Monthly Archives: August 2015

The end of the road

The R/V Sikuliaq hove to in Port Clarence

The R/V Sikuliaq hove to in Port Clarence

A bit over 100 nautical miles north of Nome is the natural harbour of Port Clarence, a final sanctuary from Alaskan gales before the Bering Strait and quite literally the end of the road.  The ArcticMix team was waiting for the final two members to arrive by air into Nome where they were then to head overland via challenging 73 miles of wilderness roads to a small community on the shores of Port Clarence named Teller.

Sitting on a spit of land which separates the bay of Port Clarence and the inner Grantley Harbor, Teller is an Inupiat village that depends on subsistence hunting and fishing.  And with crew and scientists to transfer to and from the R/V Sikuliaq out in the bay the ArticMix team was depending on the logistical support of Teller and its road access back to Nome.

The waters of Port Clarence, while calm in comparison to what was raging outside the bay, were still a challenge for small boat operations.  It was going to be a wet ride.  Word came over the deck radio that it was time to launch the rigid inflatable boat (RIB) from its cradle high on the Sikuliaq’s second deck.  The orange hull hit the grey-green water and the outboard sent the RIB out over a bay part white with spray and foam.  The dark blue sides of our ice-breaking home disappeared into the distance as our small craft lurched through the chop towards the low, dark spit.

The beach was a strip of flat black shale-like stones on which was perched the tools of the trade for the local fishermen, their skiffs ringing the curved coastline.  Securing the RIB we set off to find a man named Joe to thank him for his recent assistance landing our small boat on the spit at Teller.

Joe, who had dark grey-streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail, introduced us to his huskies and said driving his sled dog team on the 150 mile round trip to Nome twice a week in Winter was common.  We were approached by another local named Jacob who was very keen to understand what had brought us to his coastal home on the Bering Sea.  Jacob, a young Inupiat man who had recently finished education in a nearby community school, was intensely curious about our lives and work aboard the big blue ice-breaker sitting just offshore his home.  He told tales of the many methods of local fishing and the reindeer herding that still occurred 123 years after first being introduced here in 1892.

Our scientific colleagues awaited, happy to see us after their long journey from far-off parts of the world which slightly unexpectedly finished at the end of the road in Teller.  Without access to this community and the safe harbour along which its cozy buildings nestle the ArcticMix voyage would have hit very troubled waters early.  We returned to the R/V Sikuliaq grateful.

  • Thomas Moore for the ArcticMix team (Photos: Faith Haney and Thomas Moore )

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There’s no place like Nome

The “combi” 737-400, a passenger aircraft modified to take cargo in place of half the seating capacity, circled for a second time.  Cloud hung low over Nome, Alaska and a westerly gale was building as the airliner finally touched down on the runway.  We had to get to the ship quickly.

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The R/V Sikuliaq, sea-going home to the ArcticMix team for the next month or more, was dockside in Nome but the heavy weather was a threat to safety in the small, narrow harbour.  Departure was moved forward two whole days to 1700 hours, Monday.  On an oceanographic science voyage, where the dock-side preparations are typically frantic when time is measured in days and not hours, this felt a bit like madness.  But in Alaska weather is the master and you work to the winds and seas.

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The preparations are vital.  The ArcticMix team brings a unique set of custom designed and manufactured scientific instruments, technology that will hopefully allow the team to make rare measurements of the Beaufort Sea’s physical structure at a very small scale.  The secrets of these small scale ocean physics may answer questions about why Arctic ice is melting faster than predicted by current scientific knowledge.

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It’s 1712 hours on the 24th of August and the 261 foot, Polar class 5 rated R/V Sikuliaq squeezes by Nome’s rock jetties as building waves peak across the barway.  We are away, ahead of the storm, and steaming north to find some better shelter for the ArcticMix team to get back to preparing for colder climes past the Bering Strait.

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  • Thomas Moore for the ArcticMix team

The ArcticMix team is assembling

From across the United States and the world a team of experts is packed and on the way to Nome, Alaska to joining the R/V Sikuliaq – pronounced [see-KOO-lee-auk] – a 261-foot oceanographic research ship capable of supporting scientists in the ice-choked waters of Alaska and the polar regions.

The ArcticMix team will be together in Nome by August 24th to prepare their new ocean-going home to depart for the Beaufort Sea on August 27th, a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, and west of Canada’s Arctic islands.

Find out more about why we are taking this journey – the science.

Questions?  Inquiries?  Send us an email.

ArcticMix is funded by the National Science Foundation.

scripps oceanography uc san diego