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5 August, 2002

It’s August, right? It was tough to tell that this morning when they “piped” (announced over the ship’s intercom) that a mother polar bear and her two cubs were off the starboard bow. Everyone ran outside to get a better look and we were all greeted by icy stairs and railings, snow, and bitter cold winds. Just before the announcement, we had all heard members of the crew out on deck hitting the ice off the railings with baseball bats! Soon after we came back inside we heard “All hands are reminded to stand clear of the main mast due to falling ice.” Nothing stopped us from watching the mother polar bear and her two cubs until they were too far away to see. Unfortunately, even though they were clear with binoculars, they would have been a dot on a sea of ice if I had tried to get a picture. What we did see up close was the remains of the meal they were finishing as we approached. The ship passed right over the ice floe they had been on while eating their seal dinner. All that remained was a skeleton and some red ice as a reminder that polar bears are indeed natural predators. We are in a good area for spotting bears; we’ve seen 6 in the last 24 hours.

The polar bear is truly a symbol of the Arctic. They spend most of their time on the ice waiting for seals, and they are wonderfully adapted for that life style. They have such a thick layer of blubber and such warm fur that they can even get too warm if they are not careful! They walk easily on the ice with huge paws with furred soles, features which also help them to swim. Seals are a favorite food of the bears although they will also eat seabirds and even small beluga whales or young walruses. They even eat kelp (a type of seaweed) and, when on land, they eat berries, grasses and other plants. Cubs are born on land, usually two at a time, and they stay with their mother until they are about two and one half years old. When the mother is back out on the ice and hunting, the cubs will follow her in single file as she walks along. That’s exactly what we saw today! (Information from A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic by E.C. Peilou.)

Now that you have a mental picture of the polar bears, the snow and the icy stairs, try to picture Lee Cooper arriving at lunch in a bright blue tropical print shirt! Remember that Lee is the chief scientist on board this SBI summer 2002 cruise. Although he shares the job with Jackie Grebmeier (his wife, by the way), Lee is the “official” chief scientist for this cruise as Jackie was for the spring cruise. Jackie and Lee alternate 12 hour shifts (in theory only – they are both up most of the day and night), but Lee makes the final decisions and is the official link with the coast guard commanding officers. He decides when stations will be done and the order of events at a station. If special requests come in for sampling, Lee will decide if it can be done. He also tries to make certain that no time is wasted while on station. As soon as one sampling procedure is completed, another begins. One of his most important decisions is whether to proceed when weather or ice conditions threaten the scientific equipment. At the end of the cruise, it is Lee who will prepare the final report for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the organization that is funding the SBI project.

During the 24 hour steam to our next station, each of the scientists on board is preparing a mid-cruise report for Lee outlining the stations they have sampled, the work they have done, the challenges they have overcome, and other information about their work so far. By the end of the cruise, Lee will have a summary of what was collected and what work was completed. Final reports will be presented in March of 2003 when all the Principal Investigators gather to share their results and to begin to see how this all fits together. At that time, they will also start planning for the SBI cruises of 2004.

I have already told you a little about Lee’s work with oxygen-18 (see journal for July 15). In addition, he is sampling for Be-7 (an isotope of beryllium) and chlorophyll in the sediments. Be-7 is only found naturally in the atmosphere and it is concentrated in precipitation (rain, snow, etc.) which falls on the surface of the ocean and quickly attaches to phytoplankton cells. Because it has a short half life (the time it takes it to break down) of 53 days, it provides a good indication of the phytoplankton that have died recently and fallen to the sediments. Sediment chlorophyll analysis provides the same type of information since it is only active in living cells (and phytoplankton are the organisms which contain the chlorophyll.)

So many of these projects are tied together! Three projects involve sediment sampling, at least one other person is looking at sediment chlorophyll, and two more are using radioisotopes to track water as it moves through the Arctic Ocean. Science is truly interdisciplinary.

Just a final note – when Lee came on deck at 2 AM (August 6) to do van Veen grabs and Haps coring, he was wearing a full mustang suit as well as a hat, and gloves!

Despite the extreme cold, snow, and ice outside, Lee Cooper chose a bright tropical print shirt to wear while we all bundled up in our fleece. Lee is the chief scientist on board the summer SBI cruise.

Although we have seen lots of polar bears on this trip, I have not been able to get a picture of one. This picture was taken during the spring SBI cruise by Mark Webber, the wildlife biologist on board.

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