First Saturday Home

For the past couple days, we've had rain squalls roaming through the city like they own it... hail, graupel, and serious lightning storms (see what our meteorology superstar Cliff Mass has to say about it) that are quite out of character for the Seattle I moved to ~15 years ago. So... so what? Seattle does not stop for rain, and neither does the Green Seattle Partnership, which provided tools, work gloves, and Helly Hansen foul weather gear for us tree-planting volunteers on Green Seattle Day. I went with a friend, and we got caught up while tamping down the worm-ridden soil around little huckleberries, ferns, red cedars, and madrones. There are vague plans now for fishing, and a slight possibility of sailing, two activities I could stand to get back in my life...

Meanwhile, my work with the local chapter of Surfrider is about to achieve its first big milestone: we're launching the pilot project for the Blue Water Task Force this coming friday. I'm thrilled we have started a collaboration with a lab at UW's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health; we'll be collecting sand samples for their research into MRSA hanging out in the sand of our local beaches, and they're offering lab space, training, the use of their autoclaves so we don't have to rely on one-use-only equipment. We're also aiming for EPA certification, so our water quality analysis results can be incorporated into the data collected by the state's departments of ecology and health (the BEACH program).

It's taken me about a week to fully recover from the jet-lag and get readjusted to something resembling daywatch in local time -- although with the change to Standard Time and our short Northern winter days, you might think it wouldn't be that different. If I could get the lights that lined the Main Lab and the mess on the Knorr installed at work, it would probably only take a day to make the switch.

The End of the Cruise and the Long Trip Home

Waiting for Us at the End of the Cruise

We finally found the ice, on the last day of the cruise coming into Nuuk harbor. A number of the crew had remarked that there were very few icebergs along the cruise track this year, which was good for us because we didn't have to slow down and finished almost every CTD station on the Principal Investigators' (PIs) wish list. Watching the 2nd and 3rd mates maneuver the Knorr through the gauntlet of growlers -- a term for small bits of icebergs, too small to show up on radar, that make a nasty growling sound as they slide down your hull and rip it open -- in broad daylight brought home just how much slower we would have had to go if we had run into a patch during nightwatch, even with the Knorr's shiny new ice lights.

DavisStrait09_30Oct_Kanger_1Many kudos go to the crew for making the Davis Strait '09 cruise successful. The back-to-back nighttime Seaglider recoveries, the mooring deployments in high seas that went on for days and days, the terrible things we did to the CTD in the name of science... none of that would have been possible if the crew hadn't been there for us 100 percent.

Going Home

After a mad dash making sure that all the data we got during the cruise was copied to USB drives and burnt on DVDs, packing, saying our goodbyes... we hopped in Dash-7s, the backbone of Greenland Air's domestic fleet, and flew from Nuuk to the international airport in Kangerlussuaq, where the domestic flights are at Gate 1 and the international flights are at Gate 2. It was snowing pretty heavily and the temperature around noon sank to -11°C.

A little over 4 hours later we were in Copenhagen, where some of us are taking saturday off to explore before continuing the long flight home. DavisStrait09_31Oct_Copenhagen_3This is a light-boat we found tied up in the canal by Nyhavn, not far from a series of adorable coffee shops and pastry houses. Need I say how incredible that first double-tall hazelnut soy latte that I had after a month at sea was, or how delicious an actual Danish danish is? Or how bittersweet it is to go home when your heart is at sea?

What Comes Next

My adviser is concerned that observational oceanography is a field in jeopardy, that far too many of today's physical oceanographers are content to let someone else fetch data for them to use without consideration for the effort and skill required to collect quality measurements. It is true that satellites, robots and electronic sensors on moorings have revolutionized the field, and without a doubt this is where the future of ocean observing lies -- but there is so much that happens during even a deployment and recovery cruise that requires an in-depth understanding of the physical processes of the region and the ability to adapt a program to the reality of the environment you find yourself in, that it would not be possible without years of training and experience in the field. I truly hope that every graduate student who would do oceanography makes the effort to go out on an observational cruise at least once in their career, because reasoning and theorizing about the world we live in is not science unless it begins and ends with seeing that world clearly and carefully.


Furthest Point South

Only 3 days left in the cruise and we have just reached the southernmost CTD station. We've paused just south of the sill of Davis Strait, a sort of foray into the deep end of the pool -- also known as the Labrador Sea. The CTD is dipping down to 2570 meters, but due to the currents, we may need to lay out 90 additional meters of line to get there. We're keeping an eye out for an 8-degree water mass which should be coming north around the southern tip of Greenland and possibly slipping west into the Labrador sea, but we haven't found it yet.

With so much wire to put out and a winch that runs at 60 meters per minute, the entire station may take 2 hours, whereas the shallow casts on the Canadian shelf were averaging 20 minutes. As there is very little for the CTD handlers to do between deploying the CTD and bringing it back aboard, it was a long, slow, and uneventful night. Inbetween the occasional bouts of activity in the snow on deck, I read a couple recent papers in the Journal of Physical Oceanography and learned how to play cribbage. The current chief scientist is from Cape Breton in Canada, where apparently everyone plays cribbage (in addition to playing fiddle and saying "new-fund-LAND"). I'm hoping to challenge him to another game during the next watch, but by then we'll be on the edge of the Greenland shelf, where our CTD casts will once again be short, shallow, and close together.

one unfortunate reading = 4 hours missing


01:00 Friday, Nightwatch: We got this kink in the wire when the CTD touched the bottom with several meters of wire loose... the echosounder reported bottom depths that were ~150m deeper than we were actually in, and the CTD altimeter alarm went off too late for the CTD Watch guy to tell the winch operator to stop in time... so now we have at least 4 hours of downtime while the SSSGs work to cut the wire and re-terminate it above the kink. So we're skipping the last CTD station in the line (which didn't require water samples to be taken, anyway) and are heading down to the next line, which is ~4.5 hours of away to minimize our losses.

Quick Stop in Sisimiut; CTD Tribulations

DavisStrait09_Knorr_Sisimiut_11With all the mooring work done, the chief scientist, his research partner, the awesome mooring tech guy, and the local grad student left the ship in Sisimiut Harbor. The town is so small, it practically is the harbor, perched on the few mostly horizontal spaces on the edge of the steep, snow-covered rocky outcroppings. We were very fortunate that the winds died down and we had a beautiful, calm autumn morning with air temperatures around -4.2C (~24.5F). I seem to have acclimated to the weather, because I spent a lot of time running around on deck with my camera but without my jacket. Eh, it's okay, I did have my Icebreaker merino wool pullover -- after all, Sisimiut is north of the Arctic Circle.

DavisStrait09_Knorr_Sisimiut_9This little fishing boat anchored in the harbor caught everyone's eye, it was so picturesque. The folks with the D-SLR cameras and real lenses no doubt got much prettier versions, but at least you can see what I mean. With everything so calm, you really get the romantic sense of the fishing life up in the far cold reaches of the world.

DavisStrait09_Knorr_Sisimiut_8 The houses and residential buildings in Greenland tend to be painted in these dramatic, rich hues of blue, dark red, green and goldenrod yellow. But all the land is owned by the government and so are the buildings; you can't just buy a vacation cabin in Greenland for your summer holidays. It will be interesting to see what happens here as Greenland transitions to self-government.

DavisStrait09_Knorr_PackingTheCan1Remember when I talked about packing the container a few weeks before we were to get on the R/V Knorr in Nuuk? Now that the mooring work is done, it's time to pack almost everything back in it -- all that's left is some glider stuff that we kept out (just in case) and our own personal gear. We have one solid week of CTDs 24/7 to do, and now we're having problems with the salinity sensors and possibly one of the pumps on the CTD rosette. We will probably stop to fix them now... however long it will take... and then work like mad to make up the time lost. Hopefully this won't take too long.

Four Moorings Redeployed, and O Canada!

DavisStrait09_Knorr_16Oct2009_BI4_6_sm We did CTDs through the night in 35+knot winds; my watch ended at 7 in the morning, after which I promptly went to sleep, so I could get up a few hours later when the daywatch guys had finished the last of the CTD stations, transited north, and deployed the first mooring near Baffin Island. There was an iceberg north of us, near the horizon (the ship's mates like to keep those icebergs as far away as possible), and visibility was fairly poor. There was an awesome jagged black promontory that appeared to the south of us for a few minutes, but by the time I'd fetched my camera, the fog had obscured it again.

DavisStrait09_Knorr_16Oct2009_C1_1_sm The moorings are essentially a series of instruments attached to kevlar line and some small lengths of steel chain (typically painted to avoid corrosion). This is a small frame with an ADCP for measuring current speed and direction at a variety of distances, an external battery and logger, and an SBE37 microcat for measuring temperature and salinity.

DavisStrait09_Knorr_16Oct2009_C1_3_sm Another instrument commonly deployed on these moorings are Aanderaa RCM-8s, current meters made back in the '80s. Nowhere near as high-tech as the ADCPs, they measure velocity and direction of horizontal currents at one depth -- simple and sturdy still goes a long way in observational oceanography.

So why are we deploying these things? There are two interesting currents here at the base of Davis Strait -- warm, salty Atlantic water flows northward along the western coast of Greenland, and cold, fresher Arctic water flows southward the eastern coast of northern Canada. There's some recirculation that happens to differing amounts during the year and it would be good to know what affects the strength of that recirculation; there's the question of whether there are any trends in the overall net southward flow -- is it warming? is there more or less ice or ice melt coming through? Combined with the analyses that will be done on the water samples taken during all those CTD casts, there should be a pretty good story about the water masses that flow through Davis Strait, a/k/a the Arctic Gateway to the Atlantic.

PS: The grad student working on the physical oceanography side of this is B. Curry, not me. I just got lucky this year with timing and got to be the one on the cruise.

Sparks on the foremast

02:00 12 October: Most of the science team was asleep after that heroic/insane glider recovery, Kunuk and I were up on the bridge with the second mate when a series of sparks lit up the bottom of the mast and the ice lights went out. Lovely. So off goes the general alarm, and now we're all up in the main lab, waiting to the excitement while the crew tracks this annoyance down and searches the boat for problems.

On the whole, it's better than being woken up at 2 AM by drunks yelling in the 7-11 parking lot...

Nighttime Seaglider Recovery

SG141 was pumping too slowly, so we had to go pick her up again. My adviser had her stay on the surface while we steamed up to her -- it took nearly 2 hours to get there, and by then it was 23:08 and quite dark, with winds blowing near 35 knots. SG141 has a stubby antenna with reflective tape on the end which lights up like a brilliant candle on the water when we hit it with the ship's spotlights, which the crew did at 23:15. She was right off the starboard bow, and the captain lined her up beautifully -- but by then the sea state was awful, and whenever the glider got near the bosun with the pole to nab her, the sea dragged her down and we had to spend another nail-biting eternity looking for her. In all, we ended up making 4 attempts, and bully for the bosun for nabbing her that last time!

One hour and fifteen minutes after spotting her, the deck team finally had her aboard, and then we had to dog all the doors for what is proving to be a rough ride north to the next line of CTD stations. Wind's up at 40 knots now, and it will probably take us 14 hours to get where we're going. In the meantime, I've got to swab the floor of the main lab down again -- the main lab doors just can't hold the sea out when the waves come splashing around the CTD hangar, and even dogged and caulked with rags, we still have to pull the mops out periodically.

Day 4 feels like 40

DavisStrait09_C3MooringRecovery3Today was a good day for picking up moorings -- this is the last one picked up at the very end of the day, a sound source placed just out of sight of the mountainous coast of Baffin Island. It took about an hour and a half from contacting the mooring acoustically to pulling aboard the acoustic release at the bottom of the mooring.

We also deployed SG143, the same glider that gave us so much trouble during the North Atlantic Spring Bloom 2008 experiment in the Iceland Basin, but with much less instrumentation. Now (23:09 local time) we are doing the calibration cast -- running the CTD down to 1000m alongside the diving glider to find out just how good its temperature, salinity, and oxygen measurements are. It's snowing on us, the wind has picked up to 16 knots, and the air temperature is fairly warm, hovering around 0.4C (32.7F).

NuukGreenland_4Oct_7Tonight I tried a Danish snack that I got in a grocery store in Nuuk; Salted Licorice. You know those salted caramels you can get at every fancy gourmet chocolate shop in Seattle? Yeah, this is nothing like that -- the first taste is salty sweet, and then the licorice kicks in and I start making funny faces. Fortunately, the guy in charge of all the water sampling we've been doing (Oxygen isotopes, Total-Inorganic-Carbon/Total-Alkalinity, and nitrate/nitrite/phosphate nutrients), loves the stuff, so it's not going to waste.

The 19:00 - 7:00 12-hour nightwatch is definitely taking its toll on us. Meal times are 7:30, 11:30 and 17:00, very inconveniently when we're not up, unless we want to have breakfast for a very late dinner or dinner for an early breakfast. I bought nutrition bars from Costco for the trip, but I'm currently eating them at 2/day which means I'll run out before the trip is over. Hopefully for the second leg we can switch the CTD watches around so we can all have at least two meals, and all get to work at least some time during daylight hours.

Second CTD Watch, or, Nighttime in the Northern Realm of the Polar Bear

DavisStrait_C5MooringStation1 I slept through most of the second day of mooring work, except for the surprise fire drill at 10:30 that was actually a small fire in a crewmember's cabin. An upper deck got smoky, but then the fire alarm system got a malfunction in it somewhere, and short, hesitant smoke alarms went off at random hours throughout the day, guaranteeing that those of us on night watch got a miserable days' worth of sleep. Not that the daywatch had much fun either -- they had to spend most of the day "dragging" for a mooring that didn't feel like behaving well. The last mooring of the day, pictured above, popped up pretty quickly and was up on deck while there was still plenty of light.

DavisStrait_ML09CTDStation1 8-9 Oct 2009: Second night of CTD watch. The wind picked up this evening and we got some wave action going -- even had to break out the mops when we got splashed before the doors to the main lab were dogged (sealed tightly). It's nowhere near bad enough to stop CTDs, though, but I should mention that the hard hats and life jackets are the norm on this ship. By 01:30, the wind died down and we got some snow flurries, which after 3 days I'm beginning to believe is standard "balmy" weather here. When I'm on deck in that balmy weather to tend the CTD (pictured here), I'm wearing a base layer of smart wool under jeans, a smart-wool mid-layer, a t-shirt, a super-thick Icelandic sweater, orange foul-weather gear inherited from a previous grad student that is huge on me, an adult size small PFD t(I slip right out of anything bigger), and my trusty hard-hat on top of my smartwool toque. Yes, merino wool is my absolute favorite material when I know I'm going to get wet in the wind and cold.

Tomorrow should be the same as today. Eventually we'll run out of moorings, and when we do, we'll run CTDs 24/7 on a line from Disko Bay to the southwest. Maybe I'll switch to daywatch, so I can have breakfast and breakfasttime and dinner at dinnertime instead of vice-versa.