A Day on the R/V Ocean Starr

A Day on the R/V Ocean Starr

Twenty-four days on a research cruise may seem daunting at first, but when you take it one day at a time, the time moves by with ease. So what does a normal day look like on the R/V Ocean Starr? Well, it starts pretty early.

Sculpins, Sea Stars, Snow Crab, Sea Anemones, Shrimp… OH MY!

1… 2… 3… Haul-back. The radio clicks off and the winch on deck starts to run again. Soon the net will be on deck and sorting will commence.

The excitement was mounting in the fish lab as everyone slid into their Grundens bibs and put on float coats and hard hats. We peered out the doors to the deck and saw the beam trawl floating a few meters away from the boat.

A Sense of Place and Perspective in the Arctic

Where are we? When you spend most of your day inside the vessel cabin or in the lab you don’t really have concept of place. Even when I look out on deck, I find the usual endless horizon of the sea. No land in sight, but we are north of the Arctic circle now, heading up to the Beaufort Sea.

Gaining Our Sea Legs

Full steam ahead to Nome! Well, full steam is only about 8 or 9 knots with the rough weather of the Bering Sea and a loaded down boat, so we should make it to Nome by the evening on August 4th. This arrival date gives us all time to prepare the equipment and plan for the busy days ahead.

New Adventures in Familiar Places

“Low visibility in Dutch Harbor, we are now on a weather hold. Standby for an update in 30 minutes....”

You could hear groans and complaints coming from passengers throughout the gate area as the intercom clicked off.

Little Diomede, Big Heart

Little Diomede, Big Heart

“I am learning all of this so one day we can do the same things and understand our waters. So I can teach science to the children of Diomede.” She then began describing to me how important it was to report back that the little things in the water column like copepods and phytoplankton are critical to the ecosystem and the food they fish for on Diomede. All was said with such sincerity and concern. I could feel her deep connection with Bering Strait and the northern Bering Sea in that moment. I could feel that this journey on RV Sikuliaq may mean more to her than anyone else on the ship.

A day of Arctic mud raking

Eighteen days we have been on the R/V Sikuliaq - four more days to go 'til we get back to Nome. So far we have completed 17 bottom trawls and 15 midwater trawls. I am on the fish team, investigating the number and distribution of fish and invertebrates during our 21-day ASGARD cruise.

Fifty shades of fulmars

Many people think of Northern Fulmars as the marine equivalent of pigeons—flying rats. I used to think that too, when I worked as a fisheries observer aboard large commercial fishing boats in the Bering Sea. Hundreds of fulmars would follow us in hopes of getting a free meal. Even though they are not the only species to follow boats, they are often singled out for criticism, maybe because they are rather homely in comparison to birds like kittiwakes and shearwaters.

Hold the line

On any boat, there is an unspoken trust. It is not earned or rewarded, but expected. It can be taken away… stripped and torn down by trepidation, sloth, and distraction. On any boat, trust is yours to lose.

Mud Queens of the Chukchi

Mud Queens of the Chukchi

Looking down at my mud encrusted, dry, tired hands and mud covered clothes I see the unmistakable marks of being part of the benthic team. No amount of soap or lotion has seemed to rid me entirely of the remnants of a day outside on the deck spent bringing up multi-core tubes full of mud from the floor of the Chukchi Sea and the hours of processing that follow.

No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home

“Where do you live?” This is one of the first questions people will ask you when you board a research vessel. This question is so common because researchers with different backgrounds and from different universities collaborate on projects, each bringing their own technicians and students.

King of the World

King of the World

Over the past couple of days, R/V Sikuliaq has been beating into a southerly swell. Gusting winds upwards of 30 knots have stirred surface waters, forming white caps, churning the upper meters of water, and mixing temperature and salinity profiles in the greater Kotzebue Sound area.

The Clam Whisperer

A Brittany Jones sighting on the boat can be rare. She exists, I promise, but her experiment and dedication to her work have unintentionally positioned her from the rest of the scientists that share common space for sediment and fisheries work.

All Creatures Great and Small

With seas calming from 15 feet and winds dissipating to five knots, the Chukchi Sea has once again given R/V Sikuliaq a brief respite from weather. Even though conditions were less than ideal during that time, operations still continued. CTD deployments were cast from midships, and a few multi-cores were deployed off the stern of the ship with the A-Frame. During these times, I take to filming the skies and attempt some aerial footage of the ship in action—its blue hull and white house juxtaposed against the steel gray ocean of the Chukchi. For the majority of our sampling and transit, R/V Sikuliaq has been the only focal point interrupting a horizon that blends into neutral sky and fog.

Blue Noses

We had our blue nose initiation yesterday for crossing the Arctic Circle (N 66°32’) into the Realm of the Arctic, the Northern Domain of the Polar Bear*. I won’t say much about it, just that we pollywogs-turned-blue noses came out of it sodden cold. What happens in the Arctic stays in the Arctic.

Zooming in....

The first time I saw plankton under a microscope was in 10th grade.  My instructor brought a plankton net into class, which he used that morning.  When peering into the eye piece, I saw a miniature aquatic ecosystem.  Instead of grasses and shrubs, there were diatoms —a single cell plant plankton, i.e., phytoplankton, with a distinctive glass shell.  Instead of cows or sheep grazing on grass, diatoms were being consumed by copepods (an animal plankton, or zooplankton).  Instead of insects munching on grass blades, there were ciliates (single-cell zooplankton, which are much smaller than copepods) grazing on phytoplankton.  Some moments in life have immediate impact, but how could I have known that 20 years ago, that the little ecosystem which caught my gaze would be the beginning of a career path which brought me here?

Let’s go fishing!

Let’s go fishing!

Blood may be thicker than water, but when salt courses through your veins, sea water may be even thicker yet. There is a natural comradery between those whose hearts pump with the rhythm of ocean currents.

The tail end of a migration

The tail end of a migration

There are familiar faces in the galley the past few mornings. Each face telling a story of a hard night’s work. Among us are blank stares, stale breath, and clothes undoubtedly worn the previous day(s). A silent pause lingers around the table like the fog that continues to follow R/V Sikuliaq.

A different ocean

A different ocean

R/V Sikuliaq cuts through the calm waters of Kotzebue Sound at 9.3 knots to the next CTD station. The Chief Scientist, Seth Danielson, added several CTD stations in the evening before we arrived at the major processing station in the morning. Kofan Lu, Steve Hartz, and I are taking the graveyard shift to complete the CTD run

The sea gives and the sea takes away

The sea gives and the sea takes away

Onboard the R/V Sikuliaq with us, we are fortunate to have Opik Ahkinga from the native village of Diomede. Opik has a unique blend of traditional and scientific knowledge, and a deep desire to protect her community’s long-term future.

Two days ago, two boaters from Diomede went missing. A man and a boy on the verge of becoming a man.