Editor's Note: Haley Smith Kingsland is an Earth systems master's student at Stanford University specializing in science communication. For five weeks she's in the land of no sunsets participating in ICESCAPE, a NASA-sponsored research cruise to investigate the effects of climate change on the Chukchi and Bering seas. This is her fourth blog post for Scientific American.
"Oooo Station 100!" Kevin, our chief scientist, wrote on the Board of Lies, the plan of the day that evolves constantly. My body is a blur of stations and transect lines, and my eyes are glossy after working many 16-plus hour days. Is today Wednesday or Thursday, and have I been awake for both?
Despite the familiar rhythm I've achieved with oceanography, Station 100 is actually extra special. As a "full station," we pull off nearly every scientific operation we possibly can. To starboard, the Arctic Survey Boat (ASB) meanders through patches of sea ice to study the surface ocean away from the Healy's shadow. With its pointed bow, it looks like a slice of sleek silver pie. To port, 13 little humans in MSD900 dry suits tread across frozen sea, close to the smooth black ocean riddled with ice fragments that shine turquoise underwater. I know to scan for Don on his solitary walk wielding a white pole twice the length of his body that measures ice thickness and reflectivity. Bonnie inserting an elbow-shaped optical sensor horizontally below the ice. Ruzica raising both arms above her head to lift a solar radiation instrument with a lightbulb-shaped sensor. Christie kneeling gracefully over a hazel melt pond, her ridged rubber gloves dipping glass bottles wrapped in tin foil to collect water samples. Karen slowly feeding red line attached to a beach-bucket sized optical profiler down a hole, and Luke hiding under a black cape to read the profiler's tilt and speed on a laptop screen. The clouds lift and the study area becomes bright.
Timed near solar noon, little fins enable the missile-shaped optical PRR to plunge vertically from the bow into the ocean. And then time decelerates. "Has the CTD gone down yet?" My desk-mate Emily watches this workhorse of oceanography—an aluminum frame with sensors and water sampling bottles all around its circumference—descend into the sea on her computer screen. The colored lines of its path roughly zoom vertically. In the Aloft Control room, Scott, Matt, and Bob monitor the CTD's downward track to determine when to close the water sampling bottles on its climb back up. A group of scientists surrounds them somberly, and scurries to collect water from the bottles upon the CTD's return. "1 on 1"! "2 on 3!" "3 on 5!" they shout to Bob the "water cop," who enforces the pecking order and records the amounts taken with a clipboard.
On the fantail are three more deployments. "Don't you dare go out there without a mustang suit, hard hat, and steel-toed boots," Owen, the Coast Guard marine science technician on duty, warns me kindly. I stand with Brian and Rick beneath the aft A-frame and between the port and starboard knuckle frames. They've just deployed the optical package, a synthesis of neatly arranged instruments from a few different research groups. Rick pencils notes while waiting for it to appear at the surface in 20 minutes. We pace a bit, staring at the black ocean below the fantail, breathing the peace around us. Shifting stances, shuffling feet, swiping gloves against the rubber lifelines. We hear whirring from the hydraulic pump that operates the A-frame. The package receives a bath afterwards, a freshwater rinse to stave off rust.
Out comes Sharmila, lugging the thorium pump on a palette jack. Somehow I glimpse arteries connected to an open heart whenever I see the tubular pump and its frame larger than a human chest. I know how much angst it's caused Sharmila throughout the cruise, but still her fingertips graze against it as it sets sail off the fantail. Ice chunks amass beneath the pump and Dan, another marine science technician, stabs them away with a pole. Almost done. An hour and a half later and fresh off the sea ice, Luke and Karen arrive with a monster's mouth—the Van Veen Grab—whose stainless steel jaws grasp soft bottom sediments and sometimes urchins, starfish, cucumbers, sculpin, crabs, sponges and brittle stars. I think back to our "shakedown station," our dress rehearsal, when I was just learning scientists' names and instruments' intricacies. We have at least 40 more stations, and I'll use a wide-angle lens to pack in all the details I don't want to forget.
Images from top to bottom: The "full" Station 100 deployment line-up on the "Board of Lies" with magnets representing each deployment. Credit: Healy's internal cameras; Haley Smith Kingsland on the fantail of the Healy. Credit: Sharmila Pal; Coast Guard marine science technician Dan Purse with Brian Schieber and Rick Reynolds, both of Scripps, on the fantail deploying the optical package. Credit: Haley Smith Kingsland.