Edge of the Arctic Shelf
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Daily Update

Dispatch 28 - October 7, 2003
By C. A. Linder

Weather conditions: Overcast skies, 35 kt winds gusting to 50 kts, 8-12 ft seas, air temperature 28°F

Exposure suits hang neatly in the "mud room."
Click to enlarge
Back to Work
After 42 hours of riding out the storm, we have resumed our CTD and VPR section across the Beaufort shelfbreak. The storm began to break at about noon, and by the time darkness fell the waves had already settled from 12 foot monsters to tame 3-4 foot swells. Snow flurries pelted the ship intermittently during the day, and fog banks lurked on the horizon. Winter definitely seems to have arrived on the Beaufort Sea.

Although the down time was appreciated, some of the science party members were definitely feeling cabin fever from the lack of activity. There are only so many things to keep you occupied on the ship, especially when it's too dangerous to stroll around the decks! The busier you are at sea, the faster time flies and the sooner you are back home.

Dean Stockwell from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks is one of the few people who managed to collect data through the storm. He takes small samples of surface water that enter the ship through an intake and saves them for chlorophyll analysis later. His research will tell us how much plant matter (phytoplankton) is in the water.

Here are some questions from Mrs. Rollo's 5th grade class at Varnum Brook Elementary School, Pepperell, Massachusetts.

Question from Thomas: What would happen if the boat started to sink?
Answer: I asked the ship's Operations Officer, Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Daryl Peloquin, to run through a typical scenario in the event the ship suffers some damage to the hull and is taking on water.

Dean Stockwell prepares a water sample for chlorophyll analysis.
Click to enlarge
The Coast Guard sailors on the ship are all trained to respond to emergencies, whether it is a fire or flooding or a person that has fallen overboard. They practice, practice, practice every week so that their reponse is automatic. In the event of flooding, first an alarm would be sounded. The crewmen would attempt to seal the leak or perhaps just close off that compartment so that the leak can't spread. The ship is divided into compartments which are connected by "water-tight doors." These doors are designed to contain a leak if it occurs. If the crew can't contain the leak and the ship is going down, the Captain will make the decision to abandon ship. At this point a different alarm is sounded and the crew members will begin another set of tasks. Certain crew members would prepare the life rafts, others would grab necessary items like navigation equipment, food, and water. Then everyone would don an exposure suit called a "gumby suit" and hop into the life rafts. The Healy is equipped with emergency locater beacons that would automatically broadcast a distress signal and position to the Coast Guard if the ship is abandoned. Whoever receives the signal would then contact the nearest vessel or shore station to begin the rescue attempt. Even though nobody likes to think about abandoning ship, it's very important to consider this and other safety issues every time you get on a ship.

Question from Johnathan: Are there avalanches in the Arctic?
Answer: Hi, Johnathan. Since sea ice is very flat, there are no avalanches in the Arctic Ocean. Avalanches generally occur on snowcovered mountainsides having a slope around 20-30 degrees. If the slope is shallower than that, then avalanches aren't likely to occur since gravity isn't exerting much of a pull on the snow. If the slope is steeper, then it's hard for snow to build up on the slope - it is more or less continually falling down the slope as it accumulates. Thus, the danger of large avalanches is less. Avalanche science is quite complicated; it involves a number of factors in addition to the slope. One thing is for sure, though - if you stay away from land in the Arctic, you're safe from avalanches!

CTD push
Martha Delaney and Seaman Trevor Hughes push the CTD out of the lab.
Click to enlarge
Question from Ben G: I know about blubber but if the blubber is under the skin, why doesn't the skin get cold on the animals?
Answer: I asked Lisa Munger to help me out with this question since she is studying whales for her PhD thesis. She answers:

"Marine mammal skin has two layers - the outermost layer is the epidermis, which does not contain blood vessels or nerves. The innermost layer is the dermis, and that is where the blubber is found. The epidermis on right whales, which are similar to the bowhead whales found in the Arctic, is over a centimeter thick! This forms a protective coating over the blubber. So, since the epidermis is in contact with the water, it does get cold, but the whale never feels it! It's very similar to when you bundle up to go outside. Your fleece or sweater traps your body heat and keeps it close to your body. The outside of your waterproof shell jacket is in direct contact with the rain, snow, and cold air, and it does get cold, but you never feel it."

We expect to spend at least 30 hours completing this CTD section, which should keep us hopping through tomorrow night. Since the weather has been so fickle lately I won't make any predictions about where we'll head after that!

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