Filtering it all in while researching in the Arctic

By Austin Fox, Ph.D. Student Chemical Oceanography ‘15

On the first day of school I was at 72° North latitude, 4,200 miles from the Florida Tech campus,  where it’s 34°F outside and the sun shines 22 hours a day. I’m onboard the 420 foot United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Healy with 35 scientists from around the country.  We are all working around the clock collecting samples and recording data about the physics, biology and chemistry of the Eastern Chukchi Sea, specifically Hanna Shoal, known to be a refuge for walruses and other important marine life. It is an amazing experience to build relationships with and work alongside world experts in their fields including Florida Tech’s own John Trefry. I am currently a chemical oceanography graduate student studying trace metals under Dr. Trefry.  While I’m on the ship, I watch the rate of remobilization of cadmium (Cd) and phosphorus (P) from marine particles. This process involves three disciplines (physics, biology and chemistry) and is involved in maintaining the Cd/P ratio of the world oceans.

My schedule is extremely busy and I work when I need to.  Sometimes it is all day long or through the night with just enough time to eat a few quick meals and get five or six hours of sleep.  I collect water samples with the help of the crew and other scientists and incubate them in a cold room. Most of my time is spent filtering particles from subsamples of the incubations. Though we are in this summertime winter wonderland, I spend my days filtering seawater in a warm lab with no port holes. Occasionally, I will step outside to watch a breathtaking Arctic sunset or watch ice as it is smashed and broken by the Healy as we cut our way in through the Arctic. Twice now I have put down what I have been doing to get a glimpse of polar bears that have been spotted near the ship. I have also seen a seal and quite a few walruses. Inside the lab I have had the pleasure to work alongside several other graduate students and when they get tired and go to bed a new set of scientists on the night shift start working and keep me company. Goodnight, FIT. I’ll be filtering!

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