Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Altered Arctic

walrus

Feature Stories

As the ice recedes, scientists seek signs of life in warming seas.

January 17, 2017

Story and photos by Kimberly Kenny

The ship glides through the frigid stillness of the Arctic Ocean. On this September night, the Chukchi Sea off the northwest Alaska coast is a quiet, snow-globe world. A maze of ice sculptures screeches along the hull. Radio chatter mixes with banter between scientists and the gurgle of brewing coffee.

Laurie Juranek worriedly taps her long fingers on her thermos. Sea ice threatens her carefully laid plan to sample water from pre-determined spots. The map in front of her shows large swaths of ice directly over the ocean patches where she'd like to deploy equipment.

Sometimes, when the ship encounters ice, she stands on the bridge in fascination, visibly calmed, occasionally taking photos.

But tonight is not the time to be meditative; tough decisions must be made. Where should Juranek direct the ship? Which science should be prioritized? The cost to operate this vessel is about $50,000 per day. Teams from Oregon State, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the University of Alaska Fairbanks all need time to collect data.

Read more of Altered Arctic in Terra.