Today the research vessel Sikuliaq pushed off from the Seward railroad dock just after the science party and crew completed the requisite pre-cruise safety drills. The sunny skies were great – it is always a pleasure to see the snow-covered mountains that surround Resurrection Bay – but the strong wind (gusting to 40?) and bitter temperatures (close to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) made being outside pretty uncomfortable after just a few minutes. In addition to the foam streaking caused by high winds on the ocean surface, tendrils of “sea-smoke” wafted by the ship in the stiff breeze as the cold, dry continental air sucked moisture out of the bay. The sea-smoke is a phenomenon in which wispy clouds of evaporating moisture rise away from the ocean surface like steam from a boiling pot of water.
It was so very satisfying to make my first Sikuliaq conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) cast at oceanographic station GAK1. GAK1, which stands for Gulf of Alaska Station #1 is UAF’s long-term ocean climate monitoring station in the northern Gulf of Alaska (see http://www.ims.uaf.edu/gak1/). The station is located at the mouth of Resurrection Bay, just south of Bear Glacier. GAK1 is home to one of the longest-running temperature-salinity profiles found anywhere in the North Pacific. Data collected at station GAK1 are used in climate studies, annual ecosystem assessment reports, fisheries, marine biology, and oceanography students’ studies, and peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. Begun in December 1970, the GAK1 time series sampling was initiated by now-retired Professor of Oceanography Tom Royer, formerly of UAF and Old Dominion University.
Tom’s legacy reaches far beyond GAK1. He also spent a considerable portion of his career advocating for a new Alaska region research vessel to replace UAF’s previous research vessel, the R/V Alpha Helix, which was already aging in the early 1980s when UAF first acquired the Alpha Helix from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. With Tom’s persistence and the help of many other individuals and institutions (including UAF and NSF) that all helped work toward the common goal of a new Alaska-based research vessel, we now have the brand new Sikuliaq. So, I find it fitting that we record some of the first data collected by the Sikuliaq in Alaska’s waters at Royer’s station GAK1.
We are currently aboard the ship as participants in the Sikuliaq’s Ice Trials cruise in order to assess this new vessel’s capacity to work in first-year sea-ice and to help the ship’s crew familiarize themselves with the vessel’s operation in ice-infested waters. Our voyage began today in Seward. Having taken a CTD cast and collected some water samples at GAK1 this afternoon, we are currently steaming toward Dutch Harbor, where the remainder of the science party will join the ship before heading north into the Bering Sea. Due to limitations in my schedule, I’ll only be aboard as far as Dutch Harbor, after which Roger Topp, Head of Production for the UA Museum of the North, will carry on writing periodic blog updates from the cruise.
Written by Seth Danielson