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Images: Beneath Arctic Ice, Life Blooms Spectacularly

U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers and polar bear sentinels from the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy stand by as scientists take samples of sea ice and underlying seawater properties during NASA's 2011 ICESCAPE cruise in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. To their surprise, scientists discovered a  bloom of phytoplankton in presumably dark regions beneath the ice. The scientists concluded that the tourquoise pools of water atop melting ice in summer act like transient skylights and magnifying lenses focusing sunlight into water beneath the ice. (Sam Laney, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A rare cloud-free satellite image of the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait shows coastal areas where phytoplankton bloom (green) when sea ice melts in summer. Climate models project that changes in the ice cover may accelerate in the future Scientists in the NASA-funded ICESCAPE project made two expeditions to the seas in the summers of 2010 and 2011 to explore potential impacts of climate change on the region's ecosystem. The ICESCAPE cruises sampled most of the different biogeochemical and optical regimes in this region, to understand better how biological and optical variability in this complex coastal region affects the distributions of ocean color properties that can be measured from sensors on spacecraft. (NASA)

WHOI Biologist Sam Laney and research technician Emily Peacock on "ice liberty" during the 2010 ICESCAPE cruise. For morale, the captain of the Healy allowed one recreational afternoon during the cruise for scientists and crew to step off the ship and enjoy walking around on the polar icecap. Here, Laney and Peacock are literally standing on the Arctic Ocean, with more than 1,000 meters of water underneath them. (Photo by Karen Romano Young)

WHOI technician Emily Peacock operates the seagoing Imaging FlowCytobot, an underwater microscope developed by WHOI scientists that took images of microscopic plant and animal life in polar waters (see slideshow below). The instrument collects a wealth of data on what species are living where and when.  To get seawater samples of phytoplankton directly out of the ocean (without having them first pass through the high-volume pump that supplies the ship's internal science seawater supply) the FlowCytobot needed to be placed in a compartment deep within the ship, near a port in the hull where a supplementary seawater intake could be placed. The only available compartment for this was the "Hose Reel Room" at the very aft end of the ship, directly above the propellers where refueling hoses are stored. When breaking ice, the Healy's twin propellers would send meter-sized chunks directly into the hull plating immediately below this compartment. Emily here enjoys a quiet moment but ear protection and warm coats were de rigeur when working in this compartment during icebreaking operations. (Photo by Karen Romano Young)

The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy took scientists to explore ecosystems of the Chucki and Bering Seas in 2010 and 2011. Healy is nominally a "cutter" in Coast Guard parlance and its main mission is polar science support, although Healy routinely responds to emergency situations in the Bering and Chukchi where it is sometimes the only Coast Guard cutter for hundreds of miles. Healy is the largest ship in the US Coast Guard's "red hull fleet" (large icebreakers) and it dwarfs all other cutters in the Coast Guard's more numerous "white hull fleet." Healy can accommodate up to 50 scientists in addition to its crew of approximately 90, for science missions lasting more than two months. (Photo by Karen Romano Young)