All Calm in Beaufort Sea


13 September 2013

Tara and the 15 current crew members of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition just entered the smooth waters (with a slight swell) of Beaufort Sea. At the same time we left international waters and entered the exclusive economic maritime zone of the United States.

When Emmanuel Boss, chief scientist of the mission between Pevek (Russia) and Tuktoyaktuk (Canada) came into Tara’s main cabin with a smile even more radiant than usual, we knew he had received an email with good news. “We’re allowed to sample in U.S. waters because our business doesn’t generate any economic benefit!” For several days he’s been waiting impatiently for a response from Washington, to know if we’re permitted to take samples in this zone situated between 12 and 200 nautical miles* from the coast of Alaska.

Tara continues her journey East after yesterday’s long station in the ice, the fourth of its kind since the expedition began. Six members of the scientific team worked amidst the ice, under the distant gaze of some lascivious walruses. For a good part of the day we enjoyed generous sunshine that little by little de-iced the bridge. For the last time during this expedition, scientists explored the waters of the Chukchi Sea. Two sampling depths were on the program – the surface area, and the 40-meter zone at the DCM **, both at the edge of the ice.

The first samples revealed rich planktonic life, with lots of seaweed. Nichtia – very long, thin diatoms were coming up in great quantities in the collectors, and also those appropriately named creatures, the Sea Angels – angels that float gracefully in the liquid sky of this icy Arctic Ocean.

Our next scientific objective is to explore the waters of the Beaufort Sea and perhaps those of Barrow Canyon, located near the famous Point Barrow. The deeper layers of this “small” sea (450,000 km2) come from the North Atlantic, and are therefore particularly interesting for our scientists on land. This new one-day station should take place within 48 hours.

We are one step closer to the Northwest Passage, because the Beaufort Sea opens to the east on Amundsen Gulf which is the western entry to this labyrinth.

Vincent Hilaire

*From 22 to about 370 km.

** DCM (Deep chlorophyl maximum): Depth at which the level of chlorophyll is at a maximum.