August 27, 2005
In the morning there was Phil in his cot. He had been out there helping until 2 am. They had cut and repaired the cable in three places, sacrificing only 150 feet out of fourteen hundred. Their hard work had saved today's work.
After breakfast we tried to decide what to do. Phil was still sleeping as we assumed Ned and Bill would be. About 10:00 am Bill called and said "Let's go." Sue Moore was planning to make her first flight if the weather cleared and Carin asked if I would rather stay behind for the flight. The weather report suggested we would not be able to stay out overnight so I had a choice and either one would allow me to catch my flight the next morning. I asked to go on the boat. I had spent a whole week with these people and as much as I wanted to see the whales from the air, I felt I could do the most good as a bird observer.
We were on the water by about 10:30 am and heading across the lagoon. A few days before I had met with another one of the researchers at BASC, George Divoky, who was studying the Black Guillemots nesting on a nearby island. As we headed out of Elison Lagoon we would pass very near the island and I promised I would keep a special watch for his birds. The weather was perfect, with little wind and a flat, calm sea.
Within an hour we had the ADCP and Acrobat in the water as we headed out on my last transect. The birds were showing up in good numbers. This morning I counted with confidence. I felt like I was getting the hang of this, too bad I would be leaving the next morning.
Today I brought along my video camera so I could show my students what we were doing and under what conditions. I filmed the scientists launching the ADCP and the Acrobat and working at the computers in between hustling to the bridge to record bird sightings.
Off and on throughout the day we made whale sightings. Most were so far away that we could only guess at the species. We began to convince ourselves (myself and Bill Kopplin) that we were seeing Bowhead Whales and became very excited. About that time an airplane came through the thick clouds, flying low. Sue Moore had just flown by, so Bill radioed them and we gave coordinates for the whales. They circled around and reported back that they were not Bowheads, but Gray Whales. I was glad to get a confirmation, but a little regretful that I hadn't taken the flight.The day went smoothly with the instruments feeding us data (although the ADCP was still being temperamental). Near the whales I recorded large flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters (a relative of the albatross), Arctic Terns and the Red-necked Phalaropes that seemed ubiquitous.
Today we settled into a groove which gave me a view of what it would be like for the crew when I left. They would continue to check the weather and take to sea when it was good, sleep and hunker down when it wasn't, work to keep their very complex instruments running, they would fill computer drives with reams of data to be analyzed at a later date, raise and lower instruments into the depths in flat calm or bruising rollers and eat and catch a nap when they are able.
I believe these scientists see the goal line. They know that what they are studying is important and useful. They endure the discomforts and crowded conditions of this small but sturdy vessel working here on the ocean at the top of the world. They express a hope to me that I may help to make their work known. They are happy to learn that I teach about global warming. I hope I can live up to their expectations.
We turned around and headed back toward Barrow. Along the way I once again helped to launch and retrieve the CTD, the VPR and the Bongo nets. The sea began to come up and the boat rocked more and more as time went by. I had the crew help to videotape myself in action. I was feeling melancholy, knowing this would be the last time.
I got addresses and over strong handshakes I told Bill and Ned how much I appreciated their patience and help.
It was around Midnight when we got back to the lab. They all went to their computers to do some work, I left to pack.
In the morning I shook hands all around and left my card in hopes that if they ever needed a teacher on another expedition they would think of me. Phil Alatalo and Steve Okkonen insisted on coming with Carin and I to the airport. I was touched - they should have been sleeping. Once I was checked in, I sent them off as the flight wasn't for another thirty minutes. More handshakes and I was alone with my thoughts. Before the flight boarded I thought back to a comment Carin had made to Aaron the night before as we left the boat and he commented on the bitter, cold wind. "I guess it is the Arctic." He said. "And just think", replied Carin, "someday you'll be able to tell your kids, 'I was in the Arctic when it was cold'."