Cruise Journal

Ocean Acidification and Climate Change Educational Outreach

The USGS Arctic Ocean Acidification team is proud to bring climate change education to the next generation of problem solvers.  Recently, USGS Arctic Ocean Acidification project educational outreach team member, Sharon Gilberg, spoke with students at Dunedin Highland Middle School in Pinellas County, Florida. Educational outreach on ocean acidification and climate change is important to our team at USGS. The students enjoyed a slideshow on the 2012 USGS Arctic Ocean Acidification Cruise and a discussion about climate change in the Arctic Ocean. A few of the students expressed a genuine interest in exploring a future career in science as a result of the presentation!

OA Team member Sharon Gilberg and students from Dunedin Highland Middle School.

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Water, Ikaite, and Ocean Acidification Team Return to Tampa

The team has arrived back in the Tampa Bay area from Alaska. They brought a few water samples and ikaite back with them. The rest of the samples will remain on the Healy until they are shipped back to Tampa Bay in November.  Stay tuned for more photos.

Ikaite and water samples arriving at Tampa International Airport. Photo: Lisa Robbins

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Packing up the Lab

As the cruise came to a close, the USGS Ocean Acidification team packed up the lab for transport back to Florida. The equipment had to be placed on pallets, tightly wrapped, and secured to avoid any damage during travel. The lab equipment and samples will stay on the Healy until it reaches Seattle, Washington. The pallets will then be offloaded from the ship and placed in a truck to make the cross country journey back to Tampa Bay, Florida.  The team members will be disembarking and flying home from Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

An empty pallet beside another that has already been packed up in the laboratory on the Healy. Photo: Bogdan Onac.

Packed pallets in the laboratory on the Healy. Photo: Bogdan Onac.

Bogdan Onac wraps the lab equipment on a pallet. Photo: Lisa Robbins.

A pallet of lab equipment packed and secured for transport. Photo: Bogdan Onac.



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Dredging: Now the Fun Begins in the Lab!

A dredge is a tool used by marine scientists to take samples of rocks and sediment from the ocean floor. During the course of our cruise, five different locations were dredged for rocks- Not only rocks came up in the dredge, but so did mud!


The dredge is being lowered into the sea by the Coast Guard. Photo by Lisa Robbins


The Coast Guard detached the dredge once it was brought on deck after hours of dredging on the bottom of the sea floor. Photo by Bogdan Onac

Ocean Acidification Team member Kate is searching through the mud for rocks to catalog- we think...or maybe she just likes to play in mud! Photo by Bogdan Onac

Hot water is used to spray down the excess mud off the rocks- you can see the steam coming from the water. The air temperature was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit so a little warm water was welcome! Photo by Bogdan Onac

This picture should go with the rest of the dredging pics: Kate McMullen(middle), acting as the curator of the rocks, and shipmates Kelley Brumley (left) and Evan McQuinn look over some of the rocks and prepare to catalog them.Photo by Robbins


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Oozing with Possibilities!

Calcareous ooze covers approximately 48% of deep ocean basins (Garrison, 2012).  It primarily consists of calcareous planktonic organisms such as foraminifera, pteropods, and coccolithophores in a matrix of clay and silt. Calcareous ooze is named for the calcium carbonate rich tests or shells of these tiny creatures.  When they die, their “hard parts” fall to the ocean bottom and, over time, build up to form ooze.

Last week a sample of calcareous ooze from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean was taken by scientists on the Healy.  A sample obtained by USGS scientist Lisa Robbins was examined and sieved for grains larger than 125 microns.  After, the clays and silts were sieved out of the sample, there was an interesting mix of sand-sized minerals along with a number of planktonic foraminifera.

Calcareous ooze dredged from the Arctic Ocean Bottom. Photo: Bogdan Onac

Sieved sediment fraction greater than 125 microns from calcareous ooze showing planktonic foraminifera among fragments of rock and mineral. Photo: Bogdan Onac

Additional photograph of sieved sediment fraction greater than 125 microns of calcareous ooze. Planktonic foraminifera among rock and mineral fragments. Photo: Bogdan Onac

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Community Observers

The Inuit or Inupiat are the native peoples of the Arctic Circle that live from Greenland, throughout Canada to Alaska.  Mabel Smith is an Inuit from Barrow, Alaska. On the Healy,  she is serving as a community observer.  According to the Healy website, community observers are “invited members of local communities who can in some cases fulfill the work of marine mammal observers.” The community observers provide information for their communities about scientific research cruises.

So far, Mabel has seen a few birds, spotted seals and the polar bears. Mabel spends her free time making owls and other crafts. She has also decorated a styrofoam to send down on the rosette for shrinking.

Community observer Mabel Smith with a styrofoam cup she decorated.

Mabel Smith holding her shrunken cup.

Snowy Owl crafts made by Mabel Smith and her shipmates.

Mabel Smith holding a fur bag that she is crafting.



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Ikaite – Unlocking the Secrets of a Rare and Unstable Mineral

The polar oceans stretching around our planet’s poles are permanently or temporarily covered with sea-ice. Because seawater has a higher salinity compared to freshwater, its freezing only begins when water temperature is approximately -3 to -4ºC (minus 3ºC to minus 4ºC). During the crystallization process, the seawater expels all salts and impurities, which concentrate at the surface of the newly formed ice or between the crystals. Recent studies in Antarctic and east Arctic polar oceans identified a rare hydrated calcium carbonate mineral, called ikaite (CaCO3·6H2O) among the products precipitated during freezing of cold seawater.  During our Arctic cruise this year, team member Bogdan Onac is studying this mineral formation in ice.

Ikaite is a highly unstable mineral, which readily transforms into calcite (the most common and stable calcium carbonate mineral) if the temperature in the surrounding environment rises above 4ºC.

Since ikaite’s discovery in polar oceans sea ice, scientists are trying to understand whether its precipitation triggers changes in the pH and CO2 content of the sea surface waters.  These issues are important in quantifying the amount of CO2 uptake by the ocean and when investigating the role played by the polar regions in the global carbon cycle.

During this polar expedition, samples of various types of sea ice are collected at different locations. The samples are stored in the refrigerator where they slowly melt at temperature below 2ºC to avoid transformation of ikaite into calcite.  Once sea ice completely melts, Bogdan filters the meltwater through 2.0 µm filters. The filters are then studied under microscope in the refrigerator and samples of meltwater are collected for various physical, chemical, and biological analyses that Lisa Robbins and Jonathan Wynn are performing.

USF Geology Faculty and Arctic Ocean Acidification team member Bogdan Onac studies the mineral ikaite under a microscope on the Healy.

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All About the Healy!

The USCGC Healy is the largest non-nuclear ice breaker in the world.  It can break ice as thick at 4 1/2 feet continuously at a speed of three knots.  According to the Healy’s website, the ship can accommodate up to 50 scientists and about 50-60 enlisted as well as officers at one time.  It can also work at a temperatures as low as -50 degree F.  No other ship will due in the challenging environment of the Arctic Ocean.

While onboard, USGS Ocean Acidification Project Chief Lisa Robbins had the chance to drive the Healy. She sent back some photos of the helm of the boat. The wheel was quite small for such a large ship.

Lisa Robbins at the wheel of the Healy.

The wheel of the Healy.

Just how big is the Healy? Here are the stats from the Healy‘s website:

Length, Overall

420’0″ (128 meters)

Beam, Maximum

82’0″ (25 meters)

Draft, Full Load

29’3″ (8.9 meters)

Displacement, Full Load

16,000 LT


Diesel Electric,AC/AC Cycloconvertor

Generating Plant

Drive Motors

4 Sultzer 12Z AU40S2 AC Synchronous, 11.2 MW

Shaft Horsepower

30,000 Max HP


2 Fixed Pitch, 4 Bladed

Auxiliary Generator

EMD 16-645F7B, 2400kW

Fuel Capacity

1,220,915 GAL (4,621,000 liters)

Cruising Speed

12 knots @ 105 RPM

Max Speed

17 knots @ 147 RPM

Icebreaking Capability

4.5 ft @ 3 knots (continuous)8 ft (2.44 m) Backing and Ramming

Science Labs

Main, Bio-Chemical, Electronics, Meteorological, Photography


19 Officer, 12 CPO, 54 Enlisted, 35 Scientists, 15 Surge, 2 Visitors


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Sliding on Thin Ice: Another Polar Bear Sighting!

This polar bear was sighted on Saturday, September 15th from the Healy. The polar bear was observed having trouble walking on the thin ice.  The bear’s paws were breaking through the ice,  so it got on it’s belly, distributed the weight, and slid!

Polar bear on thin ice. Photo: Lisa Robbins.

Polar bear sliding on the thin ice. Photo: Lisa Robbins

Polar bear waking on the ice. Photo: Lisa Robbins

Polar bear sliding on ice. Photo: Lisa Robbins

Polar bear partially swimming, partially on the ice. Photo: Lisa Robbins



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Dr. John Hall and Early Arctic Ocean Bottom Photos

 In 1957, the first photos of the Arctic Ocean bottom were taken from a scientific outpost, Drifting Station Alpha, and were published by Hunkins in 1960.  Dr. John Hall was on another drifting scientific station, T-3 (also known as Fletcher’s Ice Island) several years (1966, 1967, 1968).  The outpost was named T-3 because it was the third largest radar target seen by weather B-29′s in the Arctic during the late 1940′s into the early 1950′s.  The scientific outpost drifted freely on ice in the Arctic Ocean for many years.  As a graduate student working on his dissertation, Dr. Hall and other scientists took photographs and piston cores from T-3.  The photographs below were taken in the 1960′s near the area where the Healy is located this summer.  

The photographs revealed tracks and trails of worms and other sea life, brittle stars, and, a rare crinoid attached to manganese nodules.  Although crinoids were abundant in the ocean millions of years ago during the Paleozoic Era, there are only a few species living today.  According to Arctic Ocean biodiversity (ArcOD),  four species of crinoids are known to live in the Arctic Ocean. 

Tracks and trails on the Arctic Ocean bottom, 1963. Photograph courtesy of John Hall.

A rare crinoid attached to manganese nodules on the Arctic Ocean Bottom, 1967. Photograph courtesy of John Hall.

Track line of the Healy in Dark Red and Track Line of T-3 is the bright red squiggly line.

Map of the Track line of the Healy (dark red) with the Track line of T-3 (bright red). The photo of the manganese nodules was East of the ship on the photo.

Brittle stars on the Arctic Ocean Bottom, 1967. Photograph courtesy of John Hall.

Map of Healy (dark red) track line and T-3 (bright red) track line.

Dr. John Hall photograph courtesy of Kelley Brumley

Dr. John K. Hall is retired from the Geological Survey of Israel. He remains interested in the Arctic and is the proud owner of the research hovercraft R/H Sabvabaa which is on its way back from the Gakkel Ridge at this moment,having just passed 84N. He is also working with Dale Chayes and others to develop the first bathymetric buoys that can be employed in the Arctic and other oceans.

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From Rosette to Lab: Journey of a Water Sample

The rosette is one of the the water sampling devices used by the USGS Ocean Acidification Research team. It is a set of 24 sampling bottles called Niskin bottles that are connected to a frame that is lowered to the seafloor from the ship by a cable. The bottles remain open at the top and the bottom while being lowered to the desired depth beneath the sea surface.

The Rosette is readied for deployment in the Arctic Ocean.

Each Niskin bottle can be closed from the Healy to capture a water samples at different water depths.  Once the rosette returns to the surface, it is placed on the ship so the scientists can collect the water from the bottles and preserve it for chemical analyses.

LIsa Robbins guiding the marine technician to close the Rosette water sampling bottles at specific depths from the Healy.

When the Rosette is back on board, the scientists carefully extract samples from the Niskin bottles and carry them to the laboratory for analysis.  Water sampling done on this cruise will provide data at depth about the Arctic Ocean such as alkalinity,  pCO2, carbonate, dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, pH, fluorescence, conductivity, and temperature.

USGS Technician Katie McMullen in the laboratory onboard the Healy.

Katie McMullen working on water samples in the laboratory on the Healy.


Paul Knorr working on water samples.

Jonathan Wynn prepping samples for anaylses.

Some of the water samples are preserved and stored for analysis back at the USGS Center for Coastal and Marine Research Laboratory in St. Petersburg, Florida – a long way for water from the Arctic Ocean to travel.

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Temperature Profile Buoy Deployed

In addition to our USGS Ocean Acidification Research Team, there are several other scientific teams and individual scientists currently conducting research on the Healy. One such scientist is Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon who is currently the Chief Scientist of the National Ice Center (NIC).  Yesterday, he deployed a buoy which will provide information about the temperature in the upper ocean. This buoy nicknamed “UpTempO” is an ocean drifter with a thermistor (temperature) string attached. This piece of equipment is designed to float around for about a year and will acquire the temperature of the surface as well as 16 other water column depths to create a temperature profile of the Arctic Ocean. The data and GPS coordinates are sent through a satellite to the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington (Seattle) to the Principal Investigator Dr. Mike Steel.

Unpacking the UpTempO buoy on the deck of the Healy.

Buoy deployment was filmed by the Weather Channel camera crew.

Taking the UpTempO buoy from the box.

Buoy on the deck of the Healy ready for deployment.

Buoy on the deck of the Healy ready for deployment.

Deploying the Buoy.

Deploying the buoy.

UpTempO buoy in the water.


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Under Pressure: Shrinking Heads

Hydrostatic pressure increases with depth in the ocean. At sea level, the pressure is 1 bar or 14.7 pounds per square inch (PSI).  With depth, the pressure increases by about 1 bar per 10 meters.

Human bodies are not built to withstand pressure at depth without special gear or submersibles, however, marine animals are built for pressure.  For example, whales are specially adapted with flexible bodies and rib cages that allow them to swim at depth without injury.  According to NOAA, the pressure at the deepest part of the ocean is equivalent to a person holding 50 jumbo jets or an elephant supported by a postage stamp.

While on research vessels,  it is common for scientists to bring along decorated styrofoam cups and styrofoam wig heads to send down in the ocean.  This is because styrofoam shrinks with depth and retains the same shape.  Styrofoam is made of polystyrene foam and is full of air pockets.  When styrofoam is sent down at depth in the ocean, the pressure pushes out the air and what is left is a great example of what pressure can do with depth.

Several team members brought decorated styrofoam cups and heads to shrink at depth.  On the Healy, the styrofoam cups and heads were sent down in a bag on the CTD or rosette sampling unit to a depth of  2712 meters (1.685 miles).  At the time, the Healy was located at 83° 18’ 8” N Latitude and 162° 08’ 6” W Longitude. The pressure at 2712 meters deep is approximately 3987 PSI or 271 bars!

Jonathan Wynn holds a styrofoam head before it makes the journey to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

Josh (part of the science party) flushes the CTD with distilled water and Steve (Coast Guard Marine Science Tech) unties the laundry bag full of cups and shrunken heads

Jonathan Smith, Cameraman from the Weather Channel films the bag with the styrofoam heads.

Heads are removed from the Rosette sampler by a Liz, a USCG Marine Technician.

Shrunken heads and cups removed from the bag.


Several styrofoam "shrunken" heads and cups lined up in front of a normal size styrofoam head.

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Polar Bear Sighting on Labor Day

Today a polar bear was sighted about a mile away from the USCGC Healy. The bear was spotted when the Healy was traveling through thicker ice at approximately 82°40’ 46” N Latitude and 174°34’ 57” W Longitude.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the polar bear is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  They are specially adapted to live in the icy Arctic with their water repellent coat, white coloring, and small suction cups on their feet.  The polar bear primarily eats ringed seals.

Polar bear on the ice in the Arctic Ocean. Photograph courtesy of Lisa Robbins.

Polar bear habitat in Alaska. Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


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Quonset Huts and a Snowy Owl: The Night Before the Cruise

The team stayed overnight in quonset huts at the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC).  Quonset huts are arched, lightweight buildings that are usually made of galvanized steel.  The huts proved to be very comfortable accommodations including a large living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms.   The BASC facility supports science on Alaska’s North slope and the exchange of information between scientists and the local community.

Barrow Arctic Science Consortium in Barrow, Alaska

Indoor picture of the quonset hut used by the women on the research team.

While at BASC, Lisa Robbins took this photo of a Snowy Owl perched on wire outside the quonset huts.  Snowy Owls live in the Arctic and have very keen eyesight plus they hunt both day and night.  The favorite meal of a Snowy Owl is a lemming.

Snowy Owl perched on a wire looking for prey.

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Update from the Arctic

The USGS 2012 Arctic Cruise is underway. The lab is up and running. The team has been collecting data from the beginning of the cruise and the first rosette water samples were taken on Monday (August 27th). The Healyis running through patches of ice and they expect to be in thicker ice in the next day or so.

Paul Knorr works in the laboratory measuring the alkalinity of a water sample.

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Boarding Day! Helicopter flight to the ship.

After spending the night in Barrow, the research team headed to the Search and Rescue building in Barrow.  They put on survival gear and boarded helicopters to be flown out to the USCGC Healy.  More photos and boarding day information will be posted soon!

Paul Knorr putting on his survival suit.

Paul Knorr and Jonathan Wynn receive pre-flight instructions.

The research team carry their bags to the waiting helicopter.

Once on board, the scientists received a briefing from Larry Mayer, Chief Scientist on the Healy.

Briefing by Larry Mayer, Healy Chief Scientist


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Rest of Team Arrives, Tour of the Barrow Area, and Interview by Swedish Television

The beautiful weather today was perfect for exploring the areas surrounding Barrow including the northern most point in the United States and a whale bone arch.   Dr. Lisa Robbins saw grey whales offshore and was interviewed by Benny Erikson, science producer, of Swedish Television.  Meanwhile, the rest of the USGS Ocean Acidification Team has arrived in Barrow and are ready to board the Healy tomorrow!

Whale bone arch in Barrow, Alaska

Swedish science journalist Benny Erikson and his photographer.



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Barrow, Alaska – On Top of the World

After many hours of travel, Dr. Lisa Robbins has finally arrived at Wiley Scott/Will Rogers Memorial Airport to a chilly Barrow, Alaska.

Wiley Post/Will Rogers Memorial Airport


Upon arrival, she found shipmate Monica Price was already in town. Lisa and Monica enjoyed some time on the beach in Barrow and Monica put her feet in the cold but refreshing Chichuki Sea. Next up: Interview with Swedish Television and a tour of the area.

Monica Price puts her feet in the Chukchi Sea.

Monica Price coming out of the cool Chukchi Sea.


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Traveling to Barrow, Alaska


The USGS office in St. Petersburg, Florida is over 4,000 miles from Barrow, Alaska. The distance did not stop Ocean Acidification Research team member Dr. Lisa Robbins from boarding a plane in Tampa, Florida on August 22, 2012 for a long journey to the top of the world. She flew a total of 19 hours with several stops along the way as there is no direct flight from Florida to Barrow.  The flight itinerary was Tampa, Florida to Charlotte, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington to Anchorage, Alaska to Fairbanks, Alaska to Barrow, Alaska…whew! Along the way, Dr. Robbins took photos from the plane of glaciers and the city of Anchorage. At the Anchorage airport, she also encountered a friendly polar bear on display. All in a day’s travel for research scientist!

Glaciers near Anchorage, Alaska from an airplane.


Anchorage, Alaska.


Dr. Robbins and a friendly polar bear display at Anchorage airport.

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Loading Supplies on the Healy

USGS scientific team member Paul Knorr traveled to Seattle, Washington to load supplies for the research cruise on to the USCGC Healy.  In the week prior, the supplies traveled by truck across the United States from St. Petersburg, Florida to Seattle, Washington.  The distance traveled by truck was approximately 2, 524 miles!  It was important for Paul to travel to meet the truck in Seattle to ensure that the supplies arrived safely and were loaded securely into the cargo bay of the ship. Next, the ship will leave port in Seattle and travel North through the Bering Straits to the Chukchi Sea near Barrow, Alaska where it will pick up the scientific research team.

Loading the Healy

Coolers containing supplies for the laboratory are loaded on the Healy.

Loading the Healy

Bin of supplies for the trip in the cargo bay of the Healy.

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Arctic Cruise 2012

On August 25, 2012, a team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, Woods Hole Science Center, and the University of South Florida (USF) will board the USCGC Healy in Barrow, Alaska, to begin a 4-week journey in the Arctic Ocean.

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