The Bering Sea Lashes Out

By Carin Ashjian for The Arctic Winter Cruise 2011

The Bering Sea is gnashing its teeth and flailing around. Clearly it took offense at our attempts to wrest the secrets of plankton overwintering from its icy depths.  We have been unable to work for a day and a half now because of bad weather. Two nights ago, we were working across a line of stations that lie to the south of Saint Lawrence Island.  We knew that a low pressure system was going to come in but we thought we had time to finish the line.  No such luck.  At around 3 AM the winds were blowing 40 but Healy was able to hold station and the team conducted a CTD cast, Bongo ring net tow, and Video Plankton Recorder cast.  By 430 AM the winds had increased to 50 knots.  The intrepid team suited up to tackle the next station but didn’t get much further than the door before realizing that they were prone to being blown off of the deck.  Wisely, they withdrew and admitted defeat.  We then turned to the east to reach the shelter of sea ice where the waves and swell would be dampened.  As we moved east, the winds increased, with gusts of up to 70 knots.  The ship pitched, flinging spray on the bow and upper levels of the “house”.  In my room, the spray hitting the front of the ship sounded like wet plaster slinging across a wall.  In between the smacks of plaster, I could hear frozen bits of snow needling the side of the ship like windblown sand.   Luckily, the wind speeds dropped to 40 knots after a few insane hours of 60+.  We reached the shelter of a tongue of ice extending across the northern Bering Sea and remained within the relative calm for over a day.  Right now, we are moving slowly back towards the location where we had to abandon sampling. Winds have dropped to 30 knots and seas are moderating.  We hope to be able to sample later tonight.

The view from the bridge this afternoon. Winds were about 40 knots at this time. Note the water streaming off the surface of the waves. Despite the high winds, Healy rode very well and was quite comfortable.

Two days ago we diverted to Nome, AK, for a personnel exchange.  It was strange to see the lights of civilization after so many weeks at sea with no lights and no other ships.  The ice was quite beautiful in that region but also very dynamic with a lot of movement and with the ice under a lot of pressure.  As we lay quietly waiting offshore for the helicopter flight, the path that we had broken through the ice closed behind us.  Ice from the two sides of the path continued to push together, crumpling and rising up in a ridge of jumbled, ice chunks.  I could hear screeching as ice moved past the hull, somewhat akin to the sound of fingernails on a chalk board.  Strange to hear, since we were not under locomotion and pushing against the ice, we were just sitting still.   By 1330 the personnel transfer was successfully completed and we moved off to the south to sample the Bering Sea.

The sunrise as we moved close to Nome, AK on Dec. 1. This was taken at about 10 AM.


The moon is visible over the sea ice in the waning light of the day as we move south from Nome towards the northern Bering Sea.


Very thin ice. The white chunks are about the size of my fist and were propelled across the surface of the sea ice by the ship, leaving scraping tracks.

The low pressure systems just keep rolling through the Bering Sea, one after another.  We are going to spend the rest of the cruise dodging bad weather, snatching precious sampling opportunities between bouts of laying low and riding it out.  No one ever said that working in the Bering Sea in December was going to be easy!

Bob picks copepods in the “cold room”. We pick the animals from experiments out in this room that is kept at ambient temperature, in this case about -1C or just above the freezing point of seawater. Plankton are very temperature sensitive and we cannot warm them up or they will not be in good condition for the experiments.


Joel rides his miles on his bike in the main lab.

By Carin Ashjian for The Arctic Winter Cruise 2011, WHOIExpeditions Sunday December 4th, 2011

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