Environment Forum

‘Not enough ice to make a margarita’

Scientists aboard the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov spent the weekend collecting samples of water, sealife and ocean-floor mud at a spot in the western Arctic Ocean that in most years would be covered with sea ice.

The ship, carrying researchers for the six-week RUSALCA expedition, was in its most northerly planned sampling stop, or “station,”  a location nearly 350 miles (563 km) northwest of Barrow, Alaska. During the mission’s last cruise in 2004, the most northerly accessible location was 345 miles (555 km) south of the weekend’s station.

Mission coordinator Kevin Wood, of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,  writes from the ship that the water is open on all sides. “There isn’t enough ice here to make a margarita,” Wood said.

The joint U.S.-Russian expedition is carrying out research to gauge the effects of global warming on the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea through the end of the month.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported last week that the Arctic’s sea ice thawed to its third smallest on record. This is up slightly from from the last two years, but continues an overall decline that is symptomatic of climate change. The smallest summer ice pack on record was in 2007.

Zodiac man gets his day

Rodney Russ lives for the times he is at the rudder of a Zodiac.

For the owner of Heritage Expeditions, the New Zealand-based company that is operating the Russian research ship Professor Khromov in the Bering Sea, the more challenging the conditions the better.

“The rougher the waves, the more difficult the landing, the more remote and obscure the place, the more I enjoy it,” Russ said in a corridor on the Khromov.

So it was with disappointment that Russ was forced to put the inflatable boat with the outboard motor away, after he had donned his wet-weather gear and readied the craft for a spin off the Siberian coast in late August.

Fishing for information, Part II

The last of the data-gathering moorings to be plucked from the Bering Sea proved to be the most troublesome.

This one was several miles north of the Bering Strait in U.S. waters, and it took a few hours to steam up there in the Professor Khromov, the ship the RUSALCA team is using for the joint U.S.-Russian oceanographic expedition.

Once GPS pinpointed the location, the tech team in charge of retrieving the moorings sent the electronic signal that releases the chain of instruments and floats from the anchor on the ocean floor and waited. And waited. All on deck scanned around the ship for an orange ball on the water’s surface. It didn’t appear.

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