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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 18, 2008
Learning About The Ice Buoys
Current position: 680 nautical miles from Barrow, 500 nautical miles from the North Pole

Larry Mayer decided to release me from my midnight to 8am watch duties so I can be more flexible with my time and do my job of documenting what's going on around me more effectively. I think this is going to help me out a lot, since I've been on watch all "night" and sleeping intermittently throughout the "day" when many of the other scientists and researchers were busy with their projects. Plus, I am able to get a more consistent sleep schedule and my brain is in less of a fog. Thanks, Larry!

Feeling more rested and with a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and pancakes in my belly, I spent a good bit of time today hanging out with two engineers on board, Peter Legnos and Walter Lincoln. These two have designed a pair of buoys for NOAA that will be placed in the ice and transmit data about ice and air temperature and barometric pressure for the next three years (or until the battery runs out, after which they are considered "dead" and abandoned). Developing a buoy that can withstand the harsh changing conditions of the Arctic is no easy task. These buoys are specially designed to withstand both freezing and thawing periods, and are shaped like ice cream cones so that they "pop up" as the ice freezes beneath them and thus stay above the surface of the ice so they can transmit data. They also had to consider polar bears, which are known to be very curious and seem to like to play with science equipment, chewing on the rubber parts and batting around the antennas like a game of T-ball! That is certainly something that I would have never thought about! Walt and Peter are very friendly guys, and I welcomed the chance to help them out a bit moving the buoys around and stenciling contact information on them should anyone find them after their batteries run out. It was nice to get my hands and eyes off a computer screen and onto a set of wrenches and screwdrivers. I can just imagine some Russian fisherman coming across one of these in their nets 5 years from now and wondering if they just found a spaceship. Peter thinks that whoever finds them will make some very attractive flower pots with them! It may not be until much later in the cruise that they are actually going to be able to get out on the ice and place the buoys. I look forward to watching this happen.

Two views of the ice buoys which will be deployed from the Healy

Besides working with Walt and Peter, it was a fairly typical day of meal times, a science talk about plate tectonics and the formation of the Arctic basin, and (as always) looking at this fantastic Arctic scenery. Today I saw an "ice bow" which is like a rainbow but without the color (I tried to get some shots of it, but couldn't get it to come out). I also watched some Coast Guard guys deploy an "XBT" which looks a bit like a harpoon gun and sends a sensor down thousands of meters to measure changes in water temperature. This is done twice per day. Because temperature changes the density of water, and sound travels differently in water of different densities, this data is needed to calibrate the echo-sounder as it bounces signals from the ship to the seafloor and back.

XBT sensor about to be launched from the Healy

Peter Legnos and Walter Lincoln are both engineers who were awarded a NOAA grant to design the ice buoys being deployed on this cruise. Their buoy design has been field tested in Lake Champlain in Vermont, and this will be the first big test in Arctic conditions. Though they describe this as a "very tough environment," both Walter and Peter said they feel confident that this design will perform well, and they hope that their buoys will provide a versatile platform for a variety of scientific monitoring equipment in the near future. When I asked them about this expedition, Peter mentioned, "We have bright and interesting people on board with a good sense of humor, which helps when you're out at sea for awhile." Other projects that these engineers are involved with include ice buoy designs that can be dropped from aircraft, hurricane monitoring systems, and mine neutralization devices using marine mammals such as dolphins. I've always loved to build things myself, and it has been fun for me to talk to Peter and Walter. "I feel proud when things work right," says Walter. "It's a feeling of accomplishment." Peter and Walter, you'll have to drop me an e-mail three years from now and tell me how these buoys did!

From left, engineers Peter Legnos and Walter Lincoln