Sea Ice and Walrus

August 6

There are four flights of stairs from the working deck to the bridge. I like to go up from the outside and watch for birds and whales, and water dripped from the instrument mast. Today, beyond the bridge and the deck behind the wheelhouse, beyond the rail, a mosaic of ice and shades of grey water travels the other way. Everything appears isolated out of sight of land.

We are now well west of the armies of yesterday’s walrus, and there are few animals to be seen here, few birds and fewer whales. Over a couple days, we count ten polar bears, but all of them far away and most of them are in the water. There are photos, but they appear as little more than fields of loosely banded ice, a photograph of everything and nothing.

Maybe a keen observer will see the bear, a thin line of yellowing white, its nose out of the water at left, swimming across the ship’s diminished wake. Describing a distant point amidst this landscape is an art one can learn, I suppose. “See the two little chunks there, and then go back three floes and look for the knob of blue near the spot of black, which is the bear’s now abandoned lunch. There’s blood on the snow. That’s the dark bits to the left.”

I just put the bear center in the frame, if only so I could find it again. Because a minute later everything has shifted in relation to everything else. Looking out over the stern, I had to be shown again and again where a bear was.

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.