Night of the CTD

August 17

Last night we cast the CTD for the 100th time this cruise, and then kept on casting. The rosette went out the baltic door again and again against a background of ice floes and water so still, the ripples of the submerging cage were the only things moving on the surface. They made lasting impressions.

But excepting a few liters of collected water where we saw the chlorophyll levels to be the highest, and excepting where the ship’s acoustics saw the zooplankton scatter in the cage’s wake—and scatter wider when the VPR strobe was flashing, the CTD is a passive observer, describing the fundamental characteristics of the water from the surface to the bottom: changes in salinity, changes in temperature. Sharp changes in the column’s properties over depth indicate independent water masses that have remained in character over great distances. The drum on the winch is loaded with 10,000 meters of cable. Last night we needed only 300, but beneath us a relatively shallow sea, there are clear layers, from the fresh summer meltwater to the Alaska Coastal Current, Pacific water, and off the shelf, in the depths, Atlantic water.

The photographs below are of CTD casts aboard the Sikuliaq in 2014, 2015, and 2018, in the North Atlantic, and the Caribbean, Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

 

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.

Because Gliders

August 4, 2018

Because I ultimately like getting off a boat and being disturbed that a thing such as a cup of tea, set on a table unattended, does not immediately break the tenuous friction of the counter-top and slip to the edge and the tiles below. Because I want to find it inexplicably odd the fluid in the cup is not a measure of how much the world is moving.

Because science—even though I’m not a scientist anymore. Robert’s questions led to more questions, which is how it should be. His first question I knew. My first answer I knew. After that, things got interesting. They ran down corridors and got swept up in the prop wash. They glowed. They burned holes in the soft spots. At length, I answered them. Then, more questions.

Because now we might go places I could not have dreamed, or places so familiar I’m astounded by how fresh they feel. Because I love the process, I told Robert. Because every now and then we have to take our instruments and go to a place we can’t predict a damn thing. Yes, I’m talking about marine science, and other things. Expeditions are like this. Carry a knife and a flashlight—Instagram when you can.

Because sometimes I just want to stand at the rail and look out at the ocean.

Because I haven’t been on a bona fide research cruise since 1995. The five other subsequent sailings were either ship trials or a ship ferrying the party to remote islands.

Because I sleep really, really well on ships. Because I will have at least one epic dream when the world is not still. Because I’m still living down the nausea of ’95.

Because there is science aboard I haven’t seen. New nets, big nets! New tools on the CTD, a new mission, and moorings! Lots of moorings to be picked up and to be let behind. Even the familiar tools are noon to a sunset in a different scientist’s hands.

Because I’ve never seen a glider deployed.

Because gliders.

To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @arctic_WFFF on Twitter.

—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.

Transit / Transition

August 3, 2018

After the yard work, the Sikuliaq’s anti-roll system now makes for a smoother, more comfortable ride than before. By pumping water between tanks in the hull, the ship better maintains level. Upstairs from the Main lab, the lounge now resembles a lounge and not a second cantina. There’s a gaming table crafted aboard ship. There are a pair of couches set for movie watching. The TV has been moved away from the corridor wall and lowered, now less like a platform for PowerPoint and training videos and more like something someone could fall asleep to, while a film plays to the end, rolls credits, and plays the star-spangled banner. The lounge is carpeted, and there’s far less chance, now, we’ll come back tomorrow morning and find all the café chairs piled in a heap and lashed together against the port wall, the paint scratched, on the inside, by the latest storm.

The ship’s had a new paint job. The ice-like, arctic blue of the lower hull has been re-imagined as something deeper, richer, and oceanic. I’ll get used to this, though I’ve been grumbling these last few years how the new look has rendered obsolete all the photos I took of the ship set in the ice, the crew in orange and black—and black and orange suits dotting the frozen ocean, the ship steady as if set-up on blocks in a dry dock. She cleans up nice, but the sea is hard. The rust comes back.

To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @arctic_WFFF on Twitter.

—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.

Mobe Day

April 2, 2018

Phil brings part of a second round from the bar out onto the deck where we blink in the low, northern sun. Alaska, in summer, so no one needs walk back to the boat in the dark. We discuss past expeditions and who has sailed with whom and when and where. We wonder what the weather will be. The satellites see ice over some of our stations, but there’s an equal chance it will be driven north as the winds change to the east. Will there be swells? Will the ice still be there when we need to collect our moorings? Will the glider behave on its test dive, and will be confident we can let it dive again out of sight so it makes its own months-long journey to Barrow? We talk about the ship and how it has evolved. We talk about seasickness. We talk about the vagaries of itinerary at sea.

Here’s what to know about a ship: it’s trying to kill you. Watch where you put your feet. Watch where you put your hands. Here’s what to know about seasickness: it’s your inner ear telling your body, for some reason—probably due to an evolutionary cock-up—that you are being poisoned. Food in your stomach is a good thing. Hydration is a good thing. Dry crackers are great. Coffee and other greasy foods spell trouble. Ginger works. When you do get sick, and everyone has their limits, it’s the worst thing in the world, not unlike an adult’s inexplicable and seemingly sudden revulsion for rollercoasters. Celia says she’d rather catch the flu. The best thing, of course, is lying down. Lying down makes everything better. Lying down takes the motion of the ocean and turns your nightmare into a hammock. It’s not a solution though, because we’ve only got the boat for a few weeks—and every hour counts. There’s science to be done on deck, and you have to get up anyway, to eat and keep the stomach busy. Busy is good. Busy is probably the best thing to be.

 

To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @arctic_WFFF on Twitter.

—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.

This is Not About That, Not Yet

August 1, 2018

This is the day the cast assembles, and to a large extent airport currents bring people together naturally, because everyone is flying in from the four corners. Like magic, we cluster outside the gate. We see friends and colleagues we haven’t seen in a year, doing something commonplace as waiting for a plane. The airport is a natural corridor of comings and goings, and more often than not, a place of gathering. Later, of course, the pub becomes a green room, that most gregarious of places.

This is my fifth time waiting for the Sikuliaq, the fourth time I’ll board. I was lucky to be there at one beginning, waiting for the shell of the giant machine to be dropped into the Menomonee River. That day in October, it rained like mad, and the guests of honor had trouble breaking the champagne against the underside of the ship’s hard nose. The bottle slipped from their fingers and fell from the gantry. Our shipyard hosts ran back to the trailer and pulled another from the case. In the end, all the good photographs were taken, and everyone shook hands and water as the ship pushed its first and largest displacement across the river.

The expanse of the sea is deceptive in its seeming uniformity, but we’re guided to our places on the stage. Infancy is rough like early rehearsals. We don’t need, nor necessarily want them to go too well. But ships and towns mature. Weathered wood and rust stains are evidence of the best of repeated performances, poor copies only if you think of them as copies, as something similar to what has gone before—which is to say, nothing is ever routine, but only, gradually worn in. Nothing can be trusted when new. A cruise is an imperfect performance and an expedition is something else, a traveling show, a motley crew, and we haven’t got to the karaoke yet. This is not about that.

 

*To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course and interact with this August 2018 expedition to the Beaufort Sea, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @Artic_WFFF on Twitter.

 

—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.

Adventuring

You spawn in a bar next to a second, freshly minted character. You don’t know where in the world she lives, but she is here now. She buys a drink. You buy two. She passes hers to you. You return the favor twice over. She tells you she likes the description of the bartender. She teaches you how to look. She shows you how to look at yourself. You’ve poofed into being with a dagger and 10 gold pieces in a purse on your belt. The purse is closed. You ask how you have a dagger and she has a sword. “Random,” she says. Then she admits she stole the sword, successfully, from you, about thirty seconds ago. She left you the dagger because you bought her a drink. You try to steal her socks, but apparently she is not wearing any. “Drink up,” she says, “and let’s go kill something.” She does not seem to care what.

Not all friendships are born in publics, bars, and gardens—and when you spawn side by side with your impromptu, serendipitous date, sometimes the room needs to be a cathedral—or a bookstore—or a road junction where three cross and ten feet into the weeds there are two bodies half hidden. If you inspect them you find they are dressed exactly like the both of you. Sometimes you are sitting in the back of a horse-drawn coach traveling between towns. You can stop the driver at any time. Sometimes you inhabit the back row at a festival where a woman is singing ballads and two jugglers are about to set a man on fire for volunteering before they become famous and really get their act together. Sometimes you order coffees instead of whiskey, cheese curls instead of unshelled peanuts. Sometimes you find yourself on a boat, or at a hostel. Grab a night’s rack. Scout a deserted building. There are square feet missing, and you’ve all but forgotten how you came here. Sometimes you must build the room first. Then the furniture. The table is a supporter. The table has a top. The top can be removed. The table is a container. It contains a drawer. The drawer is a container. It is opaque, closed, openable, locked, and cannot be taken. The lock requires a bronze key. The key is in the drawer.

You remember your name and learn how to do simple things, like picking up a stick, lighting a lamp, and opening a door. Sometimes breakfast is served, and the fire has crisped the skin of a rabbit. Coffee and yellow light warm the hollow between the trees and the rock. And sometimes you chat into the long hours at a table in a restaurant that stopped serving ages ago. You’ve been playing games with the beer mats and the spoons. The window panes are frosted, and you can’t open the front door without bruising the shoulder of a homeless man who thought it his turn to warm the dry tiles. Everyone apologizes. Everyone means it. “We’re going to remember that,” you say, on the way to the car. “Yes,” she agrees.

(excerpt)

 

Microcosm

The previous year, the seas were too rough to land on the volcano. We explored other islands: Little Tanaga, Atka, and Adak, of course. We went to places overflowing with life when our plan had been to search carefully for the even the smallest signs on the near barren slopes of the active mountain.

The following year the seas were impossibly calm, and at night we watched a blue bioluminescence trail in the prop-wash and wake of the Fish and Wildlife boat. We landed at both Kanuji and Kasatochi, the old and the new. Kanuji has been worn to a cinder held together by grass and guano. We don’t know how old she is. Records in the soil are confused; there is always an island, somewhere, remaking itself against the more casual zeitgeist of the planet.

Kasatochi, heavily weathered since the 2008 eruption, still maintains its skirts, a broad pancake of clastics and ash cut by gullies and beaten by the surf. A forest here is lupines and dew. An animal, any animal, an insect flying by the nose, is something to be captured and cataloged. The microcosm does not survive. The sky and the sea flush across its edges, carrying migrants: driftwood, plastics, a skiff with an outboard ferrying the curious, auklets who don’t care what the island looks like now. They know which flank is home.

—Thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service; UA Museum of the North Entomology Collection (Kasatochi, 2016)