Arctic Voyage Illuminating Ocean Optics

During NASA's ICESCAPE voyage to the Arctic, scientists have been looking at the phytoplankton in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea -- how many, how big and at what depths they are found. But there are other ways of looking at these small life forms.

"We measure phytoplankton in terms of their pigments and light absorption properties," said Stan Hooker of NASA's Ocean Biology and Biogeo chemistry Calibration and Validation Office at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Hooker, Joaquin Chaves and Aimee Neeley, also of NASA, measure the color of the water. Anything in the water, plankton or not, can influence that color.

On July 2, a crane maneuvered a small boat halfway down the side of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy the platform for the five-week ICESCAPE mission, NASA's first dedicated oceanographic field campaign, which is studying the physics, chemistry and biology of the ocean and sea ice within a changing Arctic.

Hooker, Chaves and Coast Guard crew boarded the small boat and readied for an expedition away from the stirred water and shadow of the 420-foot Healy. Lowered to the ocean surface, Hooker's team powered away, entering uncharted waters.

Maneuvering over smooth water and around chunks of sea ice, the small boat slowed to a stop near the edge of an ice floe.