The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' --Isaac Asimov
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Day 2: Under the Ice

January 15th, 2014 by eric

Barrow, Alaska
January 14, 2014
-28°C (-18°F), cloudy, moderate wind

Today — in our continued quest to find life in, on, and under Arctic sea ice in the dead of winter — we hit rock bottom. Well, ok… more of a sandy bottom.

We were using a Ponar-type grab sampler to collect sediment from underneath the sea ice near Barrow. To make room for the sampler to go through the ice we had to clear the snow from a large area and drill 6 connected holes using a big ice auger. The water depth was only about 2 m (6 feet) and the ice was about 80 cm (2.5 ft) thick.

No sediment that time, but finally, after a bit of trial and error… SUCCESS!

The sea off the western coast of Alaska is very shallow — even hundreds of miles offshore the water may be only 50 m (150 feet) deep, whereas the ocean floor off the northern and southern coasts of Alaska quickly drop off to 4000 m (13,000 feet).

The sediment we collected was mostly sand. Near shore there are strong currents running north from the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea — at Point Barrow the current bends around and continues along the northern coast of Alaska (though as with most things it’s not that simple).

This current sweeps away most of the organic matter that might be falling into the sediment and leaves it pretty barren. That’s why we found mostly sand in our collections.

The wind is whipping now, and conditions for tomorrow are forecast to be colder and windier, down to -55 C with wind chill! Our colleagues were planning to set up their mass balance station while we take ice cores to look for life.

Tomorrow — an update on the creatures that we’re finding!

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