The SODA (Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic) team left Nome, AK this morning and began our transit north to the Arctic Ocean. It will take us a few days to pass through Bering Strait, sail along the Alaskan coast and round the corner at Point Barrow. These first few days are a good time to get acclimated to the rocking of the ship and to adjust your sleep schedule so you’re ready to stand watch. We’ve divided the team into three watch groups who will be responsible for science operations throughout the day and night. I lucked out and got the 6am to 2pm watch so my sleep patterns can stay about the same. There will also be groups standing watch from 2pm to 10pm and from 10pm to 6am.
We’ll be having nightly science meetings at 8pm so that all the groups can stay updated on what everyone’s doing. Tonight was the first meeting. Jen MacKinnon, our chief scientist, gave an outline of the plan for the coming weeks.
First we’re headed to the shelf break. This is an area of the Arctic where warm Pacific Water which has come through Bering Strait meets the cooler Arctic surface water and dives beneath it. The Alaskan Coastal Current, which hugs the coast as it flows northward, has a few options when it meets the Arctic. It can continue its northeastward flow along the shelf break, it can make a hard left turn and flow the opposite direction along the shelf break, or it can subduct below the Arctic surface water. Even though the Pacific water is warm compared to the Arctic, this sinking can happen if it becomes salty and dense enough. What we don’t know is exactly how and why it becomes dense enough to sink. We also don’t know what controls the direction the water will flow along the shelf break. These are some of the things we’re trying to figure out. We’ll spend several days sampling the area with floating autonomous vehicles and profiling instruments from the ship attempting to get a 3-dimensional picture of the processes that are controlling the behavior of the water masses.
After our shelf break sampling, we’ll set out on a hunt for sea ice! It looks like some has lingered near the coast throughout the summer so hopefully we won’t have to go too far. Here, we’re interested in looking at how surface waves, internal waves, and mixing are affected by the presence of sea ice. We’ll redeploy those floating autonomous vehicles and spend a few days doing driving in and out of the ice collecting water column profiles.