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Polar Mail

From April 23, 2009

Hello my name is Jay. I am a student in Bannockburn School in the 7th grade in Mr Gavrilovic's science class, following your  expedition. I have a question for you;

How many years of schooling do you need to go on the expedition?

Bannockburn, IL


Hi Jay,

Thanks for your question. Let's see. There are a lot of ways to get on this expedition, so there's no single answer.

Here's the answer for the media team: I went to college and then got a master's in biology and a graduate certificate in science writing. Chris, the photographer, went to college, then got a master's in oceanography.

The senior scientists all have Ph.D.'s - which takes at least another four years after college (and a lot of Ph.D.'s take longer than four years). There are also technicians in the science party who might have a bachelor's or a master's degree, and graduate students who have a bachelor's degree and are working on a master's or Ph.D. Really, more important than getting the right number of years of education is getting a degree in the right field - then picking the right research topic so that your research gets you on the Healy!

Now, you could also get on the expedition by joining the Coast Guard and hoping you get assigned to the Healy. The Coast Guard only requires a high school education, but more and more "coasties" have college degrees when they enlist.

It would be a lot easier to see the Bering Sea by coming here as a tourist.

Helen Fields

Hello my name is Sandra, I'm a 7th grade student from Bannockburn 
School. My science class is following your expedition and I have a 
question for you;

What are you testing in your samples that you take?

Bannockburn, Il

Dear Sandra,

I'm so glad to hear your science class is following our expedition! I hope you're enjoying it. It depends what samples you're asking about. Taking samples is basically what these scientists do - and they take tons of them. So there are water samples, and samples of copepods, and samples of mud, and samples of algae, and all sorts of samples.

They're testing a lot of things in these samples. Some of that analysis is done on the ship. For example, there are some fluorometers on board so scientists can measure the amount of chlorophyll in a water sample. Other analysis will be done back on land. Some testing requires big, expensive equipment that you can't bring on a ship. David Shull, the scientist with the multicorer, freezes some of his mud samples so he can take them back to Seattle and run them through a CT scanner at a medical imaging facility - the same instrument they put people in to look at structures inside their bodies!

I can't even imagine how many samples will be taken during this cruise. Certainly thousands. Maybe many more. One of the main sampling devices is the CTD, which I wrote about on April 15. It goes into the water and comes back with 12 bottles of water, then people line up with bottles to take samples of water for all their different experiments - and this happens several times a day for 40 days!

Helen Fields

Hello my name is Chase. I am a 7th grade student from Bannockburn  School and our class is studying your expedition. I have a question for you;

Why don't you just tranquilize the Polar Bear instead of shooting it?

Bannockburn, Il


Hi Chase,

That's a good question. It does seem kind of mean to kill a polar bear. First, let me reassure you that this is really, really, really unlikely. For one thing, polar bears hardly ever come this far south. Even if they do, this is late in the year - they should be heading north again.

This is most likely what would happen if a polar bear did come by while we're on the ice. Someone high up on the ship's bridge would see it coming and radio down to the ice. We'd all go back up the ramp, they'd pull up the ramp behind us, and everyone on the ship would run for their cameras.

I asked Andy Yeckley, one of the boatswain's mates, if he'd ever seen a polar bear while he's on the ice. He's one of the guys who does the "polar bear watch" job - standing on the ice with a big gun looking away from the ship. (There's a picture of him in the April 14 dispatch.) He said he's seen polar bears from the ship, but never when he was on the ice himself. I asked if anyone has. He said he heard that once a polar bear came along while the scientists were working on the ice, way up north in the Arctic Ocean somewhere. It was before he was even on the ship. There was no shooting - everyone just got back on the ship and watched the polar bear destroy their equipment.

So anyway, you asked why they don't tranquilize the polar bear. Tranquilizing animals is a lot harder than it sounds, and it doesn't stop the animal right away. If things get to the point where a polar bear is close enough that they'd have to think about killing it in order to protect the people, then the situation is really bad, and they need to kill that bear right away.

Helen Fields

Hello Healy Crew and Scientists!

I would like to know if you have spotted or communicated with any other ships on your travels so far.  If so, what type and what nationality?  Are they curious as to what the Healy is doing?

I really enjoy the daily dispatches and photos.

Best to you all.

Jim Lazar,
Bethesda, MD

PS. Special greetings to Helen from her Revels friends.

Hi Jim!

It's so nice to hear from you! We have not spotted or communicated with any other ships that I know of. We've been in the ice almost the whole time we've been out here, and we're the only icebreaker in the Bering Sea right now. So any other ship that was near us would be a non-icebreaker in the ice - which means it would be in biiiiig trouble.

In fact, the first time the scientists even had to consider other ships was yesterday, when Pat Kelly deployed his deep-water sediment traps. They hang for 24 hours in open water, attached to a buoy. It would be really bad if another ship ran over it, so the buoy they hang from has a big pole with a radar reflector that should show up on ships' radar. (Including ours - that'll help find the traps again when it's time to pick them up later today.)

Helen Fields