Early morning sunset over the Diomedes and Fairweather Rock. Photo credit: Brendan Smith

Early morning sunset over the Diomedes and Fairweather Rock. Photo credit: Brendan Smith

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. However, as we walk around the ship, members of the research crew are still busy at hand processing samples from a sampling station earlier in the day. Pete Shipton is busy testing the firing mechanisms for the mooring releases. Brittany Jones hurries into one of the walk-in freezers to check on her invertebrate respirometry experiment. Mike Lomas is waiting for the next CTD station to acquire more water to sample.

It’s 00:52am, and the ship is still wide awake.

As we come upon the next CTD station, the bridge notifies the lab we are ten minutes out. Steve rises from his chair and begins to prepare the CTD for deployment. Although he will be with Kofan and me through the deployment, it will be our first one without Seth guiding us along the way. Both of us are nervous.

We trigger five of the twenty-four bottles of the CTD rosette remotely in the lab, each at different depths. The water collected from these bottles will be used for nutrient analyses. As the CTD returns to the surface, Steve goes into the Baltic Room to ease the instrument back onto the deck. The fog bank that blanketed much of the Sikuliaq earlier today has lifted, and outside the Baltic Room doors, one can see a beautiful clear sky—oddly, however, well past midnight. Chuckling, Steve considered donning sunglasses even at this hour to cut down the glare from the clear sky. Summer solstice in the Arctic is quickly approaching.

Calm. Clear. And no ice. Surface temperatures around Kotzebue were registering 7 degrees Celsius. A different ocean from what I remember in 2008, my first trip into the Arctic. Although Sikuliaq happened upon shorefast ice earlier in the afternoon, it was dirty, thin, fragmented, and hung close to the shoreline near Kivalina. The ice reminded me of the crumbs of a potato chip bag.

In 2008, right around the same time as this current Sikuliaq voyage, I remember even Norton Sound (substantially south of us currently) full of ice—so much so that it required our vessel, Norseman II, to hail an airplane to spot the lees in the ice so we could make it to Nome for port. Multi-year ice was not uncommon, and highly encourage to avoid as one could imagine. Even though the Norseman II had sophisticated auto navigational capabilities, we often found ourselves jogging through ice—a delicate dance around frozen monoliths. Now…in 2017, Sikuliaq has been able to zip between stations with no ice impeding our travels and quickly making her rounds across the shallow ocean basin.

This is a Chukchi Sea I do not remember. This is an Arctic Ocean I do not remember. No breaking ice that formed from the freezing salt spray. Wearing shorts and a tee-shirt underneath my Mustang suit.