The back deck of the Healy is a tough place to work. It’s wet, it’s cold, and the scientists slogging away there are always covered in mud. That’s because getting samples off the bottom of the Chukchi Sea is an important part of our mission this year.
One of the biggest transitions happening in the Arctic is occurring well beneath the surface of the ocean. As the waters warm and sea ice melts earlier in the year, the prolific ecosystems that inhabit the seabed are changing. This could have major consequences for everything from walrus and whales to people. Jackie Grebmeier, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, one of the architects of this cruise, has been collecting animals from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean for 33 years.
“Information from the sediments provides long-term insights into the overlying processes that are happening in the ocean and indicate the health and resilience of Arctic ecosystems to changing environmental conditions,” Jackie explained.
To collect this information, the crew on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy deploy a large scoop that grabs about 20 pounds of mud, brittle stars, clams, sea cucumbers and anything else that happens to be living on the bottom. By picking through these samples, researchers on board can tell what’s living there, how well they’re doing and if any newcomers are showing up because of changing ocean conditions.