Saturday, June 21, 2014

Back to the Bering Strait

We’re done! Science officially ended at 10pm on Thursday and the Captain came on the intercom and announced that we were steaming for Dutch Harbor. We celebrated the last CTD station with lollipops. Since there’s no alcohol on the ship handing out candy seems to be the main method of celebration here. 

When I went to bed Thursday night just after the end of science we were already out of the pack ice and just seeing small floes here and there, and when I woke up yesterday morning we were completely out of the ice for good. Yesterday felt more like a pleasure cruise than work. The weather was absolutely perfect, no clouds, calm seas, low winds, and temperatures around 40. And we saw land for the first time in over five weeks! Everyone was off shift and spending as much time on deck as possible in between packing up the labs. On the way up we were completely fogged in when we crossed the Bering Strait so we could just barely see the Diamede Islands through the fog. This time we had over 10 miles of visibility and we could see Siberia, Alaska, and both islands all at once for several hours. It was pretty cool to see both sides and realize that on a day this clear people in Siberia could definitely see the Alaskan mountains and think about walking there if there was a land bridge. It would be a long walk though and neither side looked especially hospitable. Siberia and both islands had towering cliffs right down to the water, and the Alaska side had tall mountains right to the coast, but at least no cliffs. Pretty cool. And there were whales everywhere! We didn’t get a good look at many of them, mostly just the spouts, but I did see a couple of tails. I think it was a combination of gray whales and bowheads, or at least that was what I was told. It was crazy though, if you looked in any direction for more than a minute or two you were pretty much guaranteed to see a spout. There was a pod of orcas for a minute too, but they were even harder to see. 

It stayed clear all day and into the night and Amanda woke me up around 2am to see the sun touch the horizon just below the Arctic Circle on the summer solstice. It didn’t quite set, but it brushed along the horizon to the north before it started back up and we got a little bit of sunset colors. The closest to a sunset we’ve seen in weeks. This morning it’s cloudy and fogged in again and the seas have come up a little. Not bad, but we can actually feel the boat moving for a change. We were warned yesterday to secure our stuff so that “your room doesn’t get underway overnight.” I keep hearing stories of the Knorr and people stuffing life jackets along the edge of their bunk to keep from falling out, but so far I haven’t been in any danger of falling out of bed. Or as they say here falling out of my rack. 

Now we have three days of transit back to Dutch Harbor. The atmosphere is definitely celebratory now despite the bad food and the huge job of packing up two entire labs and all of our personal stuff, plus all the reports to write and talks to present before the end of the cruise. I decided to end art at the same time as science, so now I’m just preparing photos for the website, writing for the website, and putting together a slide talk for the crew. It’s nice to have everyone transitioning back to normal sleep schedules so we can all hang out together. Channel Fever has definitely set in though! The talk of food is ridiculous, I think it’s worse than when people start talking about food on backpacking trips. 

Chris leaving the last ice station with drone and lollipop in hand
The deck crew waiting for the last CTD to come up

Siberia, the first land we had seen in weeks

The Diamede Islands, one is US and one is Russian

The Alaskan mainland

Whale watching

2am summer solstice sunset/sunrise in the Bering Sea. This is looking due North

night light

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ghost Busters

I took a day completely off from art making yesterday and did science almost all day. I had been starting to feel like I wasn’t getting enough done, even though in fact I’ve gotten a lot done, it’s just never enough, and I needed a break. Also there were various other things contributing to bad morale. The food situation is getting bleaker all the time: no breakfast cereal, no fresh fruit or veggies, no more real eggs (as opposed to the kind in a carton), and no more of the good tea bags. Then we had a problem with the evaporator that makes the fresh water out of sea water and had water rationing for a couple of days. Then I lost the ping pong tournament in the first round. Life at sea was getting grim for a while there. It could still be worse though. It could be like the safety drill we had that started with an imaginary steering failure and then escalated into an imaginary collision, water main break, electrical fire, flood, and chest wound. I think part of it is that everyone is just starting to get tired of being at sea and worried about getting everything done by the end and stressed out by the logistics of getting all the equipment back to all the various places it goes, but it does seem like morale is low all around.

So it was really good to spend almost the whole day out on the ice working hard and getting lots of sun and fresh air and really tiring myself out and not thinking about art work. I walked Carolyn’s transect with her to take ice measurements. At every ice station she does a 200 meter transect where she makes three different measurements of the snow and ice conditions: snow depth, ice thickness, and albedo, which is what percent of the light coming from the sun is reflecting off the ice/snow vs being absorbed. Fresh snow reflects about 85% of the light hitting it (turns out you can get actually get sunburned on the bottom of your nose from the reflected light and it’s not just mitten abrasion from nose wiping that makes it hurt!), whereas melting snow or exposed ice reflects much less and open water much much less. So it makes a positive feedback where the closer to melting the snow gets the more light it absorbs and the faster it melts, which makes it absorb even more light and melt even faster. I walked the transect taking the snow depth measurement with a high tech Ghost Buster type backpack instrument with a pole that I had to stick into the snow every 50cm and take a reading. It’s really cool but at the same time a little intimidating that I’m not just scooping slush or holding cords anymore, I’m taking the actual data for really important scientific work!

After the science station was done we had ice liberty again for an hour before dinner, and I learned another important fact about light reflecting off of snow, which is that if you wear a stick-on mustache on the arctic sea ice on a sunny day you will get a sunburn with the shape of a mustache on your face in white. So now I have a sunglasses and mustache tan on my face. It was really fun though. The weather was perfect and we all wore mustaches (I don’t know who brought them but it was a great idea), had a big snowball fight, played touch football, and ran around burning off steam for a little while. 42 days is a long time to be on a ship, even a really big one, so it was really nice to spend a whole 5 hours off of it just enjoying the Arctic and helping with science instead of trying to do something productive.

Mustache wearers in mustache formation


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Light and Ice

Some photos from the past few days....things are starting to wind down and we're preparing to turn south and leave the ice for good in a few more days and I'm going to miss it. A lot of these are from a night when Amanda and I got up at 3am again to see the light. If not for the fact that there are no meals then I think I would be tempted to become nocturnal out here, the nighttime light is so much nicer that the daytime.

Radar stuff looking beautiful in the nighttime light

Amanda photographing in the nighttime light

3:30am, as dark as it gets

Finally a melt pond!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


This is an explanation of my art process that I wrote for the outreach site, just posting it again here.... 

I know many people have the idea that artists get a sudden flash of inspiration and then are able to go straight to a finished piece, but for me art making is a long, multi-stage process. When I first start on a large scale project I often spend weeks researching, sketching, and brainstorming before I even start making anything. I usually start in a small sketch book with quick sketches, notes, and ideas. The sketches are very crude and basic and look nothing like my finished drawings; they’re just a way for me to record ideas, plan, problem solve, and keep track of different parts of projects.

From there I develop some of the ideas into drawings like the ones you see on this website. Some of these are finished drawings, like the snow buntings, but others are studies for larger or more complex pieces. They are a way to work out ideas from my sketchbook and develop images further on a small scale with simple materials before committing huge amounts of time and materials to an idea. Drawing also helps me learn more about my subjects by observing them closely. By drawing things repeatedly I gain a better understanding of walrus anatomy, or how plankton join together in chains, or how a polar bear walks for when I make the final piece. They become familiar.

When I feel sure of what I am trying to do and how I want to go about it, I finally move on to more complex pieces with more involved materials and processes. The sketchbook pages take only a few minutes for me to complete, the drawings usually take a couple of hours, and the finished pieces take days or even weeks. I haven’t made any really finished work yet on this cruise. I’m still in the drawing and image gathering phase right now, going back and forth between the two, filling sketchbook pages in between drawings as I work things out and ideas from one drawing lead to another.

I am trying to take full advantage of this opportunity to experience the Arctic and learn as much as possible from the scientists studying it while building up a body of drawings and ideas to work from later. I will make the finished work when I get home and have access to more tools and materials.

These are some of my sketchbook pages and more planning oriented drawings from the first half of the cruise so you can see the starting point for some of my work and that I too am capable of making bad animal drawings!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I don't know if people are looking at the outreach site or not, but I figured I'd put up some of the photos of my drawings here too. These are mostly from the first part of the cruise when I was so amazed by the scenery and wildlife that I couldn't even think about plankton. Lately I've been focusing more on the plankton and the science, but those drawings aren't photographed and up yet. The little birds are snow buntings. We had a flock of them following us and hanging out on the boat for a few days and they were so cute and inquisitive, not shy at all. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Out of the Ice

When I went to bed last night we were surrounded by ice floes in all directions. Not the solid, backing and ramming constantly, only going four miles overnight ice we were in a week ago, but still ice pretty much everywhere. When I woke up this morning from the best sleep I had had in days it was quiet and the boat was rolling. When I looked outside there was no ice at all! Completely open water. The vibration and sound of breaking ice makes it a little hard to sleep, but the gentle roll in calm open water is amazing. It puts me right to sleep and I never want to get out of bed. Which was ok today since it's Sunday and brunch isn't till 10am, so there's really no point in getting up at 7:00 if there's no food for three hours.

We're not planning to leave the ice permanently yet, but since the melt ponds aren't really forming yet and we have all the solid ice/pre-bloom data we need we went south into open water to get some more water and current data for a few days until the melt gets going more. Then it's back into the ice to hopefully check out the melt ponds. 

In other news, I got an Arctic Service Metal! It's an official government metal for working above the Arctic Circle in support of polar research for more than 21 consecutive days. We just passed 21 days above 66 33 latitude, so everyone on the boat got one. I also got a certificate with my name spelled correctly on it! The Coast Guard is is kind of into getting details right I think. I wonder how many artists have metals for supporting polar research above the Arctic Circle?

Open water outside the porthole this morning

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ice Liberty

I’ve been really lucky to get to go out and help out or just hang around at ice stations pretty much whenever I want to, but most of the crew and a few of the science party who aren’t doing directly ice related work never get to go out. So the officers gave us an official ice liberty day where the entire science party and all of the crew except for the bare minimum number of people required to keep the ship under control went out on the ice just to play in the snow. There was an official Coast Guard promotion ceremony promoting three people, lots of group photos, and then a couple of hours of play time on the ice. The Coast Guard played football while the science party had a snowball fight and took lots of cheesy photos. 

It was kind of nice to get some official playtime because for the most part people work really hard and really long hours. This is not the party time and/or boredom at sea that I've heard stories of! We do play ping pong or board games occasionally (my ping pong skills are actually improving!), and there are movies in the helo hangar every Saturday, but most people are either working or sleeping nearly all of the time and there's very little down time. Even though I make my own schedule and don't have specific shifts I still spend most of my time working, whether it's research, learning from the scientists, or actually working on artwork. It's kind of like being back in college. We live in a dorm, eat in a dining hall, play cards in the common room, and work and study all day and into the night. But there is no beer. 

I'm actually kind of enjoying it in a way though. It's giving me a taste of whether I would actually want to go back to the academic world for grad school or not, and I think I might. 

I'm in this one too but you can't see me even with my extremely green jacket

The Captain