The Larvaceans

August 13

There’re no vistas to look upon tens of meters below the surface. Light has a hard time down there. The Digital Autonomous Video Plankton Recorder (DAVPR) camera images a field of view 17x13mm. What results is a storm of plankton streaming past the camera: copepods (Calanus glacialis and Pseudocalanus spp. most common), larvaceans and their houses, marine snow particles, chaetognaths, diatoms, barnacle nauplii, jellyfish and ctenophores, and crab zoea.

Focus varies, but with our lack of proper Internet goods, I’ve not heard him complain. Phil’s laptop spools through the 50,000 some frames of a half-hour cast. It identifies suspects dramatically, much in the same way facial recognition software appears to work on a TV show taking license, pulling up candidate snapshots like digital polaroids and saving these for later analysis.

Okay, they are not cat videos, but the larvaceans are quite wonderful in situ. They and their inflated houses, red guts and serpentine tails make for quite a show amidst the other surprised plankton. Not to mention, they have a terrible fondness for clogging the Mocness nets like scraps of wild rumor. No pointing fingers when someone’s got a saltwater hose aimed for payback. I can only confirm the gunk in the nets is real.

 

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

The Colors Does It

August 12

Steve failed to wake me for the sunrise, but I’ll forgive him. Celia showed me the pictures and impressive though they are, I’m not sure the clouds have moved since the previous evening’s sunset, which all by itself took several hours to perform—and every time I sat down to type something Celia came back inside to tell me how different the light looked now, and even better than before—and I had to come outside to the back deck and take a look. She wasn’t wrong. The resurgences of the new day fell softly upon the slow death of the old, and I’m sure no one complained whose watch it was to work through, cleaning nets and flying the Mocness* in the midnight sun.

And now get to journey into a world of color again, if only for an evening and a day—all the yellows and oranges and shades not quite turquoise we needed, a breather from the grey on grey. The night watch gets to work through a sunset and a sunrise—thought isn’t that all the same thing here. The sun at best is giving the world a glancing blow, and the color gradients that Celia tells me really are changing, because look at the latest pictures, and I need to go back outside and see, “because it’s better than earlier.” It’s always better than earlier. I’m tired. I’m done with pictures. I should make a case that all my memory cards are full, that the portable hard drive and the thumb drive backups are stuffed and the laptop itself has begun to fit files into uncomfortable places. When I’m not looking, it shoves them onto the phone for safekeeping, which makes the Instagramming pretty, but then the phone and the laptop are dogging like they’re homesick.

And for the first time this trip I’m shooting photographs in the sun, which feels odd, to finally be able to drop the iso. I also have to contend with hard shadows.

But the paint and the rust on the trawl’s doors look great in the direct, raking light, and the odd ice floe passing behind everyone to remind us where we are.

The trawl doors are shaped like airplane wings but work like kites—underwater. While they swim behind the boat, they open as far laterally as the bridal allows, until the net’s mouth is some 10×12 meters wide. The amount of wire let out depends on the depth of the water. Today, the wire goes out more than 700 meters. I suppose that’s like seven and a half football fields, if that is something people have a sense of the length of anymore. I dream of a day we can think in terms of things much larger.

The wire and the net and the doors put more than 2 tons of load on the winch, and in the end, we’ll catch mostly jellies. The fish, the arctic cod, when we do go after the right water, will only be a few inches long. This is a test run today, the first time the ‘fish people’ have got the team working on the deck with the big net. We’ve chosen this spot on the chance we’ve found a lake in the ice field. The lake’s not where we want to be—but it’s open water.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

That Old Hardware

As of our arrival in Nome, I think I’d gone two years without picking up a camera that wasn’t my phone. Even in Nome, I used the phone rather than open the sea bags. I mean, I picked it up to check the battery a week before the trip, sure—but… Now I’m thinking that I haven’t shot a project since Unalaska and Kasatochi in 2016. The very idea of this sounds both obscene, and completely understandable. That was the last year I’d been to sea, even if was just an island hop—if that has anything to do with it. But I brought a camera aboard the Sikuliaq, if not the heavy redundancy of previous voyages with spares and video backs and lots of bits and pieces I never used in the Bering. At the moment, we’re getting more photographs from me than I think anyone wants to see—going on 600 approved shots in 11 days. I am afraid that’s likely a small percentage of the wear put on the shutter, but I’ll do that tally later. Safe to say, I’ve cleared 200GB already. But in a way, it works. If I need to procrastinate from typing, I go take pictures. Then I can stay up late editing, and when the night watch comes down to the lab at 8pm, they too need to be harassed by a photographer. I’ve made note I need more pictures of Phil and Celia and Bern, and Steve, and Pete. And it’s quieter at ‘night.’ The ship works 24/7, but not all work runs through till morning.

Last I checked today’s a Saturday, so in the spirit of pretending we take any days off at sea, I’ll keep this brief and post a stack of flashback photographs from my very first research cruise, way back in 1995, aboard the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ prior R/V, the Alpha Helix. On that cruise, we explored the Gulf of Alaska and various glacial bays between Prince William Sound and Yakutat. So, there are sunsets, like there should be—and because we went to Yakutat, there’s a big tidewater glacier or two. So, ice and sunsets and deck ops with CTD. Somethings haven’t changed.

 

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

All Hands

August 10, 2018

Much of the time I’m pointing a camera at you, I’m looking at your hands and sometimes, only your hands—what they are making happen, or just making… The hands of an artist and the hands of a scientist are not so different, I think, whether painting or tightening a bolt, arranging nets, carving wood, or positioning specimens on a slide.

The hands speak volumes.

So, really, those facial expressions you make when a big piece of glass turns your way—they might already be cropped out. With my eye to the viewfinder, I can’t even see you making them—some of the time. I can’t always just look at your hands, of course, though I might like to. Often, I’d like to forget the big picture, because it’s complicated and scary.

Maybe this is inevitable, being on a ship and looking at very small and very important things: the water chemistry, the zooplankton, the fish. We’re here in the Beaufort Sea because we can’t learn about the effects of upwelling on the shelf-break without going to the shelf-break and getting our hands dirty in the process.

I’m not going to stump for the quality of these few shots, but I will say, I really enjoy sneaking these into the trip’s photographic catalog. Maybe the odd one will make it into a report somewhere, or a PowerPoint presentation.

There’s perhaps a lot to say regarding big ideas captured by the small, bare business of working hands. And I could say something about the continued strengths and the need for dexterity and hands-on labor in a world of heavy machines, but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow morning, and scratch it into my notebook in handwriting far too small to read back easily. I’ll confess, I started to write something but bailed, preferring just to look at the pictures.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.]

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

Then We Wait

August 9

Some days are not as busy as we hope them to be. At sea, this occurs a lot. There are researchers aboard Sikuliaq who have been waiting a week to begin the core of their work. Today, everyone waits out the thick, icy bulk of the morning. Float coats are put on and they are taken off again. Lunch comes and goes. We want to recover one of the Upwelling’s moorings, but it’s beneath dense ice floes, at least relative to what we’ve seen. So, we wait, first as the ship gets a more precise fix on the mooring’s position, which can be imaged by the ship’s multi-beam sonar—and by taking three slant-range readings from an acoustic ping’s time of flight there and back from the mooring release. So, we know exactly where it is. We could drop a penny over the rail into the 80 meters of water and we would be pretty sure to miss the aluminum cage and the red Viny floats. But we wouldn’t miss by much.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

We Look. We Find.

August 8, 2018

So that the mooring sits upright, we lower it all the 21 meters down using the A-frame and a second acoustic release, which we use immediately to detach our line and leave the bottom-grounded mooring behind. The Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler will look upwards to measure currents over the Beaufort shelf and to range the diurnal migration of plankton up and down the water column.

The ship, meanwhile, heads to another line beaded with planned stations. At each, a CTD cast will plot the physics, and if the ice allows it, a net cast will capture fish larvae and zooplankton at depths chosen from the sonar imagery. We look. We find. We collect. We study, from above and below. The office printer kicks out temperature and salinity plots and in the lab, specimens are sorted and photographed under microscopes and then moved to the ship’s -80 freezers. In the computer lab, Mike and Jennifer refine our interpretation of the acoustic data.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @toppworld on Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

Portals

August 7, 2018

The previous day ended with something resembling a sunset. The low ceiling and the sea ice blurred the line. The horizon went yellow, and in contrast to most everything else in the world, even the white of the ice appeared blue. It didn’t last long, and I wouldn’t normally push color this hard in a photograph, but the heat of the western horizon wanted to burn hotter against the humid skin of the world. At that moment, I wanted all the yellow light it had to offer.

Later, an ice floe glided underneath my window. It was a perfect model for a shield archipelago. The islands’ mountain relief and the dimensions of the bays and straits and inlets now penetrating the flooded half-moon had all the right shape. Those hanging valley lakes not yet connected to the sea were bright blue. Those that had, had gone green. To the archipelago’s southern flank squatted a dirty, round island. The central hump was the very shape of a neighborhood volcano, a not so taciturn sister, the one that will not go quietly. Her wide, dark flanks appeared as if she had grown in recent weeks, and all the while the archipelago had suffered from a warm battery of ripples and jets and old storms. I did not have my camera ready to capture the floe, but there were and are other many other floes sculpted with cut green bays and still blue freshwater lakes.

The curious and lengthy name of this website, The Well and the Wicked, comes from the title of a story that takes place on an archipelago where the islands are in a few short generations being eaten by the sea, and in the quiet, inland areas, even ground water is turning feral, as if from below, not salt-water dikes, not chlorophyll coating the blue, but some magic more the nature of portals. When we put an object into the sea, we must keep ahold of the thing. In the story, even objects dropped into puddles by the side of the road can disappear as fully as being dropped into the ocean. If they do appear again, we do not know that place.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.