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HomeScienceJourneying from Annapolis to the Arctic: Research schooner investigates climate change impacts.

Journeying from Annapolis to the Arctic: Research schooner investigates climate change impacts.


Credit: Ocean Research Project via Facebook

In the sunlight one May afternoon on the Chesapeake Bay, a 72-foot schooner named the Mary Tharp floated above the wreck of a long-ago ship.

The boatswain’s instruments were hard at work, mapping the ruins of the sunken wooden steam freighter, New Jersey, using sonar equipment affixed to her hull.

But that Thursday afternoon effort was just a test, and the Chesapeake Bay had been a testing ground for mapping the previously unknown.

On Monday, the Marie Tarp crew will sail from Annapolis to Greenland to begin mapping the seafloor around the North Atlantic mega-island and analyzing the environmental effects of melting ice caused by a warming climate.

The ship is named after Tharp, a woman he worked with to chart the ocean floor, revealing its peaks and valleys, laying the foundation for the theory of continental drift. However, she was not allowed aboard research ships because of her gender. Tharp died in 2006 at the age of 86.

From Annapolis, the ship will sail north to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and exit through Delaware Bay to reach the Atlantic Ocean. In early June, the ship is scheduled to arrive in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Next, the crew must traverse the Labrador Sea – known for its harsh conditions that mix with fog, gusty winds, and ice – to reach Nuuk, Greenland.

From there, the crew will explore a series of fjords, which are estuaries formed by glaciers, along the coast of Greenland and even farther north into the Canadian Arctic, near the islands of Devon and Ellesmere.

During their trips, they will collect seafloor and water samples to assess the health of water bodies in the wake of the ice receding. In addition, they will draw what is below.

This will be the second polar voyage for Mary Tharp, a steel-hulled sailboat constructed in 2000 that serves as the home base for the nonprofit Ocean Research Project. This kind of trip is nothing new for the founder of the Annapolis-based organization – Matt Rutherford.

Rutherford is best known for being the first to complete a single, non-stop sail that sailed around North and South America. But after his 2011 voyage, during which he “caught more plastic trash than I did fish,” Rutherford founded the Ocean Research Project and decided — joined by scientist Nicole Trenholm of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Sciences — to use his sailing prowess to map the eastern side of the ocean. The North Atlantic Garbage Patch, a collection of microplastics and other trash concentrated by ocean currents.

In 2015, the nonprofit turned its attention to climate change research, and it teamed up with NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland Program to conduct research in the coldest northern reaches of the planet.

The idea was simple yet groundbreaking. On his small sailboat, Rutherford could have done the research more cheaply and more efficiently than using a large icebreaker, which would burn much more fuel along the way. But Rutherford said it takes tremendous skill — and “a sailor’s intuition” — to avoid icebergs and endure storms and fog without the safety net of a heavy ship.

It soon became apparent that the nonprofit was outgrowing its old schooner, which—at 42 feet—can only seat about four people at a time.

Enter Mary Tharp, one of the Bruce Roberts Voyager 650s that had barely ever sailed when it was donated to the nonprofit. Preparing the boat, which had fallen into disrepair, for dangerous journeys north required considerable labour. The coronavirus pandemic has found Rutherford living in a boat yard on his new ship, a layer of saw dust covering his bed and belongings as he completes repairs.

After Tharp’s first trip to Greenland last year, Rutherford said, there were some kinks to work out. For one thing, the boat’s multibeam sonar system was attached to a pole in front of the boat, often compromised by ice formations and the elements. But now it’s stored in the bottom of the boat, protected by metal shark fins that will deflect potentially harmful chunks of ice.

During the voyage, Marie Tharp and her passengers (from seven to nine people, including a crew of rotating scientists with complete Arctic research) will visit what Trenholm calls “the dirtiest fjord in all of Greenland,” located near the southwestern town of Bamut. .

Water from melting glaciers has filled that fjord with excess sediment, which carries nutrients capable of upsetting the balance of an ecosystem—the same phenomenon that occurs in the estuary closest to home: the Chesapeake Bay.

The water quality research collected by Tharp and crew will provide a snapshot of current conditions caused by climate change in the Arctic, aiding efforts to predict the future. And seafloor samples will tell the story of the fjord’s history before the glacier melted, in the same way as rings on the trunk outline of a tree’s life.

The Ocean Research Project’s recent voyage caught the attention of consumer advocate and environmentalist Ralph Nader, now 89, whose great-nephew Adnaan Stumo serves as one of the crew.

Nader, who ran four times for president, said he was shocked by Rutherford’s efforts to make climate research cheaper and greener, calling it a bright spot in the middle of a topic of concern.

“There is a lot of apocalyptic truth in this climate violence, climate catastrophe,” said Nader. “And he’s a completely unique person.”

An experienced sailor who has completed voyages across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Stomo said he learned about the ocean research project while listening to Rutherford—one of his sailing heroes—speak on a podcast. When Rutherford mentioned that he was looking for sailors for his next voyage, Stomo reached out. Soon he was preparing to join Rutherford and make his first trip to the North Pole.

This year, the crew is all volunteers. After an important source of funding runs dry, none of the crew will receive a salary during the five-month voyage, even though all research activities are paid for.

This news did not deter Stumo.

“I thought about it for a minute,” he said. “But at the end of the day, if I want to get rich, I’ll do something else.”

The crew is mostly women, a first for sailor and shipbuilder Allie Gretzinger.

“I’m usually the only female or maybe there’s another one,” said Gritzinger, who will also make her first trip to the North Pole aboard the Mary Tharp.

Over the past several weeks, Gritzinger and Stomo have been among those who have helped Rutherford prepare the boat. For Stumo, that involved installing a wind generator while “swinging high in the air trying not to drop tools” and a round of Costco for the ages, featuring massive quantities of dry and canned goods, from pasta to tuna.

Bill? He said over $3,500.

“The girls behind the counter were wide-eyed, like, ‘Are you having a party?'” Stomo said.

But it won’t be a party. Stumo and crew will battle the elements, navigate narrow fjords and dodge submerged icebergs the size of school buses.

Of course, this is all part of the adventure. But Stomo said he was made more energized by knowing he would be contributing to climate change research conducted in a “unique window” in time, in which glaciers full of geological evidence in the ground recede.

In addition, he is sailing with the memory of his sister, Samia Stomo, who perished at the age of 24 in the 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash that claimed the lives of all 149 passengers and crew. At the time, Samia Stomo was headed to Kenya for her first project with a health systems development organization, trying to meet the healthcare needs of vulnerable communities.

“She would have had a career of over 50 years and touched so many lives,” Stomo said. “So, I try to do my little part and keep her in mind.”

2023 Baltimore Sun.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

the quote: From Annapolis to the Arctic: Research Sailboat Begins Journey to Examine Impacts of Climate Change (2023, May 15) Retrieved May 15, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-annapolis-arctic-schooner-journey – Effects. html

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