A volunteer collects seawater from the deep on the Seward Line, Blog 3 of 4

October 11, 2017

woman drains water into bottle Pat Rivera empties the CTD. Terry Johnson photo.

This is the third of a four-blog journal. See Blog 1 and Blog 2.

Wednesday—Russ Hopcroft has a big day planned so we are up at 0600 to catch up from the preceding two days when technical issues slowed down our progress. Wind is up from the southeast, more like normal September weather, but since we’re in the sheltered waters of Prince William Sound it’s an easy ride. It was sunny yesterday at the stations in Montague Strait, where we passed a smaller research vessel headed out of the sound looking for whales.

This morning we proceeded toward Columbia Glacier, in the northern part of the sound at the head of a long fjord. It has retreated 10 miles in the last 35 years and now there is only water and ice-scoured rocky cliffs where the glacier stood within our lifetimes. Instead of one glacier at the head of the fjord there now are nine separate ice flows, some so diminished that they no longer reach tidewater.

The ship halted at the outer edge of the field of floating ice, still a couple of miles from the face of the biggest part of the glacier. Dave, the ship’s daytime deckhand, launched an inflatable boat and a bunch of us piled in. We got as close to the face of the ice as was prudent in the constantly shifting brash ice, and after Dave nosed the boat up to a particularly large berg, we all climbed onto the ice and cautiously walked around on it.

two women on shipStephanie O’Daly (left) and Laura Strom, handy on the CalVET. Terry Johnson photo.

After this short diversion we steamed south through the sound to other sampling stations. The sun was out and the wind so calm that I renamed the place Prince William Pond. At one point three killer whales swam parallel to the Tiglax, one even coming close enough to ride the pressure wave off the ship’s bow like a porpoise.

We methodically work our way through our designated stations, lowering and raising the CTD, tapping the big bottle for dozens of water samples in 60 milliliter specially marked containers. Each time the CTD comes up, four or five people converge on it, pulling the little nipple plugs that allow a small stream of deep ocean water to stream into bottles, jugs and syringes. Meanwhile, others are getting plankton samples from the two net devices.

Pat Rivera, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, is collecting samples to measure oxygen and dissolved inorganic carbon for ocean acidification research. Petra Lenz of the University of Hawaii is collecting Neocalanus, a large copepod which is also a focus of Russ Hopcroft’s work. Suzanne Strom and Kerri Fredrickson of Western Washington University are collecting phytoplankton and microzooplankton, one-celled ciliates and dinoflagellates that comprise the base of the oceanic food web. Ken Coyle of UAF runs the night shift and he’s targeting euphausiids (small crustaceans), large copepods, shrimp and small jellyfish.

We, the day shift that is, finished up our deck work about 2200 and I stood on deck awhile watching the night become inky black, not a light in sight in any direction, despite being surrounded by land. At one point, though, we encountered, transiting in the opposite direction, a big Crowley tug visible only by the array of lights shining from mast, deck and cabin interior.

— By Terry Johnson

See Blog 4

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.