type of zooplankton they are finding) productivity. They’ll measure an enzyme, chitiobiase, which is released by the copepods when they molt. Research has demonstrated that you can relate the amount of enzyme in the water to the growth of the copepods and therefore estimate the bioproductivity. Glenn and Orla incubate the samples for 24 hours and take sub samples over that time period in order to measure the change in the enzyme’s activity. They’ll return the samples to the University of Victoria for analysis.
I also had a chance to talk yesterday with Michael Bentley, a contractor from Victoria. When I asked Michael to describe his role on board, he replied, “birdman.” Whenever the ship is steaming, Michael is in the wheelhouse watching for birds and marine mammals. He surveys an area 300 meters wide on one side of the ship in order to do an inventory of the birds. He not only records species and numbers, but also other information including flight direction, general behavior, and plumage. He tries to determine if anything in the local area is influencing the birds’ behavior such as being attracted to the ship or associated with marine mammals. For example, we saw 13 gulls on the ice flow with the polar bear yesterday. Although he’s seen relatively few birds for most of the trip, he did see an overwhelming number, 1000’s per hour, near the Pribilof Islands. No one knows for certain, but there are any number of reasons why so many birds might gather in one spot. It could be related to the presence of fishing boats or plentiful feed.
Although our ride into Little Diomede was rough and extremely wet, Michael still carried his camera and lenses. Little Diomede is home to a large breeding colony of three species of auklets (least, crested, and parakeet), and Michael wanted pictures of the auklets and other birds he might find on the island. So far, the most interesting bird he’s seen on the trip is a short tailed albatross which he saw as the ship moved through Unimak Pass near Dutch harbor. All of the data that Mike collects will go to the Canadian Wildlife Service. Mike loves being on the ship and loves his job. He came to the Laurier only 45 hours after a 31-day cruise on the Canadian Coast Guard ship, John P. Tully.
July 19, 2007
Today has already started exceptionally well. For one thing, it’s beautifully sunny and we’re surrounded by blue water loaded with ice floes. Early this morning the ship stopped to let everyone get a look at several walrus quite close to the ship. Then, to top it off, just as we were stopping for a station, someone on the bridge spotted a polar bear asleep on an ice floe very close by. Everyone rushed to get binoculars and cameras while the bear slept. Once the ship turned and it got wind of us, it woke up, looked right at us, and gave everyone a great view for about 15 minutes before it slipped into the water. Sun, ice, walrus, and a polar bear – not a bad way to start the day!
As we’re nearing the end of the cruise, it’s time to tell you about the rest of the science going on board and about those who are working with it. Doug Anderson is an instrumentation technician with the Institute for Ocean Sciences (IOS) in Victoria. I’ve already told you about the CTD bottle rosette; it’s Doug’s job to look after the CTD and to do dissolved oxygen titrations using an automated system. Although this is his first trip to the Artic, he’s been doing this work for a decade, spending about three months each year on board a ship. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how many stations we’ve done, so I asked Doug how many CTD casts would be completed by the end of the trip. He thought there would be a total of 50 – 60 casts, all in less than three weeks. Doug told me that he’s very glad to have all the volunteers on board to check the accuracy of the sampling and the data entry.
Will Burt is entering his last year of undergraduate work at the University of Victoria, working toward a degree in geoscience. This summer, he’s been working on a condensed ocean science minor, and he’s thinking of eventually going on to a PhD in geochemical or physical oceanography. Will has been out once before, on the Louis St. Laurent two years ago, but he feels he has more responsibility on this cruise. He’s not only been operating the CTD and learning how to process the data, but he’s working with the underwater camera. At most of the shallow stations (the camera has about 130 meters of cable), someone (its usually Will, Marcus, or Phil working with the camera) lowers the camera over the side while another person checks the temperature and depth data and watches the two lasers which are mounted on the camera. The lasers are used for scale, to provide light, and to “see” where the bottom is. The fifteen minutes of video from each station will go back to the University of Tennessee and to IOS, but people are working to do rough editing for those on board to watch. The camera has been running at all of the shelf stations (the shallow area near the coast), and everyone is enjoying the great views of the organisms on the bottom. Jackie really likes having the camera because it gives her an idea of what we’ll find in the grabs and cores.
July 18, 2007
I first worked with Dr. Jackie Grebmeier when I was a participant in the TEA (Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic) program in 2002. I was on a 6-week cruise on the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy then, but I’ve now been back to the Arctic with Jackie on the Sir Wilfrid Laurier summer cruise four times. If you’ve been reading my journals, you probably understand that a science research cruise doesn’t fit the definition most have for the word “cruise.” Work goes on round the clock for the entire time we’re out. I find it tiring, but I know it’s only for two weeks. Jackie, however, came to the Laurier from a 34 day cruise on the Healy, which ended only 14 days before this one began. Jackie told me that, even though the hours are long and hard when out here, she enjoys this time because she spends so much time with lab and paper work while at home at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She’s particularly excited to be on the Laurier cruise this year because it’s the International Polar Year (IPY), and her program is part of the C30: Canada’s Three Oceans program.
Jackie’s work involves the study of benthic organisms (those that live on the bottom) and the characteristics of their environment. She’s trying to understand the role these organisms play in the cycling of carbon, the element found in all living things and, of course, in carbon dioxide, the gas we hear so much about in relation to global climate change. We’ve already completed our sampling in three “hot spots,” areas where Jackie has sampled since 1984. She samples these areas because the water is shallow and most of the organic carbon in the water column makes it way to the sediments. Jackie looks at the carbon supply to the sediments, recycling of carbon in the sediments, and the community structure of the invertebrate macrofauna (“large” animals without backbones). These three areas are also important to top predators such as the spectacled eider (a threatened population of diving sea ducks), walruses, and gray whales that all feed on the animals in the sediments.
Over the last 23 years, Jackie has seen a decline in the population of the dominant invertebrate animals in these areas. The changes seem related to changes in sea ice, water temperature, current flow, and carbon supply. For example, the population of amphipods (small shrimp-like crustaceans) has declined in the Chirikov Basin and the gray whales that feed on them have had to move north in search of food. Another example is the shift in abundance of certain species of clams. Since clams are a major food source for both walruses and the spectacled eider, they are a critical part of the ecosystem. The spectacled eider dives up to 60 meters to feed on clams, and the tellinid clam is a favorite because it’s meaty and has a soft shell. With the changing environment, the tellinid population has declined and the population of the nuculanid clams (tougher shells and less meat) has increased, making it tough for the eiders to find enough food.
Check out the picture of Jackie with her core to see what she is looking for in a “good” core. It should be about ¾ full of relatively undisturbed mud with water over it. Once she has her two good cores from a station, Jackie will carry them back to the lab on board to conduct 8–18 hour respiration experiments. By allowing the organisms to remain in their “natural” environment she can study total community metabolism. When she’s done, we sieve the cores and preserve the organisms for later analysis.
July 17, 2007
I’m going to use “today’s” (I admit, I’m writing this on the 18th) journal to tell you a bit about each of the people on our “mud team.” I’ve already told you about Corrine Warren in my journal from July 12, and her picture was posted with yesterday’s journal. Another person working with us is Monika Seynsche, a reporter with German public radio. Monika is posting her reports and photographs every two days. While I have the luxury of getting behind a bit when we get very busy, Monika is held to a strict schedule. So, as we’ve been doing all of these back-to-back stations, some through the night and into the day, Monika has also been interviewing the scientists on board and writing and posting her reports. She tells me that, although she finds the mud work exhausting, the routine of our work on deck is a nice break from the “mind work” of writing.
It’s great to be working with Rebecca Pirtle-Levy again; this is our fourth trip together on the Laurier. Rebecca has worked with Jackie for seven years, first as an undergraduate, then as a Masters Degree student/research assistant, now as a technician. Just prior to this cruise, Rebecca was with Jackie on the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy on a six-week cruise in the Bering Sea. She’ll be anxious to get home after this one! While my work with Jackie only happens at mud stations, Rebecca’s work is much more extensive. Whenever the CTD goes into the water, Rebecca collects water from the bottles for chlorophyll-a analysis and for nutrients. It’s the chlorophyll-a that takes the extra time on board; the nutrients are preserved for later analysis. Chlorophyll-a is found in the cells of plants and is an important indicator of productivity, the availability of food in the water. After filtering the water, she places the filters into the freezer to break open the plant cells and release the pigments. To extract the chlorophyll-a, she will then place the filters in acetone in the refrigerator. At the end of twenty-four hours, Rebecca takes chlorophyll-a measurements using a fluorometer. She also takes readings from the mud samples from the van Veen grab. Once we’ve been underway a while, the samples back up and someone has to be up every two hours for reading and, if we’re at a station, to do mud work and collect more water.
Dr. Lee Cooper, from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, often helps Rebecca with the readings in addition to helping out when we’re on deck. However, one of his other interests is collecting water for oxygen-18, an isotope (different form of the same element) of oxygen. By analyzing the ratio of between oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 (another isotope of oxygen), Lee can track the fresh water component of the water he’s sampling. As the Japanese current, Kuriosho, comes across the Pacific, it splits upon reaching the coast of North America. It heads south to California and then north to become the Alaskan current that runs along the southern coast of Alaska and the Aleutian islands. As it reaches the passes through the Aleutians, the current runs north in the Bering Sea. Lee should be able to tell, in general terms if the components of the fresh water are from Japan or from the rivers, glaciers, and melting snow of Alaska or from both. The farther north, the colder the temperature, the higher the altitude at which the precipitation fell, the more depleted the oxygen-18. His data can help determine the amount of fresh water coming from Alaska, from melting glaciers or from melted sea ice for example, and therefore provide information about water masses in the study area and fresh water transfer into the Arctic.
OK, it’s time to tell you what happens at a mud station. I sent some pictures of the van Veen work yesterday and will add pictures of the work with the Haps core today. Once the CTD is out of the water, we go out on deck to get five van Veen grabs and three good cores. In theory, that means the winch lowers the equipment eight times, but it actually might be more if mud conditions aren’t good or the cores don’t look just right. If you follow along with the pictures posted yesterday, you can get an idea of our work with the van Veen grab that we use to go to the bottom to scoop up mud. The first time it comes on deck, someone takes samples off the top (we open a little door to remove mud from the very surface) for TOC (total organic carbon), sediment chlorophyll analysis, and HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography), a technique used to separate different photosynthetic pigments in the phytoplankton. These pigments vary by phytoplankton group, so HPLC can tell us which groups contributed which proportion of the organic materials in the sediments. We also fill a Marinelli beaker with mud that Lee will take back to analyze for Beryllium-7 and Cesium-137 to determine the rate of sedimentation and/or areas where there has been recent deposition. By analyzing these sub samples Jackie gets information about the phytoplankton and how long it has taken to reach the sediments, the forms of carbon and how much of it arrives at the sediment surface from the processes taking pace in the overlying water column, and the types of organisms in the mud. Analysis of the grain size yields an indication of the speed of the current as well as the physical environment the animals live in. For the next four van Veen grabs we’ll dump the mud into sieve boxes with one-millimeter screens where we use hoses to clear away the mud. We then preserve the organisms left behind to get an idea of what’s living there and how it interacts with the environment. Although the picture from yesterday showed mostly clams, it’s not uncommon to find different worms, sea anemones, brittle stars, snails, sand dollars, and amphipods (small, shrimp-like crustaceans that are a major food source for gray whales.)
Once we have five good grabs, Jackie will send down the Haps core to get a core sample of the bottom. She’s looking for two good cores (undisturbed with a layer of seawater on the top) to use in her respiration experiments. By allowing the organisms to remain in their “natural” environment, Jackie can study total community metabolism. (I’ll fill you in a bit more on Jackie’s work tomorrow.) Rebecca takes the remaining core into the on-deck van where she will cut it, taking one centimeter sections of the core for the first four centimeters, and packing, canning, and freezing the mud to take back for later analysis.
July 16, 2007
Last night was a long one as we did a series of stations across the Bering Strait. They started at 9:30 PM and wrapped up around 7 this morning. Those who weren’t on shifts were up for the entire time. I managed a few hours of sleep before waking to hear an announcement that anyone wishing to go into Little Diomede should report to the officers’ lounge for a briefing. We were advised to wear gear appropriate for wet and very cold weather. Two members of the crew spent several hours taking groups of five or six at a time into shore in a rubber zodiac. Climbing over the side of the ship and making our way down a rope ladder into a rocking rubber boat was interesting! We were all very glad that we had on our rain gear or mustang survival suits, as the ride was rough and wet. It was well worth the trip to have a chance to visit Little Diomede, a small island in the middle of the Bering Strait. On a clear day, unlike today, you can see the Russian island of Big Diomede in the distance. The US/Russian border runs in the Bering Strait, right between the two islands. The entire settlement of approximately 150 people takes up only a small area of the rocky coast and, because the island is accessible only by helicopter or boat, the community is subsistence based. The people hunt beluga and bowhead whales, seals, walrus, and polar bear, and they supplement their diet with fish, crab, local wild greens and vegetables. I was happy to speak again with a woman I had met last year, and she told me that the spring hunt was very good this year; they have plenty of food set aside. Once we were all on the island, our group gathered in the community center/bingo hall for a show of traditional Eskimo singing and dancing, accompanied by the sound of walrus skin drums. How exciting to see and hear songs and dances that have been passed down over countless generations!
Now that we’re back on board, our mud team is getting ready for a long series of seven stations that will begin around 10 PM and end sometime late tomorrow afternoon. Fortunately, it will be light for most of that time; unfortunately, it’s been very foggy and misty and it’s difficult to get good pictures. But, since this is the work I do on board, I’m going to be taking lots of pictures tomorrow when it will hopefully be better weather.
OK – I admit that it is now 3:25 PM on Tuesday, the 17th. Once we started the line of stations last night, we were almost finished the third station at 6 AM when all work stopped due to bad weather. The decision to stop and wait for the weather to improve provided a respite for all who were longing for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. The weather did improve and we’ve been out on deck most of the day starting at 11 AM.
I haven’t explained Jackie’s work to you yet, but I’m going to include a few pictures along with this journal entry. I’ll try to tell you about Jackie’s work and include the remainder of the pictures with today’s journal. I have lots!
Note: I’m almost certain that “today’s" journal will be posted tomorrow. Once this series of stations is complete, I plan to catch up on some much needed sleep. It’s interesting to be on board a ship where science is taking place. There’s something happening 24/7, either on deck, by the CTD, in the lab, or at someone’s computer. Combined with almost 24-hour daylight, it makes it tough to remember the day of the week or when you’ll have to be ready for your next job.
July 15, 2007
Philippe Benoit, a PhD student in physical oceanography at the University of Victoria, is another member of the science team. He’s actually running three experiments while on board. The first is (or rather, it was) a bio acoustic “fish”, a piece of equipment that’s towed over the side while the ship is underway. It emits high frequency sound waves to detect the backscatter of biomass in the water. Unfortunately, the high speed of the ship seemed to be too much for the fish, which ended up flying out of the water, or into the ship’s hull, instead of just under the surface. It’s been retired for the remainder of the cruise.
Phil affectionately refers to his second piece of equipment as the Frankenstein cooler. If you check out the picture, you’ll understand the reference. The cooler samples the ship’s water uptake while underway and detects the partial pressures of gasses in order to measure the total gas mass dissolved in the surface water. It also contains an oxygen sensor. It’s more complicated than this, but essentially, if you know the total pressure and you know the total oxygen pressure, you can calculate the partial pressure of nitrogen in the water. Why would you want to know that? Well, if you find high oxygen concentration, that’s an indication of high primary productivity (lots of phytoplankton undergoing photosynthesis and giving off oxygen). However, oxygen can come from other sources as well such as mixing of water masses or bubble dissolution. If nitrogen is figured into the calculation, you can figure out how much of the oxygen comes from the biological processes (much of it comes form those busy little phytoplankton, but there are other sources as well) and how much comes from physical processes.
Phil’s’ last experiment involves a special modification of a standard ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profiler). At each station, members of the crew lower the ADCP over the side and then bring it back on board at the end of the station. The ADCP data will provide a general sense of the currents under the ship while it’s stopped for a station.
Some of the science team are on 12 hours shifts, noon to midnight or vice versa. Our “mud” team and a few others just go to work whenever we’re at a mud station, no matter the time. Our group thought we had to start work early this morning, at 12:30 AM (after going through the night the day before). It turned out that our stations didn’t begin until 5:30 AM, and most everyone got a decent amount of sleep. Today’s mud stations are all during the day, but the water stations will start again later in the day and most likely run through the night. The science goes on pretty much around the clock. Even when we’re not on station and collecting data and samples, some are analyzing their data or working with the samples they’ve collected.
July 14, 2007
Yesterday I spoke with Dr. Charles Gobeil, professor of aquatic geochemistry at the University of Quebec in Quebec City. You might remember that I mentioned his work with the box core when I told you about Danielle Dubien, his graduate student. I got a chance to see the box corer in action last night and this morning at two of our five stations. The core work is part of Canada’s Three Oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic) Monitoring Program, a four-year IPY (International Polar year) project. In collaboration with Robbie Macdonald at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria, Charles’s goal is to examine the sedimentary record on the continental margin of Canada’s three oceans. Each year, Canada sends out two icebreakers, the Louis St. Laurent leaves from Halifax, Nova Scotia and travels the eastern Arctic and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier leaves from Victoria, British Columbia to travel the western Arctic. Charles is gathering sediment cores for the western Arctic on this cruise and on another Laurier cruise in September.
I’ll eventually show you pictures of our coring equipment and it will look tiny after you’ve seen the size of the box core in today’s pictures. The goal of box coring is to get a large, undisturbed core from the bottom of the ocean. With the core comes a history of the ocean itself. In coastal areas, where the sedimentation rate is high, the history may go back 200 – 300 years. In the deep ocean with an extremely low sedimentation rate, the history might include several thousand years!
It takes Charles at least three hours to section his core (check out the picture) starting with .5 cm sections. The entire core is approximately 20 X 30 X 45 cm. He’ll preserve the mud to take back for later analysis. When he analyzes the sediments, he first dates them and them measures trace elements, isotopes, and organic compounds in order to better understand the carbon cycle. He’ll focus on elements sensitive to oxygen because oxygen is consumed when decomposition of organic matter occurs. Charles’s work compliments Jackie’s; it’s just a slightly different approach. His cores are helpful in another way – they provide information on contaminants. In the past 15 years, Charles has taken 20 deep ocean cores including at the North Pole at 3500 meters. What an amazing historical record they contain!
July 13, 2007
Our mud work starts this afternoon and the station will probably run most of the night. Since this is our first station, we’ll be working to set things up right after lunch. I’ve spent my morning talking to some of the other members of the science team so I can get my journal done before we start our work.
I’ve written quite a bit about the CTD and have referred to it regularly in my journals. Today I spoke with one of the two people who are in charge of this all important piece of equipment. Markus Janout is originally from Germany, but is now living in Fairbanks where he’s working on his PhD in physical oceanography at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. His job on board is to run the CTD casts, to help process the data, and to deploy the XBT every 90 minutes while the ship is underway. Let me tell you a bit more about the CTD casts and the XBT. At each station, Markus (or his counterpart on the noon to midnight shift) will prepare and check the CTD bottle rosette, which is lowered over the side with the winch. As the CTD comes up, Markus uses the computer to “trip” (close) the bottles at different depths to gather water. Throughout the cast, he monitors sensors in the CTD shack (that’s where Markus is sitting in the picture).
Every 90 minutes, while the ship is underway, someone will launch the XBT (expendable bathy thermograph) off the aft deck. The expendable part means that the device goes to the bottom and the connecting wire is cut to release it. Once launched, the XBT sinks to the bottom at a constant rate transmitting temperature data vertically to depth and sending the information to a computer on board the ship. Although the CTD provides temperature data (and much more) while the ship is stopped, the XBT gathers the data while the ship is running, therefore providing a much tighter grid of temperature profiles in between CTD casts. It’s particularly important on long transects.
It’s now 8:30 PM and we’ve completed two of our five SLIP (St. Lawrence Island polynya) stations. In the brief time between stations, I’m going to post this journal. I promise lots of pictures of our mud work in future journals.
July 12, 2007
Today has been quiet so far as most of the science team is catching some sleep after the long run of stations overnight. The group is large this year, 17 people all working on various projects. I’ll try to introduce you to each of them before I’m done, and I’ll explain their work on board. Yesterday I spoke with Sharon Edmunds who is a summer scientist, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans based in Ottawa. Her full time job, also in Ottawa, is with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami where she serves as an advisor in social and economic development representing the Inuit in Canada. She’s currently pursuing her degree in environmental science at the University of the Arctic. The University of the Arctic, a virtual university, is in the process of designing the first ever major in climate change studies. While on board, Sharon is responsible for data entry for the CTD and for collecting water from the CTD for nutrients, salinity, barium, and oxygen18 analysis. She’s also in charge of Poasie, a small stuffed penguin. This entire year has been designated the International Polar Year, and Poasie has been designated the spokesperson for the educational outreach in the polar north. A polar bear represents the polar south. The idea is that children will recognize the travels of each animal, with the penguin traveling north to learn and the polar bear traveling south from its home.
This evening, after Jackie’s science talk, I spoke with three other members of the science team and answered the question, “Why are members of the science team throwing beer bottles over board?” Orla Osborne, from Iqaluit, Nunavut (a territory of Quebec) is one of the bottle “tossers.” As you might have guessed, each bottle contains a message describing the Drift Bottle Project and including a form to return to the Department of Oceans and Fisheries, Institute of Ocean Sciences, British Columbia. By comparing the location of the toss with the location where the bottle is found, researchers hope to add to their knowledge of large-scale ocean circulation. Orla is also a student scientist sponsored by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In addition to tossing beer bottles overboard, Orla is helping out with the bongo nets, large nets which sample zooplankton (small aquatic animals). I’ll tell you more about the bongo nets one I’ve had a chance to get some pictures.
Danielle Dubien is from Ontario and is in the first year of her doctoral program in water science at the University of Quebec, working with Dr. Charles Gobeil who is also on board. Both are working with box cores, instruments that gather large chunks of sediments from the bottom. I wasn’t on board when they did the first cores, and they won’t do more until we get further north. Once they do, I’ll tell you a bit more about the cores and shares some pictures.
Corrine Warren is an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, working with Jackie. Eventually, she hopes to earn a PhD in marine ecology. She’ll be a member of our “mud team” but, since our work doesn’t start until this afternoon, she’s been collecting water for nutrients, barium, oxygen 18, and salinity during the first part of the trip. Her time on the ship is partially funded through a UT scholarship program and she will fulfill the program requirements, by doing her own research project while on board. When we collect our samples, she’ll take sub samples for analysis and for comparison with past work.
July 11, 2007
Throughout the day today, crew and science team members could be found decorating Styrofoam cups with assorted colors of waterproof markers. All was in preparation for the CTD cast at 6 PM when the cups, stuffed with paper towels to hold their shape and secured in mesh bags, descended to a depth of 3000 meters attached to the CTD rosette. You know that feeling of pressure in your ears that you get when you dive even ten feet into a swimming pool? Imagine what the pressure is like at 3000 meters below the surface! Check out the pictures for today to see what happens to a "normal" Styrofoam cup subjected to that pressure.
Here's what the cups look like before they've gone down to 3000 meters
These are the same cups after going down to the bottom at 3000 meters
The CTD collects data
on conductivity, temperature, and depth and sends it all back to
a computer. It's attached to a frame that contains twelve
water-sampling bottles arranged in a circle, and the whole
apparatus is often referred to as the CTD rosette. Each of the
bottles is open when the CTD is lowered over the side. When the
bottles trigger (close) at different depths they collect the
water from that depth. Once the rosette is at the surface,
members of the science team take turns getting water samples from
each of the bottles. The CTD itself actually collects the best
data on the way down when the water is undisturbed by the
Everyone was excited to see what had happened to their cups, but many had to wait until they had collected their water or, in the case of the crew, until they were off duty. And, for the science team, the work had just begun. The PM CTD cast was at the first station of a line of seven stations across the Bering Sea. The first station started at 6 PM on yesterday, and the last ended at 8:45 this morning. Some on the science team are on twelve-hour shifts, but others are working alone and must stay up for all of the stations. One of those people is Dr. Peter Lee. Peter is originally from New Zealand, but he's now doing postdoctoral work in biogeochemistry at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. When the CTD is deployed, Peter will collect water for vertical sampling and, when the ship is underway, he'll use the ship's seawater pumping system to collect water for horizontal sampling. He filters the water and takes the frozen samples back to South Carolina for analysis. He's sampling for DMSP (dimethylsulfoniopropionate), a substance found in the cells of phytoplankton (tiny plants found in the water) and for the pigments found in phytoplankton. DMSP not only helps the phytoplankton regulate salt (it's an osmoregulator), it's also a cryoprotectant (it helps them survive in cold weather) and it's an antioxidant.
Peter analyzes each sample two ways. First he uses HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) to identify the pigments and therefore the groups of phytoplankton. Anyone who has seen leaves change color in the fall knows that, when chlorophyll dies back, the additional pigments, called accessory pigments, in the leaves show up. Just as you can identify the type of tree by the fall color, you can identify the major groups of phytoplankton by their pigments. Peter will be able to identify how the groups of phytoplankton over the years due to climate change. For example, he might see a greater concentration of some species or even a new species moving in. That's exactly what happened when there was an algal bloom (large production) of a non-native species of phytoplankton in the Bering Sea between 1987 and 2002. Scientists believe a warming trend might have made conditions favorable for the new species.
Peter also analyzes DMSP concentrations in each sample using gas chromatography. By looking at this data along with the pigment analysis, he can evaluate how the DMSP concentration responds to the changing phytoplankton community. Since this is his seventh year of sampling at these same stations, Peter is developing a baseline for DMSP concentration and for the phytoplankton present.
Most people want to know how this relates to climate change. If climate change means warming temperatures, there will likely be additional phytoplankton production and therefore, more DMSP production. When the phytoplankton die and release DMSP, it's broken down by bacteria into DMS (dimethylsulfide) which is transferred from the ocean to the atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere, DMS is converted by sunlight to sulfate which is
critical to cloud formation. So it looks like this: warmer temperatures, more phytoplankton, more DMSP, more DMS and sulfates, more clouds, more cloud cover, an increase in the Earth's albedo (ability to reflect back the sun's rays), and cooler temperatures. Just possibly, the ocean's phytoplankton could help to regulate the Earth's climate.
July 10, 2007
I actually arrived in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Saturday, July 7 along with Dr. Jackie Grebmeier and Dr. Lee Cooper, but the Sir Wilfrid Laurier didn't come into the harbor until early this morning. By the time it came in, those on board were ready to spend some time on land. For many, the first stop was Alaska Ship Supply to buy heavy-duty hooded sweatshirts that are remarkably warm and practical for time on the ship. I'm sure they'll show up in at least one of my photos. After that, it was time to tour the area. Although many recognize the name, Dutch Harbor, from the television series, "The Deadliest Catch, Dutch Harbor is, officially, the International Port of Dutch Harbor in the city of Unalaska. The area is rich in culture and history. Nearly nine thousand years ago the Unangan people, ancestors of the Aleuts settled here and throughout the Aleutian Islands, and the Unangan settlements were among the most powerful in the eastern Aleutians when the Russian explorers arrived in 1759. One stop on the "tour" was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Ascension. Built in 1896 and extensively renovated in 1996, the cathedral is the oldest in Alaska.
During World War II,
the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands, and they bombed Dutch
Harbor on July 3 and 4, 1942. Following the attacks, the U.S.
government evacuated nearly 900 residents of the Aleutian and the Pribilof Islands to Southeast Alaska where many lived in poor
conditions until the end of the war. In Dutch Harbor the army
built Fort Schwatka on Mt. Ballyhoo overlooking Dutch Harbor.
The remains of the fort and the gun mounts are now part of the
Aleutian World War II National Historic Area.
Today Unalaska and the
International Port of Dutch harbor have become a destination for
birders and fishers. During our stay in Dutch Harbor, we
regularly saw bald eagles - on lampposts, on fishing nets, and
soaring over the water, and signs of the active commercial
fishing industry are everywhere.
By 3 PM the ship had sailed and by 4 PM, Jackie held her first science team meeting. She'll be acting as Chief Scientist for this portion of the cruise, and it was important for her to meet everyone and to sort out the science plan. My fifth cruise with Jackie was underway!
Note: Much of my information for this journal is from the "Aleutian World War II National Historic Area 2007 Calendar" and the "Unalaska/Dutch Harbor 2006 Official Visitors Guide."