Edge of the Arctic Shelf
Daily Update
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Daily Update

Dispatch 12 - September 21, 2003
By C. A. Linder

Weather conditions: Clear skies, 25 kt winds, 3-5 ft seas, air temperature 33°F

International Relations
An icy wind blasted me as I stepped out on deck today. A beautiful sunrise beckoned from the fantail, though, so I bundled up and grabbed my camera. As I was packing up from the chilly sunrise photo shoot, my pager suddenly started beeping. I checked the callback number - 999! That's the code that people use to tell me "get your camera and get outside fast, there's some wildlife out there!" Immediately I began my trek up to the bridge, camera ready. On the third ladderway (stairwell) something went whizzing over my head, faster than I could register. I turned back and found a better vantage point on the flight deck. To my amazement, the bird that had buzzed me on the ladder was an owl! After firing off several shots as it flew loops around the ship, I consulted some birding guides and determined that it was a short-eared owl. I was surprised to learn that it's not uncommon to spot arctic owls like short-eared and snowy owls as they fly from island to island searching for lemmings, their primary food.

Short-eared owl
A short-eared owl fixes me with a piercing gaze.
Click to enlarge
After lunch, we assembled on the fantail to recover the University of Alaska, Fairbanks central channel mooring. Fingers crossed, David Leech sent the command to release the mooring. Moments later it popped to the surface. The Healy's zodiac was lowered into the water and the boat crew drove out to the waiting mooring. The wind and waves made the mooring recovery a tricky one -- at one point the mooring got stuck under the ship's stern and the small boat crew had to use a boat hook to drag it out. The lengthy recovery had a happy ending, though - all instruments recovered, all intact.

The mooring crew only had time for a quick dinner before they jumped back into their mustang suits and headed back to the fantail. We had to pick up one more mooring. This one was a short-term (2 month) mooring that some Chinese colleagues had deployed this summer. They intended to pick it up a few weeks ago, but bad weather forced them to return home without their instruments. Since the mooring was quite small, we hauled it in quickly and stored the precious instruments safely on deck. Teamwork is critical in oceanography, and it was with great pleasure that we were able to help out the Chinese scientists.

Nolan from Morse Pond School and Carly from Varnum Brook Elementary have similar questions about life at sea:

Questions: "What's life like on the ship?" and "What is it like living on a boat rather than living in Massachusetts?"
Answer: Life at sea is a unique experience. Life on an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean is even more unique. All of your surroundings are different. The sights and smells of the earth are replaced by the sights and sounds of the ship and the sea. I remember getting off the icebreaker last year after four weeks at sea. The first thing I did was walk in a straight line as far as I could! The shopfronts all had beautiful flowers, and I think I stopped to smell every one. It's amazing how accustomed you get to the smell of the ocean and the ship. Since going to sea is a very personal experience, I decided to ask two people from very different backgrounds to share their thoughts.

Martha Delaney's Answer: "Since I have never been out to sea before, living on the Healy seems VERY different to me than living in Massachusetts. One thing that really strikes me is how much I miss the everyday things at home, for instance, my dog, Linus. The crew can't have pets like dogs or cats but they do have a pet millipede! She lives in an aquarium and she is fed hermit crab food and water. At home, I would get into my car to go anywhere -- the grocery store, the woods to walk my dog, or the beach...on the Healy, there is nowhere to go! You can go up or down, fore or aft, but that's it. This ship is very large but you soon learn every nook so it doesn't seem so big after a while.

Bob Pickart's Answer: "I've been to sea a fair number of times over the years, and it still never ceases to amaze me. Even though Cape Cod is on the water, the deep ocean is so much different---from the color of the water, to the sea life, to the clouds in the sky. Here in the Arctic it's even more strange (as you've been learning from Chris' wonderful dispatches). As far as daily life is concerned, there are many differences from being ashore. For instance, you work everyday (weekends don't mean anything at sea) so it is easy to lose track of what day it is. All your meals are cooked for you, and you can't walk very far in one direction! Normally I would say that you also have to get used to rocking back and forth with the swell of the water, but the ship we're on is so big that sometimes it feels as if we're on land!"

Splash Chinese mooring
David Leech narrowly misses a soaking when a large wave hits the fantail. John Kemp (foreground) and Ryan Schrawder (background) disassemble the Chinese mooring.
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

I have two other excellent questions from Mrs. Rodgers' class at the Morse Pond School.

Question from Brianna: Is the Healy staying in one spot or moving around?
Answer: The Healy stops when we are doing science - CTD casts or mooring redeployments. The ship may also stop for periodic short maintenance checks. Otherwise we're on the move - steaming to the next science station. To see a map of where we have been, be sure to check the current position button. Keep in mind that I only update the map every 2 days or so, and due to security reasons the most recent position is 48 hours old.

Question from Ally: What is the time difference between where you are and Falmouth, MA?
Answer: Hi Ally, we are four hours behind Falmouth. When it is noon in Falmouth it is only 8AM here! This time zone is known as the Alaska zone -- it's one hour west of Pacific.

Tonight the CTD watch hopes to complete a west to east section across the central Chukchi Sea. After that, we will redeploy the central channel mooring and begin heading north, to the edge of the arctic shelf, and (hopefully) to the ice.

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