Breaking through the ice, the Healy churns up a lot of chunks, most of which have a brown film on their underside. This is under-ice algae, a thin film of plant life that clings to the bottom of the ice and appears to be ubiquitous in this region of the Chukchi Sea. Although not the free floating plankton blooms the Arctic Spring Expedition is looking for, these algae are an important life support for a community of tiny creatures that live under the ice. When we disturb this system though, the animals are floating free on the surface and are an easy target for the flock of Kittiwakes we have following the ship. Tanja Schollmeier from the University of Fairbanks, Alaska was on hand to describe the scene.

About The Author

Amanda Kowalski

Amanda is a photographer and multimedia producer. Her work ranges from magazine photography to eclectic short films. Her goal is to document the science as well as the daily life on the Icebreaker Healy. Amanda will be making regular photography and video posts to the website.

2 Responses

  1. Brendan Smith

    Dear “Healy” Scientists,

    Hi, my name is Brendan and I am a student at Falmouth Academy, the same school where Ben and Chelsea came to teach us about (respectively) plankton ecology and lino print drawing. I’m amazed that those seagulls followed the ship all the way out into the Chukchi sea. It’s a long distance to travel for what are presumably pretty small animals- I would think they might be better fed staying near the coast than by relying on the ship turning these small animals (not even visible in this video) over and exposing them. I was wondering, what do the macroscopic animals (the ones the seagulls are going after) look like? Are they worms, crustaceans, cnidarians, or are the seagulls just going after the brownish-green clumps?
    I noticed some small, worm-shaped creatures underneath the ice in one of videos on this website (, and I was wondering if it was this the seagulls were after. Whatever they are, they look really interesting. You could almost imagine that they are an upside-down forest of sea creatures in an ice field… Maybe Chelsea could make a print like that.
    Brendan Smith

    • Ben Harden

      Hi Brendon,

      Thanks for the comment! It’s interesting watching the birds dive. Yes, you can’t see the animals on the video, but in real life you can. It almost looks like they’re grabbing little worms. I asked Tanja who’s voice appears in the video and she said they’re a range of animals: little anthropods, copepods and crustaceans. The ice algae is so dense on the bottom of the sea ice that there must be tons of these little creatures living off them. The gulls (kittiwakes) were diving constantly for hours so this must be worthwhile for them in terms of quantity of food. We often have birds following our research vessels in other places too, but in that case they probably think we’re a fishing vessel and have to make do with any food waste we throw overboard.

      Thanks for the questions and for following the expedition.



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