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.
For a relatively small boat in terms of length, the R/V Ocean Starr is a flurry of activity. There are 10 scientists, 14 crew, and 1 student, totaling to 25 people. We all have different specialties, ranging from seabirds to marine mammals and fish. We also have physical oceanographers on board, who study currents, temperature, salinity, etc., and biological oceanographers, who measure nutrients and chlorophyll and study the phytoplankton and zooplankton that form the base of the food web of the marine environment.
On August 1st we departed Dutch Harbor and hit some stormy seas that continued on the 2nd, when we all had to adapt and gain our sea legs. For me, that was with some help from meclizine and some time spent lying down. Everyone has their own strategy for dealing with motion sickness, for example, eating a lot or not at all, looking out to the horizon from deck or looking at the ceiling from a bunk, or drinking coffee, tea, or carbonated water constantly. During the day we were busy unloading and trouble-shooting equipment for deploying moorings, launching sonobuoys to listen for marine mammals, and setting up the FlowCAM which takes photos of phytoplankton in real time. Phytoplankton are microscopic algae at the base of the marine food web. You can think of them as the “invisible forest of the marine environment.”
In the afternoon we had a meeting discussing plan A, B, and C for what to do if we are faced with bad weather or unexpected equipment problems. Another topic of discussion was logistics once we get to Nome so that we can have a quick turn-around and head to our sampling stations.
On August 3rd we had a meeting with the everyone on board about the specific projects of each scientist, our roles on the boat, and project objectives.
About 6 hours before we reach Nome, we will be collecting and deploying a mooring that has an acoustic listening device to detect marine mammals and a temperature and pressure recorder. The mooring will allow Catherine Berchok, who studies marine mammals, the ability to listen to a year's worth of marine mammal activity in this area of the northern Bering Sea.
The crew is excited to be at our first station soon but is also grateful for the time to prepare and adjust to life aboard. If all goes as planned, we hope to come back with the data to amass a body of knowledge about the Arctic marine ecosystem larger than even the mega-sized cookies served in the galley.