Carin Ashjian, Chief Scientist Carin is a researcher with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. All photos by Carin Ashjian except where noted. Read her Bio
Everyone is finishing their laundry, making their lists, and looking forward to returning to the real world.
The R/V THOMAS G. THOMPSON is operated by the University of Washington. The 274-foot ship has a cruising speed of 12 knots, and offers a ship's complement for 22 officers and crew, 36 scientists and 2 marine technicians. Take a tour of the THOMPSON
The lab is strangely quiet. Usually someone is around but tonight only me and Doug are here in the lab, finishing up paperwork. The cruise is coming to an end. The last station was finished last night, with a deep CTD cast to 2700 m. Then we turned and headed for Dutch Harbor. Below: A shot of most of us on the bow of Thompson.
We’ve been cleaning equipment and packing for the last 2-3 days. Amazingly, I think that we mostly have it all packed. Some of the science party is staying on for the next leg (another month!) and so not all of the laboratory equipment has been packed. Because of that, the ship still has a comfortable “lived in” feeling, with equipment and computers set up and organized around the lab. Some of the scientists made an impromptu movie theatre in the main lab, showing a movie on the flat screen large computer monitor. Everyone is finishing their laundry, making their lists, and looking forward to returning to the real world.
What are the things that will be different? Green, for one. It is amazing how much green there is on land in the spring and summer and how little green there is here on this ship. It will be strange also to walk on earth and wood rather than the unyielding steel that has met our feet for the past 36 days. Yesterday we had the opportunity to buy Thompson t-shirts. I had to find my wallet. What a strange concept, a wallet! I haven’t looked at it in over a month. Cars will be different. Can we remember how to drive? And all of those people, so many people. The first visit even to the relatively small Anchorage airport will be overwhelming. Left: A view of the aft deck during the gale. Note the angle of the deck relative to the horizon.
The Bering Sea dealt us a last punch, just to let us know that she is not the benevolent gentle sea that we enjoyed for most of our 36 days. Last evening the wind started to pick up. By the time I went to bed, at around 11 PM, it was blowing over 25 knots. After midnight, it picked up to 30 and then to 35 knots. This was the highest wind speed we encountered on the trip. The waves of course rose as well, and the ship lurched and rolled and pitched as she made her way to the southeast. It was a tough night for sleeping, since the constant rolling and pitching dislodged us from our lying positions. And for those sleeping below the water line, the constant smashing of waves against the hull made sleep a near impossibility (right).
Now the wind is dying and the waves are flattening out. We’ll be in Dutch Harbor at 8 AM, with the calm and rough seas only a memory. It is time to leave the familiar faces and return to the real world. The next group of scientists will likely meet the boat, eagerly awaiting their opportunity to board and sail the Bering Sea, in search of the answers to questions about this great and unpredictable sea.
Tomorrow is our last “process” station, a sure sign that the cruise is drawing to a close. A “process” station is one where many of us sample to collect water, animals, and mud with which we do various experiments, such as measuring the feeding rates of copepods or krill, the egg production rates of copepods, krill molting rates, microzooplankton grazing, and primary production. Most of these measurements require a minimum 24 hour incubation so we need to have time to finish the experiment before we reach port. The sampling starts at 230 AM and will finish at around 10 AM. So far, we have done 18 process stations on this cruise, somewhat better than one every other day.
Above: Wendi processes one of the cores from the Multicore. Here
she is pushing down to extrude the sediment up to the top of the core
where she will take samples of the sediment.
Right: Bob and Alexei examine the contents of a plankton tow that we took this morning.
Our concentration has been distracted by plans and thoughts of life after
the cruise and the logistics of packing. But we still have a few more
days of work. I am planning the final days, the final hours, canvassing
the groups to find out what their final sampling needs will be. All to be
completed before it is time to turn the bow of the ship to the south and
head back to Dutch Harbor.
Left: the glassy sea yesterday.
Right: Tracy looks in flasks that contain one krill each to see if the animal molted overnight. She can see the empty molts, or exoskeleton, that the krill sheds and forms a new larger exoskeleton as it grows.
Once again today, we encountered ice! We were working from west to east along a transect at about 60 degrees N. I had seen ice on the satellite imagery and expected it but one never really knows if the imagery is going to be correct, 24 hours or so after the satellite passes over this location. Sure enough, I received a call from the bridge this morning telling me that the ice began about a mile beyond our next stop. Once the ship stopped, I went out on deck and saw the ice. And what a line of ice! It was solid and formidable looking and there was a very sharp boundary between open water and dense ice floes. The radar on the bridge was peppered with “hits” from ice floes, the densest I have seen on the radar during this cruise. We had to abandon any idea of continuing further to the east and turned to the SE to transit to another line. Perhaps this was the last ice we will see this trip…or perhaps we will see more tomorrow. As we turned to the south, we moved closer to the ice edge and transited along it until the edge and the ice finally faded away. A bittersweet farewell.
Left: A dish full of krill, looking up at me. See larger image
The almost unnatural calm continues, with gray skies and gray seas.
Perhaps because we cannot differentiate between the sea and the sky, and
because it is so calm, we are often fooled when looking out at the sea
into thinking that we are not moving. In fact, we have been moving at
10-12 knots. But the sea plays an illusion on us, and the waves ahead and
to our side out the porthole seem not to be moving. Thus we do not
perceive the motion.
Right: Matt, Pat, and J pushing the floats from the top of the floating sediment trap off of the stern. The three orange floats, and a large spar, remain at the surface while the sediment traps hang below at various depths on a rope.
Left: The spar hits the water during the final moment of the sediment trap deployment.
Yesterday some of us went on a tour of the engine room. The ship is powered by six generators; three massive Caterpillar engines and three smaller but still very large Caterpillar engines (Right). One of the smaller engines can produce enough electricity to provide power for all of our electrical needs, such as lights, instruments, heating, fans, refrigeration, and the like. One of the larger engines is used to generate electricity that drives an electric motor that then drives the shaft that propels the ship. When we want to go faster, we bring another engine on line to generate more electricity, either another big one or sometimes a second smaller one. The ship also generates fresh water from seawater. And of course handles our wastewater. We use on average 2000 gallons of fuel and 3000 gallons of water per day.
Left: Peter at the computer of the autoanalyzer. Peter runs samples through the autoanalyzer to determine the nutrient concentration of the water we collect in the CTD and from our experiments.
Because we are nearing the end of the cruise, our offerings on the mess deck have changed slightly. The other day, we ate the last of the lettuce. Apparently we are quite a ship of rabbits! There are not many vegetables at the “salad” bar anymore. The food is still good of course, just different.
Right: Megan relaxing at the end of her “day”. Megan works with Evelyn and Tracy at night, from about 1030 PM until late the next morning, doing experiments with krill. This photograph was taken in the early afternoon.
Last night, the call went out “whales ahead”. Then this was modified to “no, it’s dolphin’s. In fact, it was a pod of about 10 Dall’s porpoise that came to visit the ship and play in the bow wake. The sea was so calm it was like silk. And clear enough so that when the porpoise were near, we could see them with acute clarity. They flew next to the ship, darting in and out, arcing out of the water to breathe and then soaring away again under the sea. We hung over the bow, watching them, until finally they tired of us and darted away and off into the distance, where we watched them as they broke in and out of the leaden surface, breathing.
We’ve just finished our work on the northern line and we are heading south
again. Once again, the Bering Sea is eerily calm. And gray. So gray
that someone said today “I didn’t realize how much stuff I had in my eyes”.
Because he was looking at a monotone of gray for hours, the small flecks
of black in his eyes were suddenly so much more obvious. The gray is
subtle, with occasional flashes of color. The water here was very clear
in the upper 20 m, with little phytoplankton to obscure the light.
Instruments and nets put over the side were visible to a great depth, up
to 20 meters. As they rose out of the sea, the flat water surface parts,
with ripples extending from the wire. The instruments move quietly out of
the water until suddenly, with a splashing sound, they break free from the
water into the air and shed water in streams. This is all so much more
noticeable when the water is so calm, so very calm.
Above: The sea and sky this evening. Can you see the transition between the two?
Right: The CTD and rosette just below the surface, immediately before breaking out of the sea. Note that the very top of the termination (the wire) has already broken through the surface. The gray tubes are the Nisken bottles in which we capture water at specific depths. There are 12 bottles so we can sample at 12 different depths. On this cast, not all of the bottles were used so several are still open (you can see into the tops of the gray tubes).
Left: We saw a number of interesting birds today, including black guillemots. Here scientists observe and photograph a pair of guillemots that were quite close to the ship.
There is a sense of urgency to our time now. The end of the cruise is in
sight and we are calculating how to fill those last precious days with the
most important things we want to accomplish. What day do we need to stop
working in order to get everything cleaned and packed up before we reach
port? How many experiments can we fit in? Where can we go to do them?
During our time here, the ice has finally started to retreat.
Paul (left) and J (right) bring the multicore back on board.
This instruments samples the seafloor, obtaining cores of mud.
Left: Paul carries a newly collected core from the instrument to where the scientists will sample the sediment.
Most of the Bering Sea is ice free now but even so, the inner ends of two of the transect lines that we wanted to sample are still ice covered. This is not normal for the Bering Sea, at least in recent years. Usually the ice is gone by now. Despite the inconvenience of the ice cover, we are fortunate to have been out sampling during this anomalous spring.
We have been sampling along the 70 m line for 3 days now. Every 10 miles,
we stop and deploy the CTD. It is monotonous. It is tiresome. But, as
is often true in science, from such monotony comes great data and
ultimately insight. The end of the line is practically in sight!
Tonight we are at the 49th location on this 500 mile line out of a total of 58.
Top:A morning view of St. Matthews Island, with Pinnacle Island in the foreground.
Left: Marine technicians Steve, Rob, and Evan (L-R) huddle around one of our winches; they were working on the winch readout of winch speed and wire out.
We have moved out of the southern portion of the Bering Sea into the north, into an area that we could not access until recently because of the persistent ice cover. This ice free Bering Sea brings a new freedom to us; we can go almost every where that we wish. But time is running out for our cruise and so the push is on to squeeze every last possible valuable station out of that time. Today we met to discuss where to go next and where we want to visit before our time here has ended; we’ll meet again and again over the next 10 days as we plot our final days.
Two nights ago I wrote of the serene beauty of the evening, with calm
seas. How quickly the Bering Sea can change! Within 2 hours of that
writing, the wind had picked up from 15 knots to almost 30 knots.
remained at ~30 knots for almost 24 hours, subsiding in the late evening
of June 2. Simple activities such as a net tow increase in complexity,
with our long black net becoming akin to a kite or sail and requiring
considerable effort to be tamed and wrestled on board (Left).
Once again, the
world pitched and tossed as we moved from station to station, reminding us
again of how powerful and capricious is this sea that we study and how
fortunate we are to have enjoyed so many favorable seas on this trip.
We are now far enough away from the influence of the powerful low pressure
systems that plague the Gulf of Alaska that our weather is more moderate.
Today’s weather has included snow showers for much of the day, with air
temperatures just around freezing. The air temperatures during this trip
have been quite moderate, with lows of around -2 deg. C/28.4 deg. F and
highs of about 7 deg. C/44.6 deg. F. Not too hard to take!
Right: In the late evening, the yellow light illuminates the ice on the horizon.
It is an absolutely beautiful evening in the Bering Sea. The sea is flat and mirrors the sky and the clear light of the sun pours in through the portholes in the lab (Right). We can hardly tell that the ship is moving because the sea is so still yet we are moving at 10 knots.
We have left the southern Bering Sea and swung our bow to the north. For the next few days we’ll work our way north along the “70 m line”, a transect of stations extending more than 500 miles along the “spine” of the Bering Sea on the 70 m isobath. We stop every 10 miles or so to sample, usually just with the CTD but every third station we also use a CalVet net and occasionally other nets or benthic samples.
The team that samples the water from the CTD is busy, a station every hour is a pretty good pace for them. They draw water for the analysis of a variety of variables (nutrients, oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll) as well as empty the water from the bottles and prepare them again for the next launch. With this transect we will document the transition between the southern and northern Bering Sea in terms of the water temperature and salinity, nutrients, chlorophyll, and zooplankton species.
Left: Jen processes a sample of zooplankton that she collected with a plankton net. The white canister in her hand is a sieve on which she is collecting the plankton. There is a quite a bit of phytoplankton here so draining the water out of the sieve takes a little while.
This morning we were visited by an inquisitive sea lion. The sea lion was very curious about the ship, and the CTD, and enjoyed rolling around in the prop wash. A great photo opportunity for all, as the seal came very close to the ship so even the modest camera that I am using could get a good shot (right).
did a “process” station where most of us sample at a single location over
a period of about 8 hours. We have been busy all day processing samples
and setting up experiments. Tomorrow we will end the experiments and get
ready to do it all again the following day further to the north.
The copepods are not behaving. We're transiting south in some typical Bering Sea conditions - waves and wind (25-30 knots). I'm perched on a stool, in front of a microscope, lining up copepods under the scope to have their pictures taken.
The copepods are tiny, smaller than a deer tick, smaller than a grain of rice, about the size of half of a pinpoint.
There are five of them and I'm trying to get them all to fit nicely into the frame for the photo. But the ship keeps rolling. The copepods are sloshing around in the microscope slide depression, and to top it off, the chair that I am sitting on seems to have some kind of pneumatic spring so that as the ship goes up and down, so goes my chair.... like the chairs that bus drivers sit in and rock up and down as the bus bumps down the highway.
Finally I corral the copepods all into the frame and "snap" - they are preserved for posterity.
Now I need to pick each one up with my forceps and put them into a tin boat for analysis of carbon and nitrogen. It was not an easy morning.
Above: Phil deploys a ring net that we will use to catch zooplankton, particularly copepods and krill. We have done 70 tows with this type of net so far on this cruise. Right: Alexei (left) and Evan (right) get ready to deploy the CalVet net. Below: Cores of seafloor sediment collected using the Multicore are lined up in front of some bongo nets.
We're still in a bit of weather from the storm. Luckily it looks as though the winds are dying and the seas have become a bit more pleasant. It has been a quite day on Thompson as people hole up in their bunks or in front of the tv (movies) to pass the time and keep their stomachs down where they belong instead of leaping all over the place. The mess hall has been strangely empty as well. The weather isn't that bad, but for us accustomed to a calm Bering Sea, this new sea that bears some similarity to that of the "Deadliest Catch" takes some getting used to.
Today we went south to another transect that extends from the shelf break across the shelf towards Bristol Bay. We know that there is no ice on this line so we can make it all the way across from the outer domain to the middle domain and finally to the inner domain. Earlier today we deployed the floating sediment traps. Tomorrow in the early hours we'll start another long day of sampling and conclude at that location by picking up the sediment traps again. It is a little different working on a platform that rolls and pitches in an unpredictable fashion. Right: Worms peeking out of the sediment on the top of a sediment core.
Our tranquil days in the Bering Sea have come to an end…today a big low pressure system moved in to just south of the Aleutians and the calm, gentle Bering Sea that we were enjoying has given way to the REAL Bering Sea. The wind started to pick up last night and continued to build during the day until it hit a steady 30 knots. Spray started to come off of the gray waves. As we transited, waves hit the side of the ship with a loud crash, even louder than the sound made when the ship hits an icefloe. The world was no longer stable but tipped erratically and unpredictably, with a strange sort of jerking motion. Snow squalls and rainstorms pelted us. We moved to the ice edge, both to do a station and also because the waves are less near the ice since there is not as much fetch (open water) over which the wind can build the waves. Above: The calm before the storm. Left: We reached some ice again last night. This also shows the spray coming off of the top of the waves. The wind was only about 28 knots at this time.
We had hoped to do a personnel transfer today at St. Paul Island and to pick up some gear that was supposed to have been shipped there. All of the people made it to St. Paul but none of the cargo was there. So instead we went back out to do some more work until tomorrow evening when hopefully the gear will have arrived on the cargo flight. Right: Jen waits at the rail for her plankton tow to be completed.
The National Weather Service forecasts that this storm will hasten the
northward retreat and also melting of the sea ice that has covered much of
the Bering shelf until now. This will be welcome since there are large
parts of the shelf that we have not yet been able to access.
Left: Russ washes down the plankton net after a tow to collect copepods for experiments. The net becomes coated with phytoplankton at some of these high chlorophyll stations and needs to be cleaned off thoroughly between tows.
Right now we are finishing up a process station – a day on which everyone samples so that we collect information from all components of the lower trophic levels of the food web.
Right: We are often followed by seabirds such as these northern fulmars who sit and watch us during our sampling at a station. The birds also have some interesting interactions with each other.
Today we seem to have found all of the seals in the Bering Sea! We were in a field of ice floes where perhaps 7/10ths of the sea was covered with ice. It seemed as though every other ice floe was the temporary home to two or more seals. Every time we passed a floe and looked ahead to the next one, we would see one…two….three seals here….one over there….two over there…the place was silly with seals! When the seals would realize that we were approaching they would look at us with a nearly human quizzical look…”what on earth is THAT!!” They probably had never seen such a thing as the R/V Thompson before! And as usual, the ice was very beautiful even in the fog. Above: Two spotted seals, an adult (left) and a juvenile (right) on an ice floe. (photo: Rachel Pleuthner). Right: Standing by on deck while an instrument is in the water at sunrise. Below: The CTD comes in board early in the morning as the sun rises. The gray tubes are bottles that sample water - they go down open at both ends and then are closed at specific depths. The sensors (temperature, salinity, fluorescence) ar located on the bottom.
We have settled in to a regular schedule, with a rhythm to our days and to our work. The days are punctuated by the all important meals….the luxury of three meals a day that are cooked for us! Today was a process station day when we conduct a broad suite of sampling of the water column and sea floor to collect plankton and sea floor animals and sediment on which we will do experiments. My group is working on the grazing and egg production rates of the dominant zooplankton. To do this, we collect animals using a plankton net. We also collect seawater from a specific depth. We then pick out individual animals with pipettes, using a microscope in the cold room (an environmental chamber set at about 32 deg. F, which is the sea water temperature at this time of year). We put a known number of animals of known species into bottles of that water and incubate them for 24 hours on a wheel on deck in a water bath that keeps the water in the bottles at ambient temperature (same as the seawater). Tomorrow we’ll take the experiment down and sample to see how much chlorophyll (plant pigment) and smaller microzooplankton have been eaten by the experimental animals. All of the other groups on board were setting up experiments as well, including measurements of primary production, grazing and biochemistry of krill, nitrogen regeneration by the animals in the seafloor sediment, and grazing by microzooplankton.
There are quite a few photos today because the weather has been very nice and we have seen some wonderful sunrises and, of course, the seals. Above: Phil brings the VPR back on board. The VPR (Video Plankton Recorder) takes photographs of the animals and particles in the water column as the instrument is lowered from the surface to near the bottom. Left: Phil, Bob, and Celia ponder the best way to load the experimental bottles into the water bath for an experiment.
It is 9 pm and still broad daylight outside. The sun is shining, the seas are fine, and we're heading towards our next station at a good 12 knots. Today was a really beautiful day in the Bering Sea; one of those days that makes you forget all of the gray and foggy days that preceded it. It dawned with a line of clouds on the horizon that parted just enough to let the sun peek through (right) as it rose and reflect a crimson pathway on the glass of the sea.
Our wake was heavy, moving the sea like a viscous fluid rather than water (left). The sky was still gray this morning but the air was clear, with no fog. The Thompson cut through the glass, sending gentle wake off to each side that reflected the sky and the clouds with blues and grays.
We had some excitement today about midmorning -- the call went out that there were fin whales and orcas around! Everyone piled out of the ship onto the decks to see. A couple of fin whales surfaced and blew several times not too far from the stern of the ship.
As for the orcas, I only saw the distinctive triangular fin off to the side of the ship. Perhaps had I been on the bridge, I would have seen more. Right: A group of scientists watching for the whales. Below: We have been surrounded by birds most of the time; here two soar over the glassy sea and our wake.
We arrive at our next station in 30 minutes. We've moved down the shelf from the north to a location where I hope to do a transect from the shelf break in across the shelf to near Nunavik Island. Normally we do such transects as a matter of course; we have four "standard" transects. But this year, because of the ice, we have not been able to get away from the shelf break; our three northern transects are still clogged with ice along at least part of their length.
I have plotted this transect looking at the satellite imagery with hopes of "threading the needle" between two areas that still have ice too thick for us to traverse. We start at the offshore end tonight with a sediment trap deployment followed by a "process station." We conduct a series of sampling activities and experiments of various components of the planktonic and benthic system all at the same location so that we can later put the pieces of the puzzle together to understand the system.
Right: Katrin Iken samples the surface of the sediment that she collected using a Van-Veen grab. She will next sieve the sample to collect all of the animals living in the sediment.
The following came from the National Weather Service ice forecast from yesterday: "HISTORICAL ICE CHARTS DATING BACK TO THE 1950S HAVE NO RECORD OF SEA ICE REMAINING AT SAINT GEORGE ISLAND IN THE MONTH OF MAY. ON TODAY'S ANALYSIS THE ICE EDGE IS ABOUT 10 NM SOUTH OF THE ISLAND." This about sums up the ice situation in the Bering Sea.
This was a relatively lazy day on board the R/V Thompson, at least until evening. We finished up at one location and transited to the north to our next sampling location, collecting Multibeam data of the seafloor topography as we steamed. We set our course to traverse seafloor that had not been imaged yet by a Multibeam, at least as far as we know! We even went over an uncharted seamount during our survey. The ride was very pleasant. The winds were low, the seas were calm, and we sailed north, moving gently with the slight swell.
Along the way, we occasionally encountered a strip of sea ice, sometimes quite concentrated, through which we would slowly push until the ship was free on the far side and continued on her way. It was a morning to catch up and to get ready for the next events without having an immediate sampling job. Left: Scientists watching ice over the starboard side.
On the way, we surveyed for birds and mammals. At one point I went up onto the bridge and saw a blow and a back fin -- a whale! We watched as the whale took another breath and then fluked (dove, showing us its tail). A humpback. Later, in one of the strips of sea ice, we saw a ribbon seal dead ahead. Immediate evasive maneuvering to port brought the seal to our starboard side.
She fussed around on her ice floe, moving around a bit, but strangely, didn't dive down into the seawater at the edge, staying on the ice floe until we passed (right). As we looked aft at the path the ship had made through the loose ice, we could still see her, more contented than when we were close by and settling in to enjoy her ice floe once again.
Tonight we have settled in at a station for a series of sampling events. Right now we are doing multicores with an instrument that, if it works correctly, collects up to 8 cores of mud from the seafloor. Later tonight we'll start sampling again for plankton, with net tows starting at 2:00 am and ending at about 6:30 or 7:00 am. My team will sample starting at about 5:00 am and will set up an experiment to measure the grazing rate of the zooplankton at this location. It will be a busy day!
Left: Celie and Julie put experimental bottles into their water bath on deck to measure the feeding rate of microzooplankton (very very small zooplankton). The blue filters on the tubes in which they place the bottles lets in only a small amount of light, mimicking the conditions at the depth at which the water was collected. The water bath is constantly fed with seawater that keeps the experimental bottles at about the same temperature at which the water was collected.
We're just pulling out of a station on the shelf to the west of Zemchung Canyon. We're heading to the north, to find the ice edge again. Because we are not on an icebreaker, we prefer to find the ice during daylight, when we can see it, rather than finding it at night when radar serves as our best eyes. We plan to conduct a process station at the ice edge tomorrow, starting at 2 am this morning when the first net tows will go in the water to collect krill.
Above: Our ship, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, in the Bering Sea with ice floes around her. (photo: Katrin Iken)
It's almost 10 pm on board and the ship is quiet. The night crews are up, but the labs are mostly empty because many of us have gone to bed in anticipation of an early start tomorrow. I can tell by the vibrations of the ship as she moves through the water that the R/V Thompson is underway, After only a few days, I know when we are moving and when we are still simply by the motions of the ship.
I'm waiting to see if we find the ice edge soon. We've been dogged by the ice for the last few days. More than once we found ice where we didn't expect it and had to detour around. This is a very icy year in the Bering Sea and the persistent north winds have kept the ice from retreating to the north. Tonight could be a challenge as the wind is still blowing and the ice edge might advance to the south as we are trying to work, forcing us to move south as well to keep from being overrun by the ice.
Left: The night team deploys the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument that is mounted on a rosette holding 10 30-l gray plastic Nisken bottles (the gray tubes in the photo). The CTD/rosette is the bread and butter of our instruments, as we collect water and measure temperature, salinity, plant pigments, and oxygen with the sensors.
We've had a good couple of days. The weather has been fantastic for the Bering Sea, with calm seas and moderate temperatures (30s). We have had some snow squalls but we prefer those to rain. Yesterday we mounted an expedition to collect some ice from a small boat. Two scientists quickly gathered some equipment with which to sample the algae growing on ice and the ice itself. They embarked with three crewmembers on one of the Thompson's small boats and chugged off into the ice field.
About an hour later they returned, having successfully collected ice with Melosira still attached (right). Melosira is a filamentous ice alga that grows on the underside of sea ice. It can get really long but these were only very short pieces. Nonetheless, everyone was very excited to collect it!
Tomorrow is a new day, with new discoveries awaiting us in our nets and cores. We have high hopes as we head north to the ice edge.
We are beginning to settle into the rhythm of our days. Our stomachs are adapting to the meal hours and remind us when it is time to head up to the mess deck for the next sumptuous repast (the food is quite tasty on the Thompson).
The weather today was lovely, especially for the Bering Sea. It was sunny on deck although there were snow flurries at the same time. We entered into the edge of the sea ice today to work (right). The Thompson felt like an icebreaker as we pushed through a band of loose ice near the Pribilof Islands, with a gentle thumping as she pushed aside the floes.
Today was a “process study” day so the labs buzzed with activity starting at 2 AM. The “cold room”, where my group works, was particularly busy with work there starting at around 3 AM when the krill group examined their catch and set up their experiments. The zooplankton/microzooplankton group followed at 6 AM, using the cold room to scan the plankton samples with microscopes for our target copepod types.
We keep the cold room set to approximately ocean temperature that, right now, is just under freezing. So to go work in the cold room requires the donning of more clothing than necessary even to go out on deck to work!
Our work ended this evening at about 8:30 when we did our second net tow of the day to collect copepods of the genus Calanus for an egg production experiment. Now the ship will continue to work through the night. We are doing a series of short transects going in and out of the ice along the ice edge.
Every 10 km, we will conduct a CTD cast (a CTD is an instrument that measures temperature, salinity, and depth) and collect water to analyze for the plant pigment and nutrient content. We are looking for how the water column changes as we move away from the ice.
Left: Donna is emptying water from the large gray bottles that are mounted on the CTD rosette into the big plastic carboy. The water was collected at the depth where plant pigments (chlorophyll), and hence copepod food, was greatest. We will use this water for our copepod grazing experiments.
It is almost 10 PM and we’re rolling around on the Bering Sea somewhere to the west of the Pribilof Islands. It is snowing intermittently. Not enough to stick but enough to remind us that spring comes slowly here in the Bering Sea.
This is the third “spring” cruise of the Bering Sea Project. We initially thought we would miss the northern retreat of the sea ice. But nature has a way of playing tricks and even now, in May, a significant portion of the Bering Sea is ice covered. This year, we are not on an icebreaker so the persistent sea ice cover is a challenge because we cannot venture too far in from the edge of the ice. Right: Sea ice ahead of the bow of the Thompson.
The seas have been fairly calm, although they have kicked up a bit today which has induced some queasy stomachs. We spent yesterday doing a “test” station, putting just about everything in the water to get ready for a real station.
We transited north, coming to a halt when the ice field became too dense. After retreating to the south, we finished our test station and headed to this location to do our first “real station” -– a "process" station at which we do experiments at multiple trophic levels to discover who is eating who and how much.
Above: Tracy, Megan, and Rodger launch a bongo net on a windy day.
Right: The "Board of Lies," the whiteboard that we use to plan out our activities. See larger image