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Journals 2008/2009

Steve Howard
Meadowdale Middle School, Lynnwood, Washington

"Seafloor Mapping in support of the Law of the Sea
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy
August 12, 2008 - September 5, 2008
Journal Index:
August 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18
           19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25
           26 - 27 - 28 - 30 - 31
September 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

August 17, 2008
Taking it all in
Approximate position: 550 nautical miles from Barrow, 630 nautical miles from the North Pole

Getting out of bed at midnight for my watch, I could see that the ice had really thickened over the last five hours. The watch went smoothly, as we are still basically in transit north to where the unmapped area awaits. A couple of times the ice was too thick in ridges that run across the landscape, and we had to do "back-and-ram" procedures to break through. One of my favorite places is at the bow of the ship, because you can lean over and watch the prow crush through the ice with a sound like one would hear tearing a head of iceberg lettuce in half with your hands. I'd assumed that the ship would "cut" through the ice like a knife pushing forward, but instead I can see that the ship rides up and over the larger sections of ice and then at some point the ship's mass smashes down and pulverizes it into chunks. There is something mesmerizing about watching and listening to the ship moving through the ice, and I find that I can easily lose an hour watching this when it feels like only ten minutes has passed. Time is strange up here; back home we are constantly aware on some level of the position of the sun and the amount of light and dark to get a sense of where we are in our day or night. Up here, there is little change in light at all, so my body "clock" feels like it is always day and then at some point I realize how sleepy I am and have to crash for a few hours. It's really hard to describe unless you have been up here to experience it. The whole idea of what a "day" means is redefined. Because I am almost perpetually groggy, I nearly always greet people with "good morning" regardless of what time of day it actually is!

"Sunbathing" on the deck of the Healy
View (from the Bridge) of the bow of the ship as it breaks through the ice

"Today" (for lack of a better word!) was beautiful and sunny, sporting a crisp blue sky and fairly mild temperatures. The landscape soaked up this extra light, and the ice below the surface took on a rich powder-blue hue which, contrasted sharply with the brilliant white above and the dark waters below. When not on watch, I spent most of my day staring at the scenery from various places on the ship and taking photographs. Everyone is settling into a steady rhythm, and the initial frenetic excitement of getting started is being slowly tempered with an awareness of the long cruise ahead. As today is my anniversary, I am also thinking about my wife and daughter at home, and appreciating their sacrifice and support in allowing me to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Janet and Emma, wherever you are, I love you!

Amazing blue color of the Arctic ice

Marty Reedy is a "Biological Science Technician" for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a bird specialist, Marty is on the Healy observing wildlife to collect baseline data about Arctic Sea populations of pelagic seabirds such as Ivory Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Crested Auklets and Dovekies. As the Arctic opens up with the melting polar ice, Marty's data will be helpful is establishing the need for Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) for these birds and other wildlife such as polar bears, arctic foxes, seals, and whales. Marty spends much of his time up on the bridge, where windows allow a panoramic view of the landscape as he scans for life (not an easy thing, since many of these species are colored white to blend in to their surroundings). Marty is a quiet and patient observer, and I enjoy talking to him about what he is looking for and what he has seen. "If I'm patient enough," Marty says, "there is that reward at the end when you see something really amazing."

Marty Reedy on the bridge looking for Arctic wildlife