Amchitka Island, Aleutians
July 10, 2017
It’s a strange sensation, waking up in the pre-dawn heat of what promises to be a sweltering summer day in Southern California, only to find yourself stumbling out of a small plane in blustery Arctic winds that very same evening. The first thing that greets you as you step out onto the tarmac on Adak Island is the dry, salty air whipping past you and a sign above the terminal building that reads, “Welcome to NAF Adak, Alaska, Birthplace of the Winds.”
Well, here we go again.
For those of you who might have missed it, last year we sampled six islands in the eastern Aleutians; this year we’re targeting at least five more in the west, all the way west.
The “science party”, that is, the Edwards Lab and the Konar Lab, convened in Anchorage before our flight to Adak. Along the way we traded stories, most of us hadn’t met in person since last year’s cruise. Once on Adak we got right to work loading our gear onto the r/v Oceanus, our home for the next three weeks. After we set up our wet and dry labs, stowed away dive gear, and got settled in to our cabins, we had a safety briefing and got ready for our cruise. In the morning we began our “steam” (transit) to Amchitka Island, our first stop.
It was uncanny how quickly we settled right back in to our old routine. Life aboard a research vessel is singular, and unlike any experience on land. We picked up right were we left off last year, as if we hadn’t missed a beat. The Konar Lab got down to business as they always do, tirelessly diving and collecting samples. Meanwhile we in the Edwards Lab prepared to deploy our experimental chambers along the rocky shores of Amchitka Island. Using historic data, both labs are targeting kelp forests, urchin barren grounds and the “transition” state between the two. Collectively, we hope to gain a better understanding of patterns of biodiversity and productivity along these beautiful yet elusive islands.
Our dives went well, even though as a group we were just a little bit rusty when setting up our first of nine tents. But at the end of our first day we were right back into the swing of things. On July 9th, we pulled up our experiments and prepared everything for our next island.
As with last year, after we finishing sampling an island (which takes about two full days) we conduct three trawls from the back deck of the Oceanus. All in all, it took all of us nearly the entire night to finish sorting the SCUBA and trawl samples. Exhausted but happy, most of us didn't "rack out" until after 3am. Fortunately, we have another steam ahead of us which means we sort of get a day off, at least from field work. It takes nearly 24 hours to steam from Amchitka to our next island, the furthest west in the Aleutian Archipelago: Attu. By the time we get there we'll be recharged and ready to jump back in the water.
Stay tuned, we’ve only just begun to sample!
Baron von Urchin
Pike Spector is currently a Research Operations Specialist with Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary