Edge of the Arctic Shelf
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Moonrise over the Healy helicopter hangar.
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Daily Update

Dispatch 34 - October 13, 2003
By C. A. Linder

Weather conditions: Overcast skies, 15 kt winds, 1-2 ft seas, air temperature 32°F

Fruits of our Labor
Every night after finishing the dispatch I click on my headlamp and take a leisurely stroll around the decks before heading to my stateroom. Last night was quite a surprise - no headlamp required. After so many days of overcast skies, seeing the moon shining brightly in the sky was quite a shock. Only a few ribbons of clouds hung on the horizon. The moon was so bright that my shadow was clearly visible. The view from on top of the pilot house was incredible - the bow was pointed straight into river of silvery light.

After such a clear night I woke up early expecting a bright sunrise. But the clouds had returned - a now-familiar blanket of gray. Snow squalls came and went today as our CTD sampling took us into deeper and deeper waters.

Dean Stockwell and Sarah Zimmermann discuss the latest CTD data.
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As we collect more and more CTD data, the struggle to understand it all, to put together a story of what these waters are doing, has begun. Lively discussions have sprung up in the main lab around the chart table or the multitude of plots that we have created. This is only the very beginning of many months, even years, of careful consideration of what these numbers may mean for the future of the Arctic Ocean.

Mrs. Lyons' 5th grade class at Mt. Alvernia Academy, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts sent me these great questions.

Question from Dominique, Camilla, and Nicholas: Have you seen any interesting animals that you have never seen before?
Answer: The Arctic is an otherworldly place. The creatures that inhabit this world of ice and water are just as bizarre. Tusky walruses, prowling polar bears, seals, and a variety of whales make their homes here. I saw all of these denizens of the north last year, on the icebreaker Polar Star. This year we have encountered a lot of the same animals, and some new faces, too! Probably the biggest surprise for me was the short-eared owl that flew around the ship one morning. We have also seen other arctic birds such as a long-billed dowitcher and a long-tailed duck. Even the lowly jellyfish that floated by the ship one day was quite a sight.

Fruits of our labor - plots of water properties from the CTD sampling.
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Questions from Bartley and Alex: Have you seen any icebergs? If your ship gets stuck in the ice, can it tear through it?
Answer: For the first week of the cruise, when we completed a CTD section to our farthest north point, we saw lots of ice! The ice we encountered was broken up sea ice. Since it was formed from freezing seawater, it typically is not very thick - only 15-25 feet or so. In the eastern Arctic (northeastern Canada), you can also encounter blocks of ice that have "calved" (broken off of) freshwater glaciers. These icebergs can be as big as houses, and it was one of these that sunk the Titanic. Glaciers in Canada and Greenland account for the vast majority of arctic bergs. Since the currents in the eastern Arctic tend to carry the bergs into the Atlantic Ocean instead of into the central Arctic, we are unlikely to see any of these monster bergs on this cruise. For more information on ice formation and ice terms, visit the Sea Ice Glossary page.

What happens if the ship gets stuck in ice? Well, sometimes you just have to wait for the ice to let go! This happened once during the Healy's ice trials cruise (see Dispatch 25 for details). The Healy's hull is made of steel an inch and half thick. Huge struts, which look just like ribs, add strength to the hull to keep it from being crushed in the ice. In the past, oceanographers have deliberately allowed their vessels to become frozen in the pack ice. The most famous arctic oceanographer of all time was Fridtjof Nansen of Norway. In 1893, he froze his vessel Fram into the Arctic ice and spent three years making scientific observations of the Arctic Ocean. Modern icebreakers have also been frozen into the ice, including the SHEBA experiment (1997-1998). It's a great way to really become one with your subject! To read about more historical arctic explorers and oceanographers, visit the WHOI Beaufort Gyre history webpages.

As I type this dispatch the decorated styrofoam cups are being crushed by the pressure of tons and tons of seawater. They are going down to 3,000 meters depth, which is 300 times the normal atmospheric pressure! Be sure to check tomorrow's dispatch to see what the crushed cups look like.

Happy Birthday to Val Schmidt today! He's a year older than me now, which makes him really ancient.

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