US GO-SHIP is part of the international GO-SHIP network of sustained hydrographic sections, supporting physical oceanography, the carbon cycle, and marine biogeochemistry and ecosystems. The US program is sponsored by US CLIVAR and OCB. Funded by the National Science Foundation and NOAA.


Arctic Geotraces 2015 Letter from Jim Swift, CTD/hydrographic Scientist, 8 Sep 28, 2015

HLY1502 letter 08 from Jim Swift

Sunday, 27 September 2015, 1:30 pm, local date and time (2130 27 September UTC)

77°27’N, 147°54’°W (over the Canada Basin)

air -2 degC / 28 degF

water -1.2 degC / 30 degF

wind 4 knots from WNW

on station 052 (a Geotraces ‘full’ station)

Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

We experienced a Big Change on Friday: We left the Arctic ice pack. There are some ice bits around, and we are not far south of a few belts of broken up new ice, but we have left the pack behind. Another big change is that our internet access returned yesterday evening when we arrived at this station. Most of us have taken a start at examining our shore email - that part of the outside world making its return to our lives byte by byte, plus we can now send and receive somewhat larger emails (such as this one).

During the past several days the weather warmed to the upper 20s (in Fahrenheit degrees), which is easier to contend with. We had a fair bit of snow, but the ship puts out enough heat that the decks are less icy now. It’s a noticeable change. The ship can now transit day or night, and the work goes on (and on). We also have full darkness every night, and we are keeping our hopes up for a clear night with an auroral display. (At Sunday brunch today a couple of the grad students said they could see shifting illumination - presumably an aurora - behind the clouds last night.)

We are greatly pleased that the engineers repaired the second evaporator, so everyone has now caught up on laundry, are we’re back to regular dishes and silverware in the mess.

The work carried out by the CTD/hydrographic team is going quite well. Although steady vigilance on equipment, procedures, and data is always beneficial, few problems have been popping up. The lack of problems is partly attributable to the warmer weather we have experienced much of the past week. Those few degrees make quite a difference to sensors that are at risk in past weeks’ deeper cold but are fine at -2°C (28°F; i.e. temperatures near the seawater freezing point).

Healy’s track is now (and next week) over the deep, flat abyssal plain of the Canada Basin. During pre-cruise planning I had asked that this part of our transect from the Pole to Alaska be moved east a bit to help assure a ‘miss’ of boundary currents associated with a major feature in the bathymetry west of us called the Chukchi Borderlands and Northwind Ridge. The point was that there are indications from past data that boundary waters spread from there into the Canada Basin, and so I wanted to be sure that any ‘boundary water’ we saw was truly in the basin and not just an artifact of our coming close to the boundary itself. Preliminary data indicate this is all working out as planned, i.e. that we are seeing the boundary-separated waters well away from the boundary itself.

Observing and enjoying sea ice is one of the highlights of working in the polar regions. Thus when I realized that we would be leaving the ice - perhaps for good for me - I spent a bit more time up on the bridge. We do not see icebergs (glacial ice) here; the ice here is formed over the open ocean, shelf seas, and near river mouths. In fact, new sea ice has been forming the past few weeks as winter nears. To provide an idea of what I’ve seen this trip, I have included some ice photos. (The small file size versions that fit into email may not do the scenes justice, but it’s the best I can do for now.)

On a cold, windy day, new ice crystals form off the edge of solid ice and as they are blown away from the ice edge they form into windrows caused by a phenomenon called Langmuir circulation (photo by Bill Schmoker, Polar Trec):

If the wind is still, a thin sheet of ice forms, and then when that sheet is disturbed from the edge (say by the pressure wave ahead of the ship), it will fracture in right-angle patterns - a wonderful macroscopic effect of a microscopic aspect of ice crystals - called finger rafting (my photo):

Finger-rafting occurs on a wide variety of special scales. On this trip I saw some unusually large scale rafting - football field size (note the right angled ‘fingers’ in this photo I took):

“Frost flowers’ can form on undisturbed thin/new sea ice on a clear, cold still night (photo by Bill Schmoker, Polar Trec):

If brine is wicked from underneath into frost flowers, these can be clumpy looking (my photo):

Pressure ridges form when floes and sheets are pushed by the wind. These can pile up dramatically (just think how deep they reach!). Sea ice from near river mouths can be dirty. Here is a photo of one of the crew obtaining a dirty ice sample from a small pressure ridge (photo by Cory Mendenhall, US Coast Guard):

One of the most unusual ice formations I have seen was miles and miles of circular features in the ice - almost like giant pancake ice - in the young ice near the southern edge of the pack (my photo):

Then there are endless varieties of icescapes, some of which become dramatic when illuminated near sunrise or sunset. I will end this letter with a photo of mine which seemed to be of an almost alien scene:

All is well.

Jim Swift

Research Oceanographer

UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography

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Arctic Geotraces 2015 Letter from Jim Swift, CTD/hydrographic Scientist, 7 Sep 28, 2015

HLY1502 letter 07 from Jim Swift

Sunday, 20 September 2015, 1:30 pm, local date and time (2115 20 September UTC)

82°23’N, 149°33’W (over the northern Canada Basin)

air -4.3 degC / 24 degF

water -1.5 degC / 29 degF

wind 7 knots from W

en route to station 045 (a repeat hydrography station)

Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

We have completed our crossing of waters above the Alpha Ridge and early tomorrow will be engaged on a station which begins a long track south toward Alaska across the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean, one of the more nearly isolated areas of the World Ocean.

On my longer research cruises, there has been a point well into the cruise where problems of various sorts pop up. We seem be dealing with a touch of that: the wear and tear of weeks of work in the Arctic is evident in equipment quirks (and failures) and a few data issues which defy untangling. One also sees on some faces traces of dealing with the sameness and oddities of shipboard life and being away. But everyone adapts to this twilight zone and pushes through together to the finale.

Speaking of twilight, during the past week the sun began going below the horizon every evening. In the wee hours the dim, flat natural light makes it more difficult to navigate the ship through heavy ice fields. The transition from 24-hour light to day-and-night comes very quickly if one is heading south from the Pole near the autumnal equinox, as we are doing. Will we first run out of heavy ice cover or will we run out of sufficient light to drive through heavy ice at night? Considering that the autumnal equinox is almost upon us with its 12 daily hours of sun below the horizon, I’m guessing that darkness will hold up our progress some, though we plan to do station work when the ship must stop during darkness. (The navigators in the aloft conning station must be able to see pressure ridges sufficiently well in advance to avoid them. The ship has searchlights, but I’m told their reach is often not quite far enough.)

The ship’s two evaporators (a type of desalinization device) supply the large quantities of fresh water required for the 145 persons on board, including for the galley, showers, laundry, and labs. One of them went out of service last week, and so we are now on the same water restrictions we abide by on long ‘super stations’ - very short showers, paper plates & plastic tableware, and no laundry. We have not yet been told if repairs are feasible or likely. My guess is that the situation is sustainable in that the laundry was opened for 24 hours today.

We have had snowy weather. The deck crew shovels and salts the decks, but some areas of the decks are icy. We certainly feel as though winter is chasing us south. We also experienced a week of cold (around -12°C/10°F), and that took its toll on science operations. For example, the CTD/hydro program’s rosette water sampler, loaded with electronics, is stored between casts in a two-deck- high space called the starboard staging bay, which has a tall roll-up ‘garage door’. The motor mechanism which raises and lowers that door stopped working last week. There is a hand crank mechanism to very slowly raise the door above the height of the rosette, requiring at least 15 minutes of hard labor - the deck crew takes turns. Meanwhile this exposed the rosette’s electronics to the cold air for longer than desirable. We compensated by blowing warm air (from a large ducted heater-fan) onto the electronics right up until launch over the side, but this did not always work well enough. The dissolved oxygen sensor in particular is freeze-sensitive and we are slowly going through our inventory of spares to replace cold-damaged units. On last night’s cast, however, the door motor worked! The Geotraces ‘trace metal clean’ rosette is stored outdoors (partly to keep is clear of contaminants), and even though it is covered and has heaters in critical places, it has suffered more from the cold

  • yesterday the CTD on that rosette failed. A spare unit has been installed and measurements will go on.

The ship has cooled internally a bit, too. Many in the science team say their staterooms are chilly - one of the scientists told me yesterday at lunch that her room temperature was in the 50s. Oddly, the room I share (with two others) is fairly warm, sometimes too warm - I get no sympathy for that problem!

Over the Alpha Ridge we traversed what is likely the heaviest ice overall we will encounter this cruise. But the navigators in the aloft control station were always able to spot a feasible route, avoiding heavy, impassible pressure ridges. Sometimes it took back-and-ram operations to get through a thicker, older ice floe, but, still, progress was remarkable for a single icebreaker in this domain. For example, Healy made it solo through some areas last week - mostly using just two of the four main engines - that were too tough for Healy and Oden together in 2005; hence Healy may be the first surface ship to gather scientific data from some of these areas. Once we were heading south past the ridge crest, there were miles-long, wide leads that Healy followed. Watching from the bridge, it was almost like navigating a river with ‘shores’ of ice on either side - a truly remarkable experience.

As we were plowing through the ice the other day, we came across a polar bear

  • appeared to be a relatively young one - who first moved away but then came right up to the ship as we motored by. (I’ll attach a couple of photos.) Then something spooked the bear, who took off at a speed that impressed and alarmed those who work on the ice - that bear could really move!

The galley keeps the food coming - lots of baked goods including bakery quality pastries, good soups, and some nice salads such as cous-cous with vegetables, and one made from asparagus, blue cheese, and croutons. Some items are in short supply but that is to be expected on a long voyage, the one long- term issue being a shortage of cereal and bread for the all-hours, odd-hours breakfasts and quick PB&Js always needed by a science team working long and varied schedules on a 24/7 research cruise.

This week my closing line is, “All is well, but we hope the second evaporator is back in operation soon.”

Jim Swift

Research Oceanographer

UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography

We are still restricted to 100k total message size in and out. I’ve squeezed in two photos of that inquisitive young bear. The close up was taken by Cory Mendenhall, US Coast Guard, and the photo of people photographing the bear was taken by Croy Carlin, OSU.

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Arctic Geotraces 2015 Letter from Jim Swift, CTD/hydrographic Scientist, 6 Sep 23, 2015

HLY1502 letter 06 from Jim Swift

Sunday, 13 September 2015, 7:00 pm, local date and time (0500 14 September UTC)

85°48’N, 150°34’W (on the northern flank of the Alpha Ridge)

air -13.4 degC / 8 degF

water -1.4 degC / 29 degF

wind 4 knots from NE

on an ice station following hydrographic station 041

Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

We are now about 250 nautical miles south of the North Pole, following the planned track toward Alaska along 150°W longitude. Tomorrow we will begin crossing over the very rarely visited Alpha Ridge (where a 55-hour Geotraces “superstation” is planned). Part of the area we traversed here from the Pole was not passable on my previous expeditions due to very heavy ice. We found this year that the ice has changed over the past decade to the point where Healy is able to work here solo. Still, the going has sometimes been tough, but we do keep on going. The Healy has plowed through long stretches of ice which looked to be two meters thick. Occasionally there are back-and-ram operations, meaning that if the ice stops the ship, the ship backs up in its track a ways, revs up, and pushes forward again, repeating as needed. There is quite a bit of snow on the ice, which impedes motion by increasing friction on the ship’s hull. The result has been some slow, long hauls between stations. Heavy icebreaking is noisy - ice impacts on the hull reverberate through the ship - and causes the ship to lurch about, both of which disturb sleep for many, but I do not find it bothersome.

Our measurement work is a methodical process, following a planned and practiced suite of well-honed procedures. Sometimes the ice or the Arctic cold has its say. Today the skies cleared - the sun on the ice is beautiful - but meanwhile under those clear skies the air cooled quickly, temperature dropped to well below 10°F, and we needed to improvise a bit to keep sensors and samples from freezing. I confess that while we were later sampling water in the near-freezing rosette staging bay, I was thinking of the present heat wave back home - perhaps both we and those at home would have gladly switched places for at least a few minutes of relief!

During an ice station last week, Bill Schmoker, the PolarTrec teacher on board, put his waterproof GoPro camera on a pole and pushed it down a hole drilled in the ice, pointed up, to see what there was to see. When he was reviewing the short recording, he saw he had recorded a seal swimming by (see photo, taken from a video frame) - no one had any idea there was a seal in the area.

Saturday night is “morale night” on the ship. One of the ships’ groups cooks dinner - this weekend it was Philly steak sandwiches. There is also an event, in this case “sumo wrestling” in the helo hangar, with contestants in huge padded costumes (see photo). Hilarious!