Edge of the Arctic Shelf
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A blanket of gray covers the Bering Sea.
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Daily Update

Dispatch 03 - July 17, 2002
By C.A. Linder

Weather conditions: overcast skies, winds 15 knots from the SW, calm seas, air temperature 48° F

Testing the Waters
Another day dawns cold and gray in the Bering Sea. The temperature is dropping slowly, and already you can see your breath if you stand in the lee of the wind on deck. Today was another day of preparation - unpacking our gear, getting it set up, and making sure it works. This is not to say there weren’t exciting moments!

Remember what I said yesterday about not being able to go to the hardware store while you’re at sea? Well, as it turns out I’m wrong. If you’re at sea on a ship that has two helicopters, you can fly to the nearest town (Nome, Alaska, for example) and pick up what you need (a tool to fix the strut on your helicopter, for example).

HH-65 Dolphin helicopter
Aviation personnel get ready to release the helicopter from it’s retaining straps.

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of the helo launch.
Launching helicopters from a moving ship is, as you can imagine, quite a major event that can have deadly consequences if things go wrong. I was lucky enough to be able to watch this exciting evolution right from the flight deck. First, the crew pushed the helicopter out of the hangar and onto the launch pad, where they secured it to the deck using some heavy duty straps. Then the pilots checked out the aircraft and fired up the engines. When the pilots were satisfied that the helicopter was running properly, the aviation personnel unfastened the straps in unison and cleared the area. Then, with a rush of air like a tornado hitting the deck, the helicopter blasted off, circling the ship and heading out over the flat, gray Bering Sea. It was quite a sight, and feeling the force of the wind from the rotor blades gives you a healthy respect for the power of these machines.

After lunch, we were formally introduced to the ship’s crew. Chief Scientist Tom Weingartner described our mission and thanked the crew for our warm welcome aboard. He also promised everyone that we would see polar bears, walruses, and lots of ice on our journey north.

CTD over the side
The ship’s Marine Science Technicians safely see the CTD over the side.

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of the CTD testing.
While our mooring crew were breaking open more crates and testing their instruments, the CTD team decided to test the operation of their instruments. As it turns out, the test was successful...in finding a major problem with the instrument! Unfortunately, this leaves us with precious little time to troubleshoot the problem before we arrive at our first station. While we were of course hoping that everything would go smoothly and we’d be happily on our way, in reality that seldom happens. (Besides, that would have made for a boring dispatch.) Without going into details, the problem we are having is that the deck unit which controls the CTD from the ship is not communicating properly with the instrument. Fortunately, since problems like this arise frequently because of the harsh nature of the ocean environment (salt water and electronics don’t mix), CTD experts like Sarah Zimmermann and Marine Science Technician Chief Sean McPhilamy know how to fix almost anything that breaks, even in the middle of the Bering Sea. And, since oceanographers are also firm believers in Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong), the ship has a complete backup CTD system. The troubleshooting process will continue through the night, and hopefully we won’t have to resort to using the spare instrument.

As always, if you have questions for the science crew or me, email them to arcticedge@whoi.edu.

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