September 12, 2008
Today was a very long day full of learning experiences. It began at 9:00 am when I met up with the Exit Glacier guide for a hike onto the ice. Exit Glacier is one of several glaciers that form off the Harding Ice Field and make up Kenai Fjords National Park. We were joined by a couple from Australia. We were the only four hardy souls up for the experience which included a two hour hike up to the lateral moraine at the side of the glacier; donning helmets on our heads and ice crampons on our feet; crossing a few small crevasses; and hiking back down again; all in the rain. I learned it rains daily in September in Seward. However, the rain did not dampen our experience. It was awesome stomping around on a sea of blue ice checking out the holes (called moulins) and crevasses. We found that the snow from the previous winter had melted even though the area had experienced a heavier than average snow fall and a cold, late spring. Most of the top layer of compacted snow called firn had melted, too. What was left was solid dense ice. The compacted ice crystals were a beautiful blue.
I met up with Dr. Russ Hopcroft of the University of Alaska Fairbanks at about 6:00 pm at the Marine Center in Seward after a long hot shower and good meal. He is the principal investigator of the expedition I have been invited to join. He was very busy loading scientific equipment onto the Tiglax. At first I just took a few pictures and stayed out of the way.
Russ soon asked me to work with zooplankton expert Ken Coyle in rigging the multi-net. The multi-net is a complicated, convoluted piece of canvas attached to a metal frame and a series of nets. The device costs approximately $50,000 and is a very important part of the project. This is the device used to take zooplankton samples at depths up to 6000 meters. However, on this trip, the deepest we'll go is 600 meters and then only once since it takes a long time to get equipment to that depth. The 600-meter sample will be given to a deep sea zooplankton expert visiting Fairbanks next week. At each station, samples will be taken at 20 meter intervals down to 100 meters. These will be done at night since it is then that zooplankton travel up and down the water column. Sampling at night typically yields a more diverse sample and includes some of the larger species.
One piece of experimental canvas had been sewn on incorrectly. I found myself using an X-Acto knife as a seam ripper. I have always been better at ripping seams than sewing them and who knew that this skill would come in handy for research!
Next Ken and I worked together to pull the canvas over the metal bars of each opening. The canvas is heavy and stiff and the fit is exact. It took us about three hours of teamwork and tugging to get the canvas into place. I was thankful that we completed the task inside the Marine Center's huge garage rather than on the dock in the rain. It would have been twice as hard to have done it at sea with the roll of the ocean.
My next assignment was to attend a safety briefing lead by first mate, Dan Erickson. He took us on a tour of the ship pointing out safety equipment such as life vests, survival suits, life boats, and life rings. He discussed everything from personnel and meal times to life boats and man-over-board procedures. He had us practice putting on survival suits and made sure we could do it in less than a minute. I learned that I definitely need a size small or my hands can't reach the gloves! By the time we finished our briefing and medical paperwork, it was 11:30 pm. I made up my berth and unpacked quickly. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at about midnight.