Bering Sea Ecosystem
Meet the scientists and crew, and learn more about the tools they use
Every day, we'll add photos and journals about our experiences at the North Pole
During the expedition, email your questions to the researchers
Learn more with hot topics, videos, animations, and interviews.
Postcards from the Ice, puzzles, quizzes and more!
Interviews, Videos, Animations, and Sound

Polar Mail archives:

April 8 »

April 13 »

April 17 »

April 23 »

May 5 »

May 10 »

Polar Mail from April 13, 2009


The third grade students at Central School in Albany, Oregon, have been following the cruise. Julie Arrington came to our school in March and showed us slides and talked to us about her upcoming Arctic trip.
We are enjoying the pictures and the information on your website. Thanks!
Does the Healy convert saltwater into fresh water?
Ms. Judy Craig
Albany, Oregon

Dear Students,

evaporatorThank you so much for following along! Julie said it was fun to meet you. Yes, the Healy does convert salt water into fresh water. The ship has two big machines called evaporators that do this job. Wendy Starling is in the Coast Guard, and it’s her job to maintain the machines, so she gave us a tour and explained how they work.

If you take some salt water and heat it on the stove, steam will rise up from it. That steam isn’t salty – it’s just plain water. That’s basically what happens inside the evaporators. They heat up salt water from the ocean. Steam rises up and hits a cold pipe, where it condenses and turns back into water. Each evaporator can make about four gallons of water a minute. The evaporators have names: Betsy, who is very reliable and almost always runs well, and Megan, who needs a lot of attention.

Some of Betsy and Megan’s fresh water goes to the ship’s boilers, which help the ship move. Some of the water has other chemicals added to it, then goes into the system that takes water to all the faucets, drinking fountains, and toilets on the ship. We have to be careful not to waste water, because it takes so much work to make it. This is how you’re supposed to take a shower on the ship: turn on the water, get wet, turn off the water, soap up, then turn on the water again and rinse.

It was fun seeing all these machines—Wendy took us through a lot of unusual doors, and at one point we even had to climb through a hole and down a ladder to see some water tanks! I had a notebook in my hands so I could write down what Wendy told us, but I wanted to use both hands on the ladder, so she carried my notebook for me.

Helen Fields

How did Chris get his camera up to get the picture in your room? I figure he had a super-wide angle lens. I wonder if he has to do anything special to get all those low-light pictures. Is there flash? Is there something special about the cameras or lens? Does he have a tripod?

Jim Fields (Helen's dad)

Hi Jim,
Thanks for writing. For that photo, I was standing on a sturdy writing desk—luckily they have high ceilings in the rooms! I did indeed use a super-wide angle lens (14mm) to show as much of the room as I could, since backing up wasn't an option. For the low light photos, sometimes I use the ambient light on the ship in combination with a high ISO on the camera (up to 25,600 in one case), and sometimes mix it with a burst of flash (if I don't think it will disturb the scientists). For twilight and night shooting, I also frequently use a tripod. Although the ship does vibrate and shudder while moving through thick ice, it is remarkably stable when moving through light ice or open water. To read more 'stories behind the shots' be sure to check out the weekly blogs I am writing for liveBooks.
Chris Linder

evaporatorWill the easter rabbit will come see you on the ship? Eva Linder, Age 2.

Hi Eva,
On Easter morning when I went down to the main lab, I was surprised to find easter candy hidden behind the microscopes and baby chicks perched on the lab benches! So I guess the Easter bunny does visit ships in the Bering Sea.
xoxoxo, your dad (Chris Linder)