Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands

Background Information

The essays below will help you to understand the goals and objectives of the mission and provide additional context and information about the places being explored and the science, tools, and technologies being used.

  • Hidden Ocean - The Chukchi Borderlands 2016: Mission Plan

    July 2 - August 10, 2016  |  By Katrin Iken and Russ Hopcroft

    The USCGC Healy was commissioned in 2000 to conduct research in ice-covered waters of the Arctic.

    From July 2 – August 10, 2016, an international and multi-disciplinary team of scientists, media personnel, and educators will sail to the Chukchi Borderlands onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. This NOAA Ocean Exploration mission will employ an ecosystem perspective to investigate microbial communities in sea ice, water, and seafloor environments; water column (planktonic) organisms; invertebrate and fish seafloor (benthic) communities; as well as conduct observations of marine mammals and seabirds.

    Read more
  • Arctic Climate Change and the Chukchi Borderland Region

    By Katrin Iken and Russ Hopcroft

    Open water in-between ice, also called meltponds, is a strong indication of low ice cover.

    The Arctic Ocean is one of the most remote locations on Earth, as well as the region where the impact of climate change may be most strongly expressed. In the last two decades, concerns about enhanced and rapid environmental changes have put the Arctic into the spotlight of scientific and public attention.

    Read more
  • Arctic Seafloor Fauna

    By Katrin Iken

    A trawl catch of the rich benthic fauna on the Arctic shelf at 50 meters depth showing lots of brittle stars, feather stars, and sea cucumbers.

    Contrary to what one might expect in an ice-covered ocean, the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean is actually teeming with life. These seafloor animals are called “benthos.” The most abundant types of benthos we find are brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sea stars, snails, clams, bristle worms, and, occasionally, crabs.

    Read more
  • Fishes in the Arctic

    By Brenda Norcross and Katrin Iken

    An Arctic cod takes shelter underneath pack ice.

    Fishes in the Arctic Ocean, as in most other ocean regions of the world, are an important part of the ecosystem. Some species live within the water column while others live close to the seafloor, and they are important predators on plankton and bottom-dwelling animals (benthos). Fishes themselves are then important prey for marine mammals and seabirds, making them an essential link in the Arctic marine food chain.

    Read more
  • Zooplankton of the Arctic

    By Russ Hopcroft

    Under a half an inch or one centimeter in diameter, the jelly Pantachogon is often unidentifiable after collection.
    Devil in the dark: Its head equipped with curved hooks for grasping prey, the arrow worm lays motionless waiting to ambush prey when it hears movement nearby.

    During this summer’s expedition, we will be exploring the poorly known deepwater zooplankton of the Arctic. The smaller, more robust, and “armored” crustaceans, called copepods, are relatively well known here, because they are abundant and survive collection with the elaborate “butterfly nets” designed to target them. The somewhat larger, more fragile, and much rarer animals, such as jellyfish, that hunt them are more poorly known. To place things in perspective based on relative size, during collection a plankton net hits zooplankton at jet speeds: will a suit of armor or a water balloon survive this encounter better?

    Read more
  • Arctic Marine Mammals

    By Kate Stafford

    Walrus come to the surface for air.

    When we talk about “marine mammals,” we actually talk about groups of very different animals with different lifestyles and habitat requirements. This group includes whales that live exclusively in water; seals and walrus, also known as “pinnipeds,” that dive for their food and spend long bouts in the water but who haul out on sea ice or land to rest, molt, and give birth; and polar bears, who are excellent swimmers but are much more adapted to hunting from, and traversing over, sea ice.

    Read more
  • Arctic Seabirds

    By Kathy Kuletz

    The thick-billed murre is a fish-eating species that nests along the Chukchi coastline.
    The northern fulmar nests in the Bering Sea but can sometimes be found traveling through the Chukchi Borderland.

    Seabirds rely on coastal islands and cliffs to lay eggs and raise young, but they feed themselves and their chicks from the sea and spend most of the year far from shore. Thus, seabirds link the land to the sea, with most species completely dependent on marine ecosystems for their food.

    Read more
  • Navigating the Hidden Microbial Network in Arctic Sea Ice

    By R. Eric Collins

    Eric Collins cuts off the bottom of a sea ice core containing sea ice algae.

    Sea ice is a layer of frozen seawater floating on the surface of the ocean. This icy layer ranges in thickness from a few centimeters to over 10 meters and is present year-round in the Arctic and the Antarctic, though the total extent varies greatly as the seasons change. Within the ice, salts and organisms are trapped in crevices known as brine pores.

    Read more