Earlier this month, Barrow, Alaska-based CPS and UMIAQ staff helped some 35 researchers, media members, NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, Coast Guard (USCG), Navy, and other federal-agency personnel, as they embarked the USCG Cutter Healy for the fourth annual Extended Continental Shelf Survey. A joint effort between the US and Canada, the survey focuses on mapping the sea floor off the coasts of Alaska and Canada. Data collected during these cruises may help policy makers from each country verify where they have natural resource rights in the Canada Basin under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which spells out how countries define their marine boundaries. (For more on the UNCLOS, visit http://www.flipseekllc.com/mmsextendshelf.html)
As the northernmost settlement in Alaska, Barrow seems a good place to set sail for a cruise in the Arctic Ocean. Since the small, remote village lacks a deep-water port —and has no roads in and out of town for that matter—embarking a large vessel here presents some logistical challenges which were overcome with advance planning and much coordination. Passengers and cargo arrived by air on 13 August, and the Healy anchored off coast two days later, right on schedule. Everyone assembled in the North Slope Bureau’s large search-and-rescue helicopter hanger for pre-flight activities before transferring to the ship. With rare, fair weather in Barrow, cruise participants flew to the Healy and the cruise got under way on 16 August.
“The transfer could not have been this successful without the North Slope Bureau Search and Rescue allowing us to stage out of their helicopter hanger,” wrote CPS Barrow staffer Faustine Bernadac who coordinated CPS/UMIAQ support, “So I personally would like to thank them again for their great help.”
We’ve heard that the cruise is going well. The first few days, the Healy worked alone off the coast of Barrow, mapping an area called the Barrow Margin. According to a post by Capt. Andy Armstrong of the NOAA-University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center (CCOM), weather did impact some of the measurements—but in unexpected ways. Calm seas and blue skies combined to create two distinct water layers—warm, fresher water lying atop the colder, saltier water below, affecting the sonar signal. Experts had to correct the data for this distortion. A day or so later,
things got back to polar-normal when wind-tossed seas stirred the waters again. (Visit the CCOM website to keep up with Armstrong’s reports from the Healy.)
This work completed, the Healy steamed toward a northern rendezvous point to meet the Canadian Coast Guard’s St-Laurent, mapping enroute. The St-Laurent pulled alongside the Healy as planned on 23 August, and, after a day of science and planning meetings, the international team set out to begin studying the main aim of the cruise, a line stretching from the Chukchi Cap north to the Lomonosov Ridge (see the cruise track, below). Personnel aboard the two vessels will work together for about a month
before parting ways around 23 September. The Healy will break ice for the St-Laurent as needed, while collecting ocean-bottom (or bathymetric) data, primarily using a multi-beam echo sounder. The St. Laurent will conduct seismic profiles to establish sub-bottom characteristics.
In addition to the Extended Continental Shelf survey, USGS and University of Florida scientists aboard the Healy are collecting water samples for a study of Arctic Ocean acidification. The team is also updating a website. Follow along—and submit questions, if you like—at http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/ocean-acidification/arcticcruise2011/ –Kip Rithner