arctic-trace-feature-970 FROM THE FIELD
TRACES of Change in the Arctic

Arctic Magic: One Research Vessel Multiplies to Hundreds

by |September 21, 2015
Ship crew is deployed to position the boxes of small 'seaworthy vessels' and the tracking buoy onto the ice. (Photo Bill Schmoker)

Ship crew is lowered in a basket down to the ice to deploy two boxes of small “seaworthy vessels” and the tracking buoy onto the ice, part of the “Float Your Boat” project. Photo: Bill Schmoker

Geoscientist Tim Kenna works with his son's class to decorate boats for the Float Your Boat project. Jack Kenna works to get his boat 'Arctic ready'.

Geoscientist Tim Kenna works with his son’s fifth grade class to decorate boats for the “Float Your Boat” project. Jack Kenna works to get his boat ready for an Arctic deployment.

In preparation for their Arctic work, GEOTRACES linked with “Float Your Boat,” an education program with a unique concept. Float Your Boat blends the themes of historic Arctic drift studies, modern GPS technology and hands-on science to engage local communities with work in remote science locations. Scientists currently aboard the research vessel Healy spent time last spring recruiting and meeting with school groups to share information about the Arctic, their upcoming science cruise and collecting small student-decorated wooden boats that would become part of the project.

A note on the computer station of Tim Kenna announces that it is time to deploy the  'Float Your Boat' project.

Sometimes the best way to deliver information on a ship is to tack up a sign on a high-use item. A note on the computer station of Tim Kenna is used to notify him that it is time to deploy the “Float Your Boat” project. (Of course smiley faces always help!)

For over a month, the science team has been anticipating the deployment of these small wooden vessels since this builds a direct connection to their families and communities back home.

The student boats are deployed in a 100 percent biodegradable box lowered carefully onto an iceberg along with an iridium satellite tracking buoy. The tracker is activated, “calling home” so that it can be used to track the circulation of the ice. Over time the ice is expected to melt and the box will biodegrade, sending these small floating wooden boats into the high seas of the Arctic Ocean.

The location of the Arctic drift boats was close to the North Pole. In many earlier years his would have been an area that was inaccessible for a ship to penetrate to set up this drifter experiment.

The location of the Arctic drift boats was close to the North Pole. In many earlier years this area would have been inaccessible for a ship to penetrate to set up this drifter experiment.

Once the box degrades, the boats will be separated from the tracker, but each boat has been identified by the students with their school and their own name and stamped with the project contact information. If any of the boats wash up onshore, there is enough information for the locator to contact Float Your Boat with a date and location. Through online tracking of the iridium satellite, this project provides opportunities for students to learn about Arctic change, marine circulation, marine debris transit and maritime careers.

Boxes one and two are deployed on the ice with the tracker and the sip crew is pulled back up to the Healy. (Photo T. Kenna)

Boxes one and two are deployed on the ice with the tracker, and the ship crew is pulled back up to the Healy. Photo: T. Kenna

The Float Your Boat project concept comes from early Arctic science, when drifting ice floes were used to track Arctic circulation. In the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), Lamont scientist Ken Hunkins resided for two six-month stints on Ice Station Alpha, a station built on top of the Arctic sea ice. Science teams were flown in by plane and dropped, along with their equipment, about 500 miles north of Alaska. There they studied a range of ocean parameters, including tracking their own progress as they moved along with the ice drift. The 18 months of operations tracked the ice floe movement as it shifted ~2,000 miles around the Arctic in a clockwise manner until it was just north of Ellesmere Island, Canada (map below).

Annotated historic map from the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958) of the Floating Arctic Stations. Red line shows Alpha Station, the US first floating ice research station, representing some of the original 'Arctic drift studies'. (Photo/annotation M. Turrin; map Ken Hunkins)

Annotated historic map of the floating Arctic stations, from the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The red line shows Alpha Station, the United States’ first floating ice research station, and one of the original Arctic drift studies. Photo/annotation: M. Turrin; map: Ken Hunkins

Somehow, the rigid presence of the Healy seems infinitely more secure than a few tents and rigs set directly on the mile-long by half-mile-wide section of sea ice under station Alpha.

Float Your Boat 'vessels' were loaded into boxes and shipped to the Healy in advance of the deployment.

Float Your Boat “vessels” were loaded into boxes and shipped to the Healy in advance of the deployment.

But even earlier than the science drift experiments were the expeditions of early Arctic explorers, like Fritdjof Nansen, who froze his ship the “Fram” into the northern icepack during his voyage of 1893-1896 in hopes of drifting to the North Pole. He did not succeed, however he did learn about Arctic drift and spurred additional research on this topic, perhaps leading to these young Arctic researchers and their “vessels.”

Tim Kenna is shown here on the right with Marty Fleischer on the left at the North Pole. Tim  worked with several groups of local students including  Pearl River High School A.P. Environmental Science Students and his son's fourth grade class at Upper Nyack Elementary School. 

Tim Kenna, right, with Marty Fleisher at the North Pole. Tim worked with several groups of local students, including Pearl River High School Marine Science Club and his son’s fifth-grade class at Upper Nyack Elementary School in the “Float Your Boat” project for GEOTRACES.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.


2 thoughts on “Arctic Magic: One Research Vessel Multiplies to Hundreds

  1. What a beautiful project, combining both high and low tech.

    I would have loved to have “my own research vessel” deployed as a kid.

  2. What a completely inspirational project – will look forward to seeing the progress of these creative small vessels that may help in tracking arctic drift movements. How exciting it would be to discover one of these boats!

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