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August 26, 2006

sun at midnightLast night's entertainment was a bit ironic. Here we are on a Russian icebreaker in the Arctic and we watched “Pirates of the Caribbean” — go figure. I had debated whether to go down to the auditorium and watch since I was pretty tired, but I am glad I went. Otherwise I would have missed an incredible scene after the movie. On my way back to my room, I saw that the skies had cleared, the ocean was calm (we are once again out of the ice) and the light was magical. From about 23:30 to 00:15, the sky was ablaze with a thin band of color, with beautiful clouds and thick fog far out on the horizon. By far the best sky we have seen since boarding the ship and my first ever confirmed sun above the horizon at midnight! Conditions looked promising for our early morning mooring recovery and deployment.

The alarm sounded sooner than I had hoped. Looking out the window all I could see was a gray wall. We were socked in by thick fog. The seas were still calm, which was good for the research activities on deck, but the fog would make it harder to see the released mooring when it surfaced. A mooring is made up of an anchor, an array of flotation devices and scientific instruments attached along a cable between the two. This first mooring had been deployed at a shallow depth of about 60 m on last year's research cruise. The instruments have been gathering data all year on conductivity, temperature and depth to give a profile of changes in the water column at the site.

To recover the mooring, the ship first determined the mooring's general location by triangulating using acoustic soundings. Once the general location was discovered, a researcher sent a remote acoustical release signal to the mooring, which unhooked it from its anchor, allowing it to float to the surface. At that point, all hands on deck looked for the surfaced mooring so the ship could maneuver close enough to grab it and then hoist it aboard using the ship’s crane.

After the release signal was sent we strained to see through the fog for over an hour. All indications were that the mooring had been released successfully, but there were no mooring floats anywhere in sight. The science team is not sure what happened, perhaps a faulty release, perhaps inadequate buoyancy in the floats. The researcher and the chief scientist had to balance the potential loss of gear and, more importantly perhaps, a year's worth of data, against the ticking of the clock — the schedule for the remainder of the research and the huge hourly costs involved with running a ship of this size.

The decision was finally made to move on and to perhaps try to bring grappling gear next year and attempt to recover the mooring if it was still there. One mooring technician summed up the morning’s disappointment rather philosophically, quoting an oceanographer he had known years ago in Bermuda, "If you want it back, don't put it in the ocean."

CTD/RosetteThe good news for the day was that a new mooring was successfully deployed and the first of several water samples were collected using a CTD/Rosette. A CTD/Rosette looks like a huge basket and has 24 collection bottles arranged in a circle. It is used to measure water conductivity, temperature and depth and to collect water samples at different depths throughout the water column. When the CTD/Rosette was ready to be deployed, the ship’s crane lifted the it off the deck and lowered it into the water. When the CTD/Rosette was returned to the ship’s deck, researchers gathered the water samples and took them to the ship’s lab. Some samples were analyzed immediately while others were frozen for later analysis at a land-based laboratory.

Our first research station brought both disappointment and satisfaction and, for me, a new awareness of how much effort goes into gathering oceanographic data.

—Mike Dunn


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