CGC Healy – Steaming Home

This is a cross-post from a Defense Department’s Armed with Science blog post, “Arctic Voyage Completed: What’s Next for ICESCAPE Researchers?” and is reprinted with permission.

It is written by Dr. Kevin Arrigo, a Professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford University and Chief Scientist for NASA’s ICESCAPE (Impact of Climate change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) mission this summer onboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter HEALY.


Tonight I looked out of my porthole and saw something that I hadn’t seen in weeks – darkness. The unexpected view jolted me into the realization that the first ICESCAPE journey is near its end. Our last station is behind us, and we are steaming south for home.

What did we accomplish during our 30 days of sampling in the Chukchi Sea? We won’t know for sure until we get back to our labs and analyze the thousands of samples we have accumulated.

Scientists from Dr. Kevin Arrigo’s group conduct research on the ice. (Photo: Haley Smith Kingsland)

But we do know that we managed to make physical, chemical, and biological measurements at 140 stations, covering more of the Chukchi Sea than has ever been accomplished in a single cruise before. Our stations extended from the coast of Alaska westward to the US-Russian border – and from the Bering Strait northward to Barrow, Alaska. Ten of those stations included detailed studies of the sea ice and the underlying ocean.

We made our full suite of optical measurements at more than 20 stations – often under ideal conditions of fully clear or fully diffuse skies. We sampled stations along 15 different slices – or sections – through the Chukchi Sea. These sections provide a detailed two-dimensional picture of how physical, chemical, and biological properties of the Chukchi change with distance and depth. Think of them as the oceanographic equivalent of an MRI.

Captain Rall giving both science party and Coast Guard members certificates for 21 days of service north of the Arctic Circle. (Photo: Haley Smith Kingsland)

We mapped the often circuitous paths that the Alaska coastal current and winter water take before these two important water masses flow off the Chukchi shelf into the deep Canada Basin. We documented how the slow pathways extend the blooms of phytoplankton by providing an early summer slug of new nutrients to fuel additional growth. We learned that the single celled alga called Chaetoceros is nearly everywhere but is most abundant in a thin layer below the sea surface.

I look forward to digging through our vast collection of data and see what other new surprises await. There will undoubtedly be many other discoveries to make – and many papers to write. By any measure, ICESCAPE 2010 was an unqualified success.

And while tomorrow we celebrate our good fortune and success, tonight we plan. ICESCAPE 2011 is not far off and we are going to be ready – yet again.

Even though ICESCAPE 2010 is completed, you can still check out the entire Armed with Science ICESCAPE series! You can also visit NASA’s Arctic Voyage 2010 blog or Twitter account, or get updates from Ensign Emily Kehrt, HEALY’s Public Affairs Officer.

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