Arctic Ocean fast facts

  • The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of five major ocean basins and holds only 1% of global ocean volume.
  • The Arctic is home to 4 million residents from 8 different nations (Canada, Russia, United States, Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland).
  • 10% of global river discharge enters into the Arctic Ocean, mostly during the spring when land ice melts. Six major rivers drain into the basin – the Yukon and Mackenzie rivers from North America, and the Kolyma, Lena, Yenisey, and Ob’ rivers from Asia.
  • The Arctic basin contains a mixture of seawater from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Atlantic water enters through the Fram Strait between Greenland and Norway, and Pacific water enters through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia.
  • Water from the Arctic can flow back into the Atlantic Ocean but not the Pacific. Arctic water flows back into the Atlantic through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (all those tiny islands bordering Canada), and through the western Fram Strait which acts as a two-way street.


  • Technically, there are two “North Poles” found in the Arctic Ocean. The geographical North Pole is stationary, located at 90 °N on top of the planet near the Earth’s axis of rotation. The magnetic North Pole is found hundreds of miles away where the Earth’s geomagnetic field is vertical – the location of magnetic North migrates about 25 miles annually due to natural oscillations in Earth’s magnetic field.
  • Narwhal whales are real! This is not a test of your gullibility or a joke someone is trying to pull by explaining there are whales in the Arctic Ocean with giant horns like a unicorn. Narwhal whales are found in the eastern Arctic and can have tusks over 8ft long, though the purpose of their tusks is unclear.HI_232822_Paul_Nicklen_National_Geographic_Stock_WWFCanada

Polar express

Check out this great article from the Wright State newsroom – Ph.D. student Alison Agather will represent 1/3 of team Hg on the upcoming Arctic research expedition (myself and Principle Investigator Carl Lamborg from the University of California, Santa Cruz will complete the team). This will be Alison’s first research cruise but she is from Minnesota and has the warmest mittens I’ve ever had the pleasure of borrowing, so I know she’ll do just fine!

polar express



Hg in the sea is going to the North Pole!

More cruise action coming your way! I will be participating in the U.S. GEOTRACES Arctic transect (map below) this summer (2015). The cruise will begin and end in Dutch Harbor, Alaska passing through the Bering Strait into the ice covered Arctic Ocean. We will collect water samples and venture out onto the ice onboard the Healy, an icebreaker owned and operated by the United States Coast Guard. Cross-over stations marked on the map (red crosses) will be sampled by separate GEOTRACES cruises from Canada and Germany to compare results with our international colleagues. More updates on cruise planning and preparations to come, sailing August 7-October 10 (that’s 70 days at sea!).


The time between cruises


With Pacific GEOTRACES a year in the past and an Arctic cruise fast approaching (see countdown on the right panel)…it’s time for an update! This year between cruises has been quite eventful for me in all of the best ways possible. I defended my dissertation and became Dr. Bowman in December 2014. After writing a 300 page dissertation, I gave a public defense at Wright State University. The whole lab showed up in coordinated Hawaiian shirts and my committee members flew in from California and Connecticut for the big day.

The main bulk of my dissertation work was done on two cruises, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both chronicled in this blog. The Atlantic results are now published in a journal called Deep Sea Research II and the Pacific paper is in the works.

Looking at the chemistry of water in the deep ocean is like flipping through the pages of a history book. Water in the deep ocean comes from the surface of polar seas where dense cold water sinks and begins a 1000 year long journey around the globe. Physical properties and radioisotopes in deep water are used to determine age, or time since the water was last in contact with the atmosphere. The international GEOTRACES program has sampled deep water between 90 and 900 years old, creating a timeline for mercury in the ocean. Since the industrial revolution began some 200 years ago humans have increased the amount of mercury in the atmosphere and now from our timeline, we can see concentrations of mercury in the ocean have increased as well.


American Geophysical Meeting, San Francisco, CA (Dec 2014)

One week after my dissertation defense I walked across the stage at graduation . My family and friends traveled to Dayton to help me celebrate and the next day I jumped on a plane to California! This research business never stops. I presented my work from the Pacific cruise at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting as I had earlier in the year at Ocean Sciences in Hawaii.

A few weeks after graduation I loaded up Liberty Bell (my jeep) and drove 2,700 miles across the country to Santa Cruz, California. After six years working as a “Midwest Oceanographer” I’m happy to report that I’ve finally moved to the coast! I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz where I will continue to study mercury in the ocean, and of course run hginthesea!


on the road

Driving across the country

crand canyon

Hiking break from the great american road trip in the Grand Canyon


California, my new home :)


Mercury in the news

This week our research team published an article in Nature discussing the amount of mercury in the ocean from human activities. Surface ocean mercury concentrations have tripled since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Today, the main source of mercury from human activity comes from coal-fired power plants like those found in the United States and developing countries like China and India. Once in the ocean, mercury is transformed to a chemical compound called methylmercury, a neurotoxin that biomagnifies in fish and ends up on our dinner plates. In the United States alone, millions of women have blood mercury levels high enough to effect fetal neurodevelopment. Click here to read more about the study.

Data for this new publication was collected on the 2011 North Atlantic GEOTRACES cruise chronicled in this blog, and on other similar expeditions.Scroll down to read about life at sea and what’s it’s like to do science out in the middle of the ocean.

The end!

On Dec 20th the R/V Thompson reached port in Papeete, Tahiti after successfully completing a 57 day, 36 station research cruise.  The first day in port was spent offloading our gear and samples into metal shipping containers; a sense of finality and accomplishment was felt by all as we sealed the containers and watched them leave the dock for their long journey back to the states. After an end-of-cruise gathering on the island, science party and crew slowly dispersed, most racing home to be back in time for Christmas.

I came across a quote earlier this year that really stuck with me, from a retired surgeon who now lives and works at a camp in Antarctica,

“There are no casualties, no car wrecks, and no bullets here. We are  living on our own, facing elements, and everyone behaves in the proper way. We tell our families we come for the money. But really, we come to escape.” (Benjamin Novikov, quoted in Untamed AntarcticaNational Geographic Sept. 2013)

After leaving the tropical paradise of Tahiti I am thrust back into society through means of the airport. It’s Christmas day but instead of cheer and friendly greetings, I’m surrounded by noses buried in Ipads and cell phones; the guy sitting across from me is throwing candy wrappers into the isle, just as you would toss peanut shells onto the floor of a bar.

Beauty can be defined in many ways but more than once in the past two months I have found myself thinking that this sunset, this clear night with thousands of stars, or this stream of bioluminescence trailing the ship – this is what real beauty is. How else could you define it? Sometimes there is just too much clutter in everyday life to appreciate the important things and I feel lucky to be able to take these trips every year, to go away to places where simplicity makes beauty easier to see.

I’m on my way home now to spend time with family and friends after a wonderful two months at sea. The process of funding and planning this work took years and it all came down to the last two months (no pressure right?). The cruise was hard – all of my focus during the past 57 days has been my work. There was no clocking out so bumps in the road took a more personal toll, but that only made the good days that much sweeter.

Our dataset will continue to grow beyond the 3,500 samples Gretchen and I analyzed at sea. We will look at mercury in aerosols and particles, sift through data to identify trends, and compare our findings with other ocean basins. In the coming year we will bring our findings to conferences and scientific journals with a goal to progress the understanding of mercury in the ocean to help identify problems and solutions.

I would like to thank you all for reading my blog over the past few months and I hope that you will continue to search for outlets that feed your curiosity in science and nature. Be sure to sign up for email updates to receive notice of future hginthesea blogs. My official holiday gift to you is a video of dolphins swimming near the bow of the ship, it’s from day 1 at sea but I haven’t had enough bandwidth to upload until now ( Enjoy!

xmas eve

Christmas eve dinner in Papeete, Tahiti.