Photo credit: Vancouver Maritime Museum

Photo credit: Vancouver Maritime Museum

Guest Blog: Brice Loose 

March 21, 2017

This summer the Oliver Hazard Perry will sail north up to Greenland, across Baffin Bay and into the Northwest Passage of the Canadian Archipelago a long-sought after sailing route that connects Europe to Asia.  If you haven’t read about the Arctic Voyage, have a look here:    

On July 28, 2017 we will begin our transit westbound through the Northwest Passage in partnership with the University of Rhode Island and David Clark Inc, funded by the National Science Foundation. This leg of the expedition will be composed of many intertwining pieces: traditional maritime voyage, multi-media broadcast hub, education training, and ocean science exploration.  We will splice these strands into a single expedition to navigate, learn, document, and explore the mysteries of the Northwest Passage.  The participants on this leg will be a diverse group of 34 undergraduate and high school students from across the country.  These students will participate in every strand of the expedition.

As the Chief Scientist aboard the Arctic Voyage, my job is to coordinate the ocean science and educational activities that will take place during the expedition. The science activities are motivated by the overarching goal to understand how waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago have changed as a consequence of the warming over the entire Arctic Circle. We will look for the effects that loss of ice are having on the ocean currents that move through the Arctic near Canada and carry nutrients, organisms, and heat towards the fisheries of the North Atlantic, Europe and the North Sea. 

This will be my second voyage aboard a tall ship, although the last one occurred nearly 30 years ago.  As a boy scout, I had the chance to sail aboard the SSV Argus, around Southern California.  We spent a week sailing around Catalina Island, climbing the yards, standing watches, swimming in the ocean, and exploring the shoreline of the islands.  As a kid who grew up in the New Mexico high desert, this was only my second time near the ocean.  In hindsight, I think that voyage sparked my fascination with water and the ocean, so in a strange way that first voyage has led me to this second one.  In between the two voyages I have been in both the Arctic and the Antarctic for field research a total of 6 times – approximately once every two years.  I am fascinated by the ice-covered regions of the planet, and this has been a principal area of research for me.

We will look for evidence that melting ice is releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the Arctic Ocean and atmosphere. We will also search for evidence that microbes – bacteria and archaea - may eat this methane before it can escape to the atmosphere causing further atmospheric warming.  We will deploy autonomous winged robots, called gliders that will navigate the waters of the Northwest Passage, looking for evidence of changes in water properties that affect the circulation.

As we navigate the islands and channels of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, we will look for critical indicator organisms at the base and at the top of the food chain.  This will involve using echo-location to count and track plankton in the seawater, then we will use nets to capture the plankton for further counting and identification using an automated imaging flow-thru microscope.  At the top of the food chain we will be identifying and counting seabird populations in the Northwest Passage. 

To make all these measurements, we will bring a flotilla of instruments aboard the OHP.  Some of these instruments we will lower over the side to measure temperature, salt, plant biomass, and water currents.  Other instruments use lasers and mirrors to measure chemicals, including gases and atomic isotopes.  These we use to understand the movement of greenhouse gases and the activity of invisible bacteria and archaea who live in seawater and feed from what is dissolved within it.

With the data we gather during aboard the OHP, we will be able update the state of knowledge on climate change processes happening in the Arctic.   We can look for recent abrupt changes in water properties and we will contribute these data to the monitoring archive that helps all scientists observe long-term trends and use climate models to make predictions.  These are the science goals for the Arctic Voyage; I hope you continue to follow this blog and tune in for our regular live broadcasts, which will take place between July 27 and August 28, 2017.

Read more about our voyage to the Arctic

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