Arctic expedition fall 2022

MBARI is joined by collaborators from the Geological Survey of Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Korean Polar Research Institute, and the United States Naval Research Laboratory for an expedition aboard the Korean icebreaker Araon (pictured) for further research on the thawing submarine permafrost in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. Image: Roberto Gwiazda © 2017 MBARI

Expedition goal: On this expedition we will investigate the effects of thawing submarine permafrost in this remote area of the Arctic Ocean. Because almost nothing is known about the decomposition of relict permafrost under the sea, the information we gather here will provide foundational insights into how and why this part of the world is changing.

Expedition dates: August 21 – September 17, 2022

Ship: Korea icebreaker Araon

Research technology:  MiniROV, mapping AUV

This marine geoscience research program takes place in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. The research program was reviewed by Inuvialuit Environmental Impact Screening Committee (EISC Registry File: 01-22-08), the Government of Northwest Territories (Licence No. 16995), the Government of Yukon (License No. 22-11S&E), and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (Permit – IGR-1283).

Sights and Sounds, Forecasts and Friendships:

Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Maureen Walton, Geophysicist, Virginia Brake, Marine Geologist, and Jenny Paduan

Any interdisciplinary research expedition undoubtedly has some subdivisions even though we share a common goal. Expedition ARA13C is no exception; we have teams dedicated to seafloor mapping, geophysics, coring, oceanography, microbiology, mercury and methane, just to name a few. We come together regularly to share ideas at the daily science meeting or mealtimes, but no two words can bring us together more quickly than “northern lights.”

The night of September 1st (or rather, the early morning of September 2nd) was the magical gathering moment. Despite a mediocre aurora forecast, calm weather and clear skies during the day led to plans to stay up, or even wake up, to check the early morning sky. Only a few hours of true darkness meant that our timing had to be just right. For the coring team, who are often working late into the night, a green glow in the sky around one in the morning captured their attention. Another group of folks would have slept through the entire thing if it hadn’t been for the kindness of their colleagues who roused them from their slumber by knocking on doors and calling rooms.

The energy on the helideck—an open-air deck located relatively high on the ship—was contagious. Those who planned to stay up were dressed for the occasion in warm clothing and toques (when in Canada, right?), and those roused from their bunks wore pajamas and whatever jackets they could quickly grab. Despite the level of preparation (or comfort against the elements), we all wore smiles. The dancing lights tried to avoid our attempts to capture them with our cameras, but a few lucky ones came away with beautiful photos that hinted at the majesty of the spectacle. A better aurora forecast came a few days later, but sadly, misty fog on the eve of stormy weather prevented us from seeing the lights again.

Prior to the storm, we planned our science targets to avoid deploying or recovering equipment in rough seas. The captain made the decision to move north to miss the worst of the weather, which meant checking another box on our collective Arctic checklist–seeing the sea ice! While still far from the main body of pack ice, our first glimpse of some “berg-y bits” generated some excitement. Lots of photos were taken with the expectation that those chunks may be the only sea ice we would see on the expedition, given that our survey operations were, by design, meant to avoid the “worst” of the ice. Still, hope remained to catch a glimpse of the Arctic’s vast ice sheets.

Remnants of pack ice floating in the Arctic Ocean seen on our transit northeast to avoid a gale in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. Photo by Jenny Paduan

Little did we know that those first icy nuggets were–quite literally–the tip of the iceberg. Early on the morning of September 9th, many of the sleeping scientists were awoken by a shaking ship and loud sounds of crashing and scraping. Could this be breaking ice?! We dashed outside in pajama pants or leaned out of our windows to capture the ship noisily crashing through sheets of broken up sea ice. Although it shook a little, the Araon handled the obstacles with ease, and our gleeful crew delighted in the sights a few more times throughout the icy day. Three weeks into our 4-week expedition it finally “felt” like we were in the Arctic.

Remnants of pack ice floating in the Arctic Ocean at 71° 22.3’N, 132° 11’W Photo by Jenny Paduan

The only thing left on our collective lists: seeing a polar bear. We all agreed this was a lofty, and somewhat unlikely, goal. To our surprise, however, later the same day we saw more sheets of sea ice, and an announcement after dinner alerted us to the presence of the very creature we had been awaiting! Many of us rushed to the bridge to try to catch a glimpse. In order to avoid bothering our Arctic friend, we stayed fairly far away, but close enough for everyone to see the bear with the help of binoculars and the ship’s zoom camera.

We spotted a polar beach trekking across the melting pack ice on the hunt for its next meal. Photo by Dave Caress

The last week of the expedition will involve a final set of AUV and ROV dives, one more pair of gravity cores, and of course, packing! We will have no problem entertaining ourselves on the long transit to Nome with a ping-pong table in the gym, a sauna, a weekly Korean barbecue, and a newly-learned traditional Korean team game called yut sticks.

Maureen tosses the four yut sticks to determine how far her team can advance in the game. Photo by Jenny Paduan

160 kilometers offshore in the Beaufort Sea:

Thursday, September 8, 2022
Tanner Poling and Jenny Paduan

Today was a big day for the MBARI Mapping Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs): we ran both of our vehicles with “spin-down” deployments in the Arctic Ocean!

Our team encountered operational challenges due to the special characteristics of this part of the Arctic Ocean. Large amounts of fresh water, from the melting of sea ice and input from the nearby MacKenzie River, float on top of and mix with the salty seawater to form less saline (brackish) and therefore less dense layers near the surface. The vehicles must descend through this large and fluctuating salinity gradient to the dense seawater at depth, which is similar in salinity to our home waters of Monterey Bay. This salinity gradient poses a unique challenge that was easily overcome for one of our vehicles but, before today, had prevented us from successfully operating the other.

A Dorado-class MBARI Mapping AUV, pictured on the helideck of the Research Vessel Araon. The antenna protruding from the tail-end of the AUV (highlighted in light blue) provides three functions when the AUV is at the sea surface: a radio modem connection to computers on the ship, GPS positioning, and an ability to send location messages via Iridium satellite connection after a mission is completed. Photo by Jenny Paduan

Pictured above is a Dorado-class AUV, with a very important component highlighted: our radio modem’s antenna. This functions as our wireless connection to the AUV. During the deployment process we need to check in on the vehicle one last time once it’s in the water to send the scientific mission to the vehicle. Before putting the vehicle in the water, the AUV team completes a thorough checkout process to ensure every aspect of the vehicle is exactly as it should be: every bolt solidly secured, every sensor configured correctly, and all components communicating properly. But something can always go wrong while lifting the vehicle with the ship-mounted crane into the water, so the radio modem is crucial while conducting our final checks. If the antenna submerges underwater, we lose radio communications with the AUV, so the vehicle is carefully ballasted to float right at the ocean’s surface.

The AUV team assembles a Dorado AUV prior to deployment. Photo by Dave Caress

However, here we have to consider the salinity gradient I mentioned earlier. If the vehicle is ballasted for Monterey Bay waters, it would sink immediately on launch because of the fresher surface water here. If the surface layer is less dense, we can just remove weight to create a more buoyant vehicle, right?

Yes, but the nature of our mission— to map the seafloor in high resolution— means that we will have to dive through hundreds of meters of water to get to the bottom. Here in the Arctic Ocean, thanks to the salinity gradient, the salinity at depth is so much greater than at the surface that our vehicle becomes 15 to 20+ pounds more buoyant, simply because the density of the seawater has increased. If it is too buoyant at this depth, the vehicle will be unable to keep itself from floating up and away from the seafloor, making it impossible for us to collect data, and resulting in a failed mission. So, we need it to both float at the surface and be as close to neutral as possible at the bottom, which is harder than it sounds.

The tailcone of the AUV is highlighted in blue.

We use an articulated propellor, AKA “tailcone” (highlighted above) located at the tail-end of the AUV to control our depth, pitch, and heading. During the mission it works to keep the vehicle flying level while it surveys the seafloor. Because of this we not only need good overall buoyancy, but good trim is also key. Trim is the horizontal distribution of the weight in the vehicle. If the weight in the vehicle is too lopsided to the front or the back, one end will constantly float up faster than the other, forcing the tailcone to work harder than necessary or even fail to keep the AUV in control.

We learned how precise our ballasting needs to be the hard way with one of our vehicles. During the first few missions we discovered that a slight imbalance in trim results in an inability to maintain control during the survey—a problem which only becomes apparent multiple hours into the mission once the vehicle is at depth. The nose of the AUV was only a pound heavier than the tail, but due to our buoyancy issues with salinity, the vehicle dove too steeply while trying to maintain altitude, resulting in a need to abort the mission before the vehicle crashed into the bottom. With only one real opportunity to deploy and recover both vehicles in a given day, a lot of effort goes into making each attempt our best. Once the ballast and trim were carefully dialed-in, and a few errant code bugs squashed, we deployed today with high hopes that everything would now work as intended.

After sending the vehicle on its way, we quickly gathered in the control van to track its progress with the use of an acoustic beacon mounted inside the AUV. The beacon talks to an acoustic transducer mounted on the Araon, and from this communication we can tell where the AUV is located with a fair bit of accuracy, including its current altitude above the seafloor. This stage is crucial, as any problems requiring a cancelled mission will likely appear here. You’ll find the team closely watching the metrics coming back from the vehicle, writing down values and noting any trends as soon as they appear onscreen. In this case, everyone was anxiously watching the depth and altitude readings.

The team watched the vehicle slowly spiral down to its programmed starting point above the seafloor, and after a brief pause, begin to make its way along the first line of our survey. Was the vehicle flying level along the seafloor? Adjustments in the ship’s location are required to maintain our acoustic tracking of the AUV. As the ship moved into a better position, we lost our connection with the AUV because the ship’s powerful engines scramble any acoustic signals coming from the vehicle, forcing us to tensely wait until a steady position is regained.

To our relief, tracking slowly came back, and the moment of truth quickly approached. A minute passed, as did another, with the altitude reading gently oscillating around our desired altitude of 50 meters above the seafloor. Good so far, but anyone who has worked with AUVs has been burned by being too quick to assume a successful deployment. Eventually we were able to see the first line of our survey was completed at a level altitude, followed by a 180 degree turn before the next line was underway. Satisfied, the AUV team breathed a sigh of relief. A radio call was made to the ship’s bridge to inform them that the deployment was complete. We pulled away from the deployment site, and left the vehicle to run its 18-hour survey while we continue scientific work at another location in the Arctic. This AUV will join its counterpart mapping newly-discovered features in the seafloor, and doubling our map-making ability.

A slice of the seafloor:

Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Maureen Walton and Virginia Brake

Coring is perhaps the most in-depth activity we will do on the Araon, as it provides a rare chance to extract a vertical tube of “time” that could represent just a few years to hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. Core locations are determined based on a careful examination of our existing data coverage, scientific objectives, and research interests. We have three types of coring devices available for our research: gravity core, multi-core, and push core.

The gravity cores are the longest, and therefore deepest, and most likely oldest, samples we will collect. The gravity coring device consists of a headstand weight (approximately one ton) connected to a six-meter (about 20 feet) metal core barrel deployed from the A-frame at the stern of the vessel. Contained within the core barrel are clear plastic tubes called liners that are 10 centimeters (four inches) in diameter and designed to hold the cored sediment. The gravity corer is deployed from the A-frame using a wire, and when it is close to the seafloor, it “freefalls” for a short distance and pierces the seafloor, filling the liners inside the core barrel with sediment. Because the sediment is so heavy, a “core catcher” at the bottom of the barrel holds the sediment inside the barrel on the ascent. Once pulled back onto the deck, the core liners are removed from the metal barrel and cut into 1.5-meter (about five feet) long sections for processing.

The Araon has a well-appointed core laboratory (the “wet lab”) where cores are subsampled. On this cruise, the geochemists (like Roberto Gwiazda from MBARI) have been sampling porewater by drilling through the plastic core liner into the sediment and inserting syringes that pull fluid from the sediment. Among other things, geochemists can analyze the fluids for various isotopes to tell how fresh the porewater is and where it might have come from. After porewater sampling, sometimes a day or two later, sediment cores are split lengthwise (“hotdog style”), photographed, and described by geologists onboard (like Jeff Obelcz and Maureen Walton from NRL) in their notes. After splitting, the sediments can also be subsampled and further analyzed to better understand things like mineral content, microbiology, and age. Most analyses of subsamples will occur onshore after the cruise. Half of the core remains untouched and is archived as a reference section.

The past three Araon expeditions in the Arctic have used box cores to get “shallow depth” samples of the subsurface. New to this Arctic mission on the Araon is the multi-core system, which consists of eight core liners placed around a central console that are collected simultaneously. These liners are about the same diameter as the gravity cores (10 centimeters or four inches) but much shorter, less than one meter (three feet) long. The advantage of the multi-core over the box core is that we can collect more material over a larger area. The multi-core is very good at preserving the sediment-water interface; this is important for scientists who study the interaction of seawater and the seafloor as well as very recent sedimentary processes. Like the gravity cores, multi-cores are split lengthwise, described, photographed, and subsampled after collection.

Unlike the gravity and multi-cores, the locations where the MiniROV collects push cores are not predetermined. The MiniROV can collect up to seven push cores per dive using the robotic arm. Each core is seven centimeters (2.75 inches) in diameter and up to 20 centimeters (eight inches) long. When we settle on a good site to core, we typically plan for two push cores, but MBARI’s Charlie Paull often says to MiniROV pilot Frank Flores, “Let’s grab another one” to ensure we have plenty of good samples from each site for different analyses. Push cores from the MiniROV are extruded from the plastic core liner by slicing the sediments horizontally into one centimeter (nearly half an inch) subsamples that are then placed into labeled plastic Ziploc bags. These subsamples will be later analyzed onshore to determine things like sedimentation rate.

As of September 6, 2022, the mission has collected 10 gravity cores, 14 multi-cores, and seven sets of push-cores from MiniROV dives, with more of each to come.

Research updates:

Wednesday, August 30, 2022
Virginia Brake and Eve Lundsten

Beaufort Sea data collection from August 26 to August 29, 2022. The study area is indicated by the semi-transparent yellow polygon. Black lines indicate regions of continuous multibeam and sub-bottom imaging, while the green points indicate stations where cores and other data were collected.

Greetings from the Canadian Beaufort Sea! The IBRV Araon departed Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska, on August 24 and entered Canadian waters on August 26. Thus far, data collection has focused in and around the Mackenzie Trough and the edge of the continental slope. Data collection has included: seafloor mapping and sub-bottom profile data collected from the Araon, many types of sediment cores to help us understand the character of the seafloor, water column measurements, plankton samples, and as of August 30,  MBARI’s ROV and AUVs have been surveying the seafloor.

Each day on board the ship starts with a science meeting where we discuss the daily plan and get our marching orders for the day. In addition to KOPRI and MBARI, several other groups are present—the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), the Naval Research Lab (NRL), Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTEC), a representative of the Korean Navy, a marine mammal observer and even an artist who will be making a documentary about our work.

As we move about the ship, there are several principle hives of activity. The Marine mapping activities are run out of the dry lab, where a wall of monitors gives us an overview of where we are, where we are going, and what the next day’s plan is. The conference room is a place to bring your laptop and have an impromptu discussion. The galley is where we meet three times a day to enjoy our meals. Along with many delicious sides and the main course, every meal includes kimchi and rice. And then, of course, there are the many science labs and the ship’s decks where our sediment cores, instruments, and probes are launched over the side of the vessel.

The activities that tend to generate the most excitement are the ROV and AUV deployments. Not only is it exciting to watch the equipment go over the side and collectively hold our breath as we wait for the start-up checklists to conclude—watching the data and sample collection in real time is fascinating. It’s standing room only in the ROV control center as people pile in to watch the ROV maneuver over never-before-seen sections of the seafloor.

The first ROV dive site was the subject of the recently published paper. This massive hole developed in the seafloor between 2010 and 2019. For the first time ever, we can visit this site to capture sediment samples that will help us confirm our hypothesis about how and why this massive hole developed.

Updates from offshore of Utqiagvik, Alaska:

Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Jenny Paduan, MBARI

Jenny Paduan is standing under the iconic arch of whale bones in Utqiagvik, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, “holding” the Icebreaker Araon in her hands. Photo taken by Eric Martin

Greetings from the IBRV Araon! We are still stationary about two kilometers offshore of Utqiagvik, formerly Barrow, Alaska. It is a few minutes after local noon—our original departure time. We are waiting for the fog to lift so the helicopter can make its last flight to shore and leave us. Then we will pass through the sand bars further offshore and be on our way.

Sign-post in Utqiagvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Photo taken by Jenny Paduan

Since arriving rather uneventfully in Utqiagvik on Sunday, there have been several “mobilization stresses,” as Charlie put it. The first was whether we would all pass our COVID-19 tests before being transferred to the heliport on Monday. We did. The same was not true for two of the Korean scientists who had contracted COVID-19 recently enough that they were still testing positive though symptom-free. As a result, they were assigned to quarantine for 10 days in the ship’s infirmary.

Next was if and when the inertial navigation system (INS) units would arrive in Utqiagvik. They are essential gear for navigating our AUVs while underwater. The units were shipped separately as heavy freight and had been stuck in Anchorage for a week because all flights to Utqiagvik were full and couldn’t take extra cargo.

“Milk and mail get priority” was working against us. Miraculously, they were put on a plane Monday morning after we were told they had been bumped yet again.

The next challenge was whether it would be too windy on Monday for our helicopters to fly us out to the ship waiting offshore. Two “birds” from the Alaska-based company “Maritime Helicopters” had been contracted to accompany the Araon while it was in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians because the ship couldn’t enter any of the harbors along this coast. They began the flights to transfer us out to the boat about five hours earlier than planned because, by noon, it was already blowing about 25 knots and predicted to increase. The ship recorded a high of 41 knots at some point during the day. Thankfully, we all made it out to the boat, and so did our luggage.

Next was provisioning for the ship—the fresh food shipment for this leg of the expedition never made it up from Anchorage for the same cargo limit reason as the INSs, so the crew had to shop at local markets in Utqiagvik. That and the requisite helicopter flights occurred Tuesday. Unfortunately, those extra helicopter operations prohibited any crane operations from happening, so our AUVs and other gear are still stowed in their containers amidst an array of other heavy equipment on deck.

A small part of the science party is being briefed in the computer lab by Chief Scientist JK. Photo taken by Dave Caress

The final departure dilemma occurred during the MiniROV and AUV teams’ efforts to mobilize when we discovered that the ship’s Sonardyne ultra-short-baseline (USBL) transponder head was not communicating to the topside electronics. The USBL transponder is lowered through a hole in the ship’s hull (a wellhead) and sticks down below to acoustically track—get the range and bearing—the AUVs and MiniROV when they are underwater. Without it, the ROV’s navigation accuracy is reduced to simply knowing it is hanging below the ship, so when the vessel gets a GPS signal, that is the best we can estimate the ROV’s location. The AUVs, however, can’t be located at all underwater without USBL tracking and aren’t operated without this capability because of the likelihood of losing the robots should anything go wrong. Charlie, Dave, and Randy were already brainstorming creative ways to conduct limited operations with the AUVs despite this crippling limitation.

Opening the box containing our spare Sonardyne head. Many fingers were crossed. Photo taken by Jenny Paduan

Stressful meetings were held. Questions were asked, translated, and rephrased, and photos were exchanged. After the ship’s electrician and science technicians had spent many hours testing, it appeared that the problem was not with the long cabling from the bridge to the transducer well, which meant that the problem must be in the transducer head itself, which we initially understood could only be accessed by divers (impossible here). The MBARI team did bring a spare USBL head from the R/V Rachel Carson (we almost left it home due to its size and weight), and it turned out to be the same model as Araon’s. More communication revealed that the ship’s wellhead could be closed off and evacuated, so someone would be able to enter that compartment to replace the head. Things were starting to look hopeful. Then, we discovered that a connection was loose in a junction box part-way along the cabling to the head down in the well. And just like that, the USBL works!

It is now 1330, the helicopter pilot has waved goodbye, and we are underway!

Here at 71° 22’N latitude it is still daylight and twilight for long hours at this time of year. Left: screen-shot from phone app showing hourly weather and times of sunrise, sunset, and last and first light. Right: view out a porthole at sunset, at 11 pm, looking at the lights of Utqiagvik along the shore. Photos were taken by Jenny Paduan and Dave Caress

About this expedition:
Eve Lundsten and Charlie Paull

A team of 11 from MBARI will be participating in an international research expedition on the Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) icebreaker Araon from August 21 to September 17, 2022.  MBARI will be providing state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to study the seafloor under the Canadian Beaufort Sea along the southern edge of the Arctic Ocean. On this expedition we will investigate the effects of thawing submarine permafrost in this remote area of the Arctic Ocean.

Korea Icebreaker Araon

Korea icebreaker Araon

Permafrost is ground that remains frozen throughout the year. Global warming has focused considerable attention on the decomposition of permafrost on land and its impact on shaping the landscape. In contrast, almost nothing is known about the decomposition of relict permafrost under the sea. The Arctic Ocean is rimmed by vast shallow areas, such as the continental shelf in the Beaufort Sea. During periods of low sea level associated with glaciation, these shallow areas have been periodically exposed to the frigid air temperatures suitable for permafrost formation. Because of the lack of moisture in the Arctic, this area was not blanketed in glaciers and therefore experienced mean annual air temperatures that were often -15°C (5° F) or colder. These cold air temperatures caused the development of thick permafrost. In contrast, when sea level rises during interglacial periods, as happened about 12,000 years ago, the permafrost is flooded by the relatively warm seawater. Because the permafrost here was so thick and the diffusion of heat was so slow, ancient Pleistocene permafrost bodies that are still 100’s of meters thick remain beneath the continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea, even after 12,000 years.

The first systematic high-tech mapping along the edge of the continental shelf of the Canadian Beaufort Sea was conducted in 2010. These maps revealed a band of unusually rough seafloor terrain along a 95-kilometer (59-mile) stretch of the shelf, roughly 180 kilometers (110 miles) offshore. This rough topography coincided with what was once the seaward edge of that relict Pleistocene permafrost. Sections of this topography were subsequently remapped multiple times using MBARI AUVs. These repeated surveys show that multiple new sinkholes have formed in this area over just a few years. The volume of the largest new sinkhole, developed in less than 9 years, is equivalent in size to a city block of 6-story apartment buildings. The rate of morphologic change associated with the decomposing relict permafrost seen here is among the most rapid seen anywhere on Earth.

Route that the Araon will take during the 2022 Arctic expedition. MBARI will be participating in the second leg (in red), from Utqiagvik to Nome.

On this upcoming expedition in August 2022, the MBARI science party will be boarding the Araon in Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly Barrow), along with other researchers from Korea, Canada, and the US. From Utqiagvik, the Araon will transit east passing along the entire north shore of Alaska before entering into the study areas in Canadian waters.

MBARI is contributing to the expedition two AUVs that are designed to map the seafloor. These untethered, free-swimming robots will descend to and independently navigate over the bottom terrain to map the seafloor along pre-programmed routes. The AUVs carry multi-beam mapping sonars that collect data at a resolution that exceeds what can be collected with a ship mounted system. These highly-detailed maps help illuminate the processes that shape the seafloor and, when conducted at repeated intervals, reveal how dynamic areas like these change over time.

MBARI’s MiniROV will be used to explore and sample the freshly altered seafloor. This ROV was designed to be small and robust so that it could be easily shipped to remote ports, providing access to study areas beyond the west coast of North America. The MiniROV utilizes an articulated arm to collect water samples, sediment samples, and animals, while recordings from a high-resolution video camera provide insight about the precise context of their locations.

Pre-cruise preparations

Expeditions like this take years to plan and require an enormous amount of work from numerous people from all of MBARI’s divisions. Engineering efforts, permitting acquisition, funding agreements, and safety training all begin years before we can set foot on the boat. It is only with considerable organization, and a little bit of good luck, that it all comes together to allow us conduct the research of interest to our team.

Physical preparations for this expedition began at MBARI in the fall of 2021 with the building of new ROV control room specifically designed for this expedition. The space was fabricated within a 20-foot shipping container with just enough floor space reserved to house the two mapping AUVs during shipping.

Tests of the new ROV control room were conducted at sea in Monterey Bay through early 2022 to ensure everything worked prior to packing, which commenced in March 2021. Two additional shipping containers were needed to hold the MiniROV, the ROV winch, and other assorted equipment needed for the expedition.

Our three shipping containers had to make an arduous journey from Oakland, California to Korea before heading up to the Arctic. Transpacific shipping delays and backlogs left some of our gear behind­–fortunately, it caught the last possible ship, arriving in Busan, Korea, just in the nick of time. To our knowledge all the MBARI gear is safely stowed onboard the Araon, awaiting our arrival in Utqiagvik.

The two container ships which carried MBARI’s equipment to Korea.

Maritime safety training

MBARI staff enjoyed a unique experience completing a required 5-day safety training and survival class that included the basics of fighting fires, CPR, first aid, and at-sea survival. Far outside our normal routines as scientists and engineers, it had us in full fire fighter gear, donning a self-contained breathing apparatus to put out a fire in a confined space, and we had to practice jumping off a mock ship (a high dive) and flipping an overturned life raft. It was a wonderful experience that we hope to never have to use in real life.