Environment Forum

Arctic expedition reaches the ice

    U.S. and Russian scientists exploring the Arctic ocean finally reached ice on Monday, about 435 miles (700 km) northwest of Barrow, Alaska.

    On a year when the Arctic sea ice has receded in the summer to its third-smallest on record, researchers on the RUSALCA expedition got the opportunity to study the water, sea life and the ocean floor at a location where there is rarely open water.

    The mission’s science chief, Terry Whitledge, said it he did not expect explore such a northerly location without an icebreaker. 

    The team took core samples from the seabed, more than 600 metres (1,968 feet) down from the surface.

    “We think that is our biggest scientific gain,” Whitledge, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said by satellite phone from the bridge of the research vessel Professor Khromov.

‘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.

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.

Fishing for information

The research vessel Professor Khromov is just a few kms off the easternmost point of Siberia, and U.S. technologist Kevin Taylor is struggling to reel in an orange buoy that had been deep beneath the Bering Strait for nearly a year.

The first time he tries, the ship veers too far away from the prize and must make a slow, wide turn for another pass. The second time, Taylor’s hook is not quite ready and the float bobs again into the Khromov’s wake. This takes practice, even in calm waters.

A main task of the RUSALCA expedition, a joint-U.S.-Russian scientific effort taking place in August and September, is to retrieve data-gathering moorings that were dropped 50 meters to the bottom during stormy weather last October, and to leave new ones.

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