Final Wrap-up

A group of 141 scientists and Coast Guard crew completed a successful expedition to the Chukchi Borderlands.

A group of 141 scientists and Coast Guard crew completed a successful expedition to the Chukchi Borderlands. Image courtesy of ENS Brian Hagerty, United States Coast Guard, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands. We are less than 10 hours out from the railway dock in Seward, Alaska, where the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy will tie up. All the equipment is packed, the labs have been thoroughly cleaned, staterooms are tidied, and bags are packed. Team leads are still hustling to backup data and prepare cruise reports on their laptops. We have had our final science meeting, summarizing the many successes of the cruise. It is all over except for a long frantic day of offloading the ship and, for some, starting travels home.

The absence of motion and the quietness of no ship noises will require several days to adjust to. Some people are dreaming of fresh vegetables, some of walking (or running) on land, many of sharing a drink at one of Seward’s pubs, and most of us of seeing the families or loved ones that let us leave them for the past six weeks to experience this adventure.

Teamwork was the foundation of this expedition. No matter which scientific field each person studied, everyone was happy to help with all of the science operations, like sifting through the muddy box core samples. Image courtesy of Katrin Iken, UAF, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands.Teamwork was the foundation of this expedition. No matter which scientific field each person studied, everyone was happy to help with all of the science operations, like sifting through the muddy box core samples.

Healy – Not Your Grandfather’s Icebreaker!

A group of 141 scientists and Coast Guard crew completed a successful expedition to the Chukchi Borderlands.The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy sits alongside an ice floe to allow science operations to occur. Image courtesy of Microcosm Film, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands.

When U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Healy sails throughout the Arctic, we simultaneously fulfill many purposes. First and foremost, we are an ice breaker, providing presence and access for a myriad of objectives, the primary and most visible of which is scientific research. Healy is the world’s premiere high-latitude research vessel. With two working decks, four winches, two A-frames, and over 4,000 square feet of lab space, Healy is highly capable of nearly any imaginable science mission.

Having had the opportunity to visit the Arctic each summer over the past three years, we truly appreciate what a rare and special experience these cruises are, for both the Healy crew and the science party alike. And now, with our nearly 20 cumulative years spent on ships (almost entirely on icebreakers!), we can say with confidence that The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands mission this summer has been the most exciting expedition on which either of us has served. It is always an honor to work with some of the world’s leading researchers carrying out cutting-edge science for the betterment of humankind, but the groundbreaking nature of the science this summer, and the immediate and tangible results, set this expedition apart.

It is hard to describe how thrilling it was to see the first transmissions from the Global Explorer remotely operated vehicle as they were projected on the large display in the Main Lab. It is an amazing tool, and offers an extraordinary window into the life of the Arctic. Most biologists will never have the opportunity to identify a species, like some of the ctenophores we collected. Fewer still will have the chance to discover, explore, and document a previously unknown ecosystem, like the Chukchi pockmarks. Yet this summer, through the cooperation of the Healy crew and the members of the science party, we were able to do both.

CDR William Woityra and CAPT Jason Hamilton proudly display the Planet from The Infinity Project, mentioned in the Unique Recognition for a Unique Expedition log.With many of the science missions supported by Healy, we aid in the collection of data and water samples that are taken back to the lab, and analyzed for years, possibly decades, before the true value of the research is fully appreciated. To get up close and personal with these new discoveries is an experience we will never forget.

CDR William Woityra and CAPT Jason Hamilton proudly display the Planet from The Infinity Project, mentioned in the Unique Recognition for a Unique Expedition log. Image courtesy of ENS Brian Hagerty, United States Coast Guard, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands.

 

 

Learning From the Sea

Kyle Dilliplaine and Eric Collins demonstrate their research on fluorescence and microbes to Sandra Thornton. Image courtesy of Erica Escajeda, University of Washington, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands. Kyle Dilliplaine and Eric Collins demonstrate their research on fluorescence and microbes to Sandra Thornton.

As a PolarTREC fellow/NOAA Teacher at Sea, I have been privileged to participate in The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands expedition. In these capacities, I have gotten to explore the many different types of research being conducted during this expedition; had access to an amazing group of scientists, students, and technicians; and experienced life aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker/research vessel. Daily journaling has allowed me to share my experiences with others, and I hope I have been able to convey even a small bit of the excitement and wonder I have felt on so many levels during this voyage.Alexis Walker observes as Sandra Thornton assists with filtering water collected from the CTD.

When I first began the PolarTREC application process, I was excited to learn more about life in the Arctic and the delicate balance being impacted by global climate change; however, this journey has been so much more than that. From “big ticket” firsts like seeing polar bears, walruses, whales, and a ribbon seal in their natural habitat; to seeing previously undescribed deep-sea creatures (see the “Dr. Lindsay and Mr. Pumpkin” log here); to the microscopic bacteria living in Arctic ice, these creatures have filled me with wonder and appreciation for the unique characteristics that allow each animal to live and thrive in a challenging Arctic environment.

Alexis Walker observes as Sandra Thornton assists with filtering water collected from the CTD. Image courtesy of Caitlin Bailey, GFOE, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands.

Even at latitudes where life above ice was sparse, the contents of a sampling net would be teeming with life – brittle stars, jellies, ctenophores, tiny copepods, worms, and a diverse array of microscopic specimens. Gazing at the screen during a remotely operated vehicle dive, I found myself mesmerized by the rich variety of animals that could live in an environment of such extreme pressure and temperature.Sandra Thornton holds a sea spider, a specimen collected by the Global Explorer remotely operated vehicle.

Sieving mud from over 2,000 meters deep during July snow, learning about graduate students’ research, and having the opportunity to ask questions of some of the world’s leading Arctic scientists have all been bonuses of this incredible experience. As much as the sea creatures, the humans on board contributed a vibrant array of backgrounds and experiences. With individuals representing countries including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Russia, Norway, and the United States, I often compared the science team to a mini United Nations. Even though their backgrounds differ, these scientists all share a common passion for Arctic science. They are committed to what they do and readily share their enthusiasm.

A vital component of the PolarTREC/Teacher at Sea programs is classroom application of the teacher experience, and it is exciting to think of ways in which I will prepare classroom lessons that highlight many of the things I have learned on this expedition. I have found that students want to be involved, want to be part of the solution, and have an inherent curiosity about the world around them. My experiences aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy will be invaluable in helping me to promote a better understanding of Arctic science as well as to better address student needs in the science classroom.

Sandra Thornton holds a sea spider, a specimen collected by the Global Explorer remotely operated vehicle. Image courtesy of Katrin Iken, UAF, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands.

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