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St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center > Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification

Arctic Cruise 2011: Questions & Answers

Q: What is your typical day like as a scientist on the Healy?

A: The word to describe a day for the ocean acidification team is “busy.” Lisa Robbins, Jonathan Wynn, and “Bucky” Buckowski have 8 hour shifts. The equipment that is being used for sampling and analysis is very sensitive so Paul Knorr is also on call 24/7 for equipment maintenance.

For example, here is a typical day for Lisa Robbins:

06:30 AM – Wake Up

07:00 AM – 8:00 AM Breakfast is served on the Healy

08:00 AM – Lisa begins her shift.

08:00 AM-4:00 PM – Lisa assesses the sampling rate that needs to be used for water sampling (typically, 1 sample/hr., 2hr., 4 hr., etc.). The team has been sampling the water every two hours for pH and CO3-2 and every 4 hours for the entire suite of discrete samples (DIC, pH, CO3-2, nutrients, DOC, isotopes, etc.). During ice fronts, or at times when the team sees unusual data, they collect more often. When Lisa is not sampling or analyzing, she preps samples that have already been collected. At the same time, she is looking at and plotting data. Of course, lunch has to be fit in as well.

11:00 AM-12:00 PM – Lunch served on the Healy

4:00 PM – Shift is over.

5:00 PM-6:00 PM – Dinner is served on the Healy.

7:00 PM – Nightly Science Talks – These talks are given by each of the scientists on board about their work. So far, there have been talks about everything from living on an ice flow, to ocean acidification (Lisa Robbins), to birds, to Inuit culture on the north slope of Alaska, to scientific techniques.

Any “free” time can be used to watch for wildlife and ice (the bridge is a great place for that), do laundry (full size laundry room here), read, watch a movie or email home! The days are really full – so there isn’t much free time – they are really immersed in the science!

Q: How does the design/construction of the Healy differ from vessels that are not ice-breakers?

A: According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Healy was built with a bow thruster, two rudders, fixed pitch propellers, and bow wash-bow thruster system to lubricate the hull during ice breaking operations. The minimum ice breaking capabilities are 4.5 feet of ice at 3 knots going ahead and 8 feet of ice backing and ramming.

Q: How wide is the Healy?

A: The Healy has a beam of 82 feet and a length of 420 feet making it the world’s largest non-nuclear ice-breaker.

Q: Are you ever afraid you will be locked in the ice and unable to sail?

A: So far, we haven’t gone through such thick and extensive ice floes that would make us worry about getting locked into the ice. Later in the year, that could be a worry and in past years, during late fall and winter, the ship had to head home early because of that concern. Luckily, the ship is so well provisioned with food that we could be stuck out here for a long time and still eat well. Also, as demonstrated by the air drop by the Coast Guard from Kodiak two days ago, we are never out of reach.

Q: How much does it cost to fill up the Healy?

A: The Healy’s diesel fuel capacity is 1,220,915 gallons. If you multiply the number of gallons that the Healy can hold by the price per gallon of marine diesel ($4.73 per gallon average for September 2, 2011), you get $5,774,927.95 per fill up!

Q: Is it noisy traveling through the ice?

A: Yes, sometimes it is really loud with scraping sounds. In really thick ice, it is the loudest. Outside, up in the bow, you can hear the crunching and cracking of the ice. Inside, you can hear the bumping and scraping of the ice. Back in the lab, it feels like a small earthquake that doesn’t end!

Q: Will the Healy and the Louis St. Laurent go to the North Pole?

A: It doesn’t look like we will make it to the North Pole, however, we have already made it to 88° 27N. There are several deployments of ice equipment, UAVs, and features that the Extended Continental Shelf Project group needs to map that will keep us a little further South.

Q: Have you seen any seals?

A: Yes, as a matter of fact, ringed seals. Read about ringed seals and see photos of them in the cruise journal.

Q: Have you seen any whales (if so, what species)?

A: We haven’t seen any whales, but could see them when we are heading back to Dutch Harbor.

Q: Do you share a room with the other shipmates?

A: Yes, I share a room with Barbara Moore who works at the State Department.

Q: What changes have you observed in the vertical profile of water temperature and chemistry as you have traveled north from Barrow?

A: We have just posted some vertical profile information on our cruise blog. It is a comparison between Station 3 and Station 4.

Q: How many days until you think you will return home?

A: The cruise is over on September 28th, so, that is 26 days from today, September 2nd.

Q: How many MPH is a Knot?

A: One knot is equal to approximately 1.151 mile per hour (mph).

Q: Have you seen any polar bears?

A: We have not seen a polar bear as of yet. However, we have seen polar bear tracks. Look at our cruise journal for pictures!

Q: How big is the ship?

A: The Healy is 420 feet long. You can find out all about the Healy on its own website:

Q: Is it fun to get to see what it looks like there?

A: It is so awesome! I can hardly describe the sheer beauty of the ice. It is many shapes and textures – the ice chunks that are old ice have different hues of blue – from aqua to deeper blue.

Q: How fast is the ship going?

A: We are going about 4 – 6 knots while we are going through the ice. Early on, when there was mostly open water, we were going about 12 knots.

Q: How many people are on the ship?

A: There are about 80 coast guard – of this there are 7 Marine science Techs. There are 31 scientists and support.

Q: In the Arctic, are there more hours of day or night?

A: There are more daylight hours in the Arctic in the summer than hours of night. Right now, September 1, 2011, there is 15 hours and 23 minutes of daylight. The sunrise is at 5:45 AM and sunset is at 9:08 PM.

Q: How long is the cruise?

A: The USGS Arctic Cruise is seven weeks long and ends on September 28, 2011.

Q: Is the ringed seal endangered?

A: One of five subspecies of ringed seals, the Saimaa in Finland, is already listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 2010 it was
proposed to list four subspecies of ringed seals (Arctic, Okhotsk, Baltic, and Ladoga) found in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic as threatened under
the Endangered Species Act due to diminishing sea ice and reduced snow cover. The comment period for this action was extended to March 25, 2011.
Public hearings on this issue are continuing.

Here is a link for more information:

Q: Is the USGS doing baseline studies of marine organisms in the Arctic Ocean as part of the ocean acidification research?

A: Yes, we are performing some experiments in the laboratory on board the USCGC Healy using skeletal plates from a benthic organism called an ophiuroid (or more commonly brittle stars which are closely related to starfish). The skeletal plates of these organisms are made from calcium carbonate and are susceptible to dissolution in seawater with a lower pH that is undersaturated with respect to carbonate minerals. The purpose of our experiments is to determine whether the seawater in our study area causes any dissolution or corrosion on these skeletal plates.

Q: How thick is the ice that we see from the aloftcom?

A: We are surrounded mostly by first year ice right now and the average thickness is about one meter.

Q:What’s the weather like? How many hours of daylight do you get?

A: Today, August 17, the weather is overcast and a brisk 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature is a chilly 39 degrees Fahrenheit. At this time we have 19 hours and 5 minutes of daylight and 4 hours, 55 minutes of night. The sun rises at approximately 4:55 AM and does not set until approximately 12:00
AM. You can get hourly updates of our weather conditions by going to our Arctic Cruise 2011 page ( and checking on the current location of the USCGC Healy. On the map, click any of the red or yellow markers along the cruise track line and this will give you our current weather conditions. The tracklines, weather, and picture view from the USCGC Healy are updated hourly…enjoy!

Q: How does Carbon Dioxide (CO2) cause the ocean to become more acidic?

A: Carbon dioxide (CO2) occurs naturally in the atmosphere and oceans. When the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is greater than the concentration in seawater, it can be absorbed by seawater at the surface of the ocean. When carbon dioxide reacts with water, it forms a naturally occurring acid call carbonic acid. When the concentration of carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, more is absorbed by the ocean, and more carbonic acid is produced. Increasing the amount of carbonic acid in the oceans increases the acidity (or decreases the pH) of seawater.

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