Greetings from the USCGC Healy!
The Arctic expedition (see Marcy, I can spell it. I just tend to type way too fast :) ) has officially begun! Our internet is spotty, so I am not sure how often I will be able to update the blog or post pictures, but I will try to when I can.
We embarked the Healy a day early (yesterday) and are now headed North. The helicopter ride out to the ship was pretty amazing, and I saw some spectacular views of the Barrow coastline.
The staterooms are relatively nice actually. The are big enough for three people, but there are only two scientists to a room. I think this is actually the first time on a ship where my room is above the water line. Talk about moving up the ladder!
Today we recovered the two HARP (High frequency Acoustic Recording Package) buoys that were deployed during the Healy Arctic mapping cruise last year. These buoys record ocean noise to determine normal background levels as well as the amount of noise produced by the ship and the sonars. As of now, it is believed that our sonars do not harm the marine life (mainly whales) because they operate at too high of a frequency. If it is determined, however, that they do cause a disturbance, then future mapping operations might have to be curtailed. The research is risky to the mapping operations, but crucial. Right now there are groups that would like to see the sonar work shut down due to the possibility of disturbing the whales and affecting their migration. This research, being conducted by a graduate student from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, will help put this issue to rest, one way or another.
Our mapping operations are commencing this evening. Right now we are currently deploying a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) cast to get an accurate sound velocity profile prior to our multibeam patch test. The water depth is approximately 3700 m, so the cast will probably take around 3 hours!
The Healy crew just had an Arctic Circle crossing ceremony last week. This means that those of us that just got on will not get a chance to meet King Neptune and be promoted from "blue noses" (what you are called prior to crossing) to "polar bears". Of course, this also means that I will not have to suck a cherry out of the naval of a greased up fat man, so that is a silver lining...
No initiation means no certificate of crossing, so I guess I will just have to come back to the Healy again another time. We crossed the Arctic Circle on the plane anyway, so really it would not have been a "true" crossing.
Hopefully in a couple days I will be able to report on the extent of the ice and some polar bear sightings! Earlier scientific reports that the Arctic might actually be ice-free this summer have so far proved to be wrong. We saw some pretty nice chunks yesterday and satellite data indicates that we should hit the full ice pack when we reach about 76 degrees North!