Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ice Waiting in Barrow

Barrow is proving to be quite a stop with now three Northwest Passage sailboats in the area. The Canadian Open Passage Expedition is in town. I consulted with Cameron Dueck over a year ago on how to transit the passage. Now here he and crew are, poised to move east, investigate for themselves, and see what happens. The other vessel is Baloum Gwen, a custom 49-foot metal sailboat skippered by Thierry Fabing of France which did the passage last year east to west. Now they are attempting to go back west to east. I believe this is unprecedented.

Everyone is looking at climate change issues. We have been meeting with NOAA scientists and whale experts including native eskimo whale captains. We played soccer on the blue field and while there heard stories of houses here in Barrow becoming unstable because the pilings weren't deep enough into the now unfrozen "permafrost." Traditional deep food storage in the permafrost is now in jeopardy as they need to be up to 25 feet deep instead of the 12-15. Hunters and fisherman are falling through the ice even in winter as warmer, fast-moving currents are melting the ice from beneath.

Today we listened to much of the Pt. Hope, Alaska, energy conference where oil companies were doing their usual things offering gifts of high-payng jobs and thriving local economies if only they are allowed to drill n Arctic waters. Native people are wondering what happens to their subsistence fishing and hunting when whales ears explode from seismic testing or these waters are fouled by an oil spill.
There are no large ship ports in the north and it is very shall. Quick response to a spill is virtually impossible.

These are a few of the issues and items we ponder as we wait for ice to clear to the east and continue on into the heart of the NW Passage.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ice Outlook from National Snow and Ice Data Center

This is a quote from the NSIDC which leaves some speculation as to what is taking place up here this summer. Sounds similar to my 2007 success on Cloud Nine but less rapid breakup of the ice. What will we see?

The Arctic is now in the midst of the summer melt season. Through most of June, ice extent tracked below the 1979 to 2000 average, and slightly above the levels recorded during June 2007. Warm temperatures and southerly winds led to quickly declining ice concentration in some regions, such as the Laptev Sea.

The contrast between high and low pressure is broadly similar to the atmospheric circulation pattern that set up in 2007. In 2007, that pattern contributed to a significantly accelerated decline in ice extent during July, and a record minimum low in September. Will the same acceleration in ice melt occur this year? If so, a new record low minimum extent becomes more likely. So far, an acceleration has not been observed. As July progresses, the Arctic sun gets lower on the horizon, incoming solar energy decreases, and the chances of such a rapid decline become less likely.

Photos From Nome to Barrow- From Ice to Science

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Top of the World

July 14, 2009 Barrow, Alaska
Here we are at our icy corner where we make a hard starboard and head east and into the heart of the Northwest Passage. But for now some rest and regrouping is going on aboard Ocean Watch. Our young mate Tyler Osberg left this morning and our educator, Zeta Strickland has arrived and is aboard OW to Boston now.

We had plenty of ice coming into Barrow and had to slip in close and take a shore lead through 1-3 tenths ice. Some trying conditions to make it in. We anchored off the downtown boatramp and immediately the current pushing ice like bowling balls our way. Within a couple minutes of dropping the anchor we had a huge ice floe on our anchor chain. Three of us grabbed ice poles and tried to pivot it off. No way. After some back and forth a piece broke off and the imbalance allowed us to spin it off.

We had to move. Around Pt Barrow we went. Found a better anchorage after 1-2 tenths ice and dropped the hook. 0530 July 13th. It had been 12 hours in the ice. We were beat.

Right in the middle of the big ice floe nailing our chain, Dave and Herb saw a "sea monster." A huge jellyfish. So we had science going on also in the midst of the chaos. Off went Michael, Bryan and Tyler for the jellyfish kit. We landed the biggest jelly yet and dissected it for a sample. Jellyfish as we now know are the "canary in the coal mines" of the seas and oceans. They tell us much about the health of our ecosystems so this is a huge part of our work aboard Ocean Watch. Sometimes science just happens at strange moments indeed.

The passage from Nome was eventful. Great sailing, Bering Strait, crossing the Arctic Circle and sailing the Chukchi Sea. The midnight sun was just as ordered on a spectacular evening off Icy Cape northward. Herb and I got some great kayaking in off Cape Lisburne above the Circle on a beautiful evening and we recovered a grounded Arctic research buoy on the way up here. We have been very busy out at sea.

Ice reports look favorable. We will wait a few days before proceeding east and hope a nice lead opens up for a great run to Herschel Island and Tuktoyuktuk. In the meantime, Barrow and an interesting community and some surprises to come...
DT signing off for now.

Monday, July 6, 2009

French Kayaker in Nome

We have a new friend. Jean-Gabriel Chelala just rescued from the Bering Sea in his kayak is now in Nome. He is fine but his dream has temporarily ended. He will soon try to get going again in Russia. I will tell more of the story here shortly. We just had breakfast while he told the Ocean Watch crew his amazing story. There are many news media links out there. Google- French kayaker rescued.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day to all. I want to say that I am thankful everyday that I am fortunate enough to be out here experiencing the beautiful natural world. Yes, it is under seige from many directions, but yet one must still sit back, enjoy and be in awe of the wonderful spectacle which only the natural world can supply. We must protect our natural resources for future generations.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Media Accumulating

Starting to be some good media stories out on our venture from the University of Washington, NASA, to REAL Science. Bad internet here in Nome, but please Google some of these sources if you have time. Thanks

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ice Forecast from the Canadian Ice Service

Well folks read this and make your own informed decision as we proceed in the Northwest Passage next week by crossing the Arctic Circle. You can get ice reports from the "links" button on my website and go to the Canadian Ice Service. Same ice info we have. Good luck with your own anaysis....

The only region where mean temperatures were above normal was in the Resolute
Bay area. The breakup pattern is quite normal for the Central Arctic region
except for the eastern Barrow Strait region which is already depleted of ice; this
typically occurs in the third week of July. In the Western Arctic region, the
breakup pattern is 1-3 weeks early in many coastal areas and by as much as one
month in isolated areas. During the last 2 weeks of June, open drift or less ice
conditions into Wainwright developed as well as an open water route between
Cape Lisburne and Point Barrow albeit small areas of coastal fast ice are still
present north of Wainwright. Kugmallit Bay cleared of ice during the last week of
June and some fast ice still lingers in the northeastern entrance to Mackenzie
Bay; the clearing of Mackenzie Bay is already 2 weeks late. The fast ice in
Amundsen Gulf and along the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula fractured; this occurred 7
to 10 days earlier than expected. A 60 to 100-mile wide area containing very little
ice developed along the southern Beaufort Sea west of Banks Island all the way
to just east of Point Barrow. This wide area quickly shrinks to only a few miles
wide north and northeast of Point Barrow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Few Photos

Ocean Watch arrives in Nome, Alaska

Again, lots of catch up but I am keeping a few notes daily and posting when we arrive.
Sitting at the Nugget Inn where OW has a room for working and off boat water usage. No water on our dockspace. Cleaned up the boat this AM. The local gold dredgers are more busy than ever. Gold rush times again. Now on to work....

Saturday, June 27 Bering Sea
0830 lazy morning departure from Dutch Harbor after quite a sleep by the crew; guess we all needed it. Dutch was its usual blend of locals, native peoples and company workers. The single entity is UniSea, a huge fishing top to bottom conglomerate who literally owns everything in Dutch from the bar and hospital to the police station. Mostly foreign workers from Asia Pacific rim. We learned that the fishery out here is changing. Fishing boats are having to venture farther away and Russia is effecting Dutch with their Barents Sea operations and transplanting species into that realm. Calm now in the Bering. Heading to Nome. Lots of birds and an unknown whale today with lots of scars. Now 100 nm offshore.

Sunday, June 28 Bering Sea
Great sailing day in the Bering Sea. Roaring along efficiently with the constant hum which begins at about 8 knots. Knocking off miles.

Monday, June 29 Bering Sea, Nunivak Is.
Just off Cape Vancouver near old friend Nunivak Island where Cloud Nine stopped going south in the lee of a big southern blow. Now Ocean Watch has stopped for a different purpose in calm, shallow waters (under 40') to do some science. Taking some jellyfish samples and doing some underwater accoustics with the hydrophone. Perfect opportunity to do some video interviews also.

Oh yes, and we identified the whale. It is a somewhat rare sighting of a Baird's Beaked whale. They are not seen often but are here in these waters of the Alaskan Gulf, Bering Sea and Northern Pacific waters.

We now are closing in on 3000 miles of sailing by Nome. What have we learned thus far? Ocean Watch has spent this time in the Pacific Northwest, Canadian/Alaskan Inside Passages, Gulf of AK, Aleutians and now Bering Sea/Norton Sound. The common theme in all is fisheries. The state of these fisheries is a mixed bag at best.

The native fisheries of Alert Bay are very strained and younger people have lost interest in fishing as a livelihood, but the sea remains alive in their culture. Upland issues in forests (over-logging, etc), like the Tongass, for example, lead to numerous problems downstream for the fisheries, as does commercial development. Farmed fish are a major competitor, but also pose a health/food safety risk as do all confined animal farming operations. Over-fishing and illegal fishing continue to plague the industry. Cruise ships have a huge impact on local communities/cultures and tax the infrastructure. A growing human population worldwide adds to the stresses already on the fisheries.

Climate change and ocean acidification are extremely complex additions to the equation. We sailed through an area of the Gulf of Alaska which is a "carbon sink" with a lower pH and is more acidic. The oceans and seas are absorbing CO2 at an alarming rate, an unsustainable one. The warming trend associated with a changing climate attracts invasive species and forces fisherman into more remote areas using more fuel in the process. Alaskan Polluck are heading north to cooler waters for instance.

Alaskans are fortunate to have had some good leadership but the continued popularity of seafood in growing population centers worldwide is going to add tremendous stress on an already stressed system. These are a few of the things which I, and we, on Ocean Watch are trying to learn more about and share as we can.

Tuesday, June 30th Norton Sound, Alaska
Last leg in. Under 100 miles. Into Nome tonight. Fantastic passage. Translated this means quiet, safe, and free of big moments. So different than 2 years ago. Looking forward to our open house and presentations in Nome on July 2nd.

Wednesday, July 1 Nome, Alaska
Arrived at dock 0030 Hrs. Safe and dry. Ready for our Nome visit.