Exploring the Depths of the 'Hidden' Arctic Ocean North of Alaska, the deepest part of the Arctic Ocean goes more than a mile down and is locked in ice. An international team of scientists is probing this so-called Hidden Ocean, from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker. NPR's Richard Harris sends an audio postcard from the expedition.
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Exploring the Depths of the 'Hidden' Arctic Ocean

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Exploring the Depths of the 'Hidden' Arctic Ocean

Exploring the Depths of the 'Hidden' Arctic Ocean

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Many people sweltering in this week's heat wave sought comfort in swimming pools, lakes and ocean beaches. NPR's Richard Harris encountered some divers who found a swimming hole that was far beyond mere relief; brisk would have been an understatement. Richard sent us this audio postcard from the US Coast Guard icebreaker, the Healy.


I'm standing right now in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

(Soundbite of the ocean)

HARRIS: The coast of Alaska is about 100 miles south of me. The North Pole is about 1,200 miles north of here. I'm on a layer of ice about 10 feet thick, and there's a great deal of activity around me. About a dozen people with orange jump suits are out on the ice putting a scientific expedition to this really poorly understood ocean. One of the bravest of the bunch is a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks named Elizabeth Calvert. She is wearing a dry suit and she's about to get wet.

(Soundbite of water)

Ms. ELIZABETH CALVERT (University of Alaska Fairbanks): Today we're going to go diving. So we go down, we count the different species of anthropods. And then...

HARRIS: And what are those?

Ms. CALVERT: Anthropods are small bugs; they're in the crustacean family, and they live on the sea ice.

HARRIS: So how long will you be in the water?

Ms. CALVERT: We usually make it 25 to 30 minutes before we get too cold.

HARRIS: Yeah, what is the water temperature there?

Ms. CALVERT: It's about 30. A couple days ago we took some sample jars down. We had filled them with fresh water at the surface just to get water in them before we took them down. We got down, and I looked in the jar and I thought, `That's weird. It's frozen,' but it's because it was fresh water and we took it down to the salt water, and it was colder. It's frozen in the jar. I thought, `Boy, it's really cold if it froze under here.'

HARRIS: And you were swimming in that.

Ms. CALVERT: That's right. We're not supposed to be diving in water that cold.

HARRIS: How can you stand it at all? I mean, geez.

Ms. CALVERT: Well your cheeks--the little triangles on your cheeks are exposed. That's sort of the only part of your body that really touches the water directly. And the first five minutes are the worst, you kind of get an ice cream headache.

HARRIS: Elizabeth and her diving companion, Katrin Iken, get on their wet suits...

Ms. KATRIN IKEN: So we also attach everything that we take with us. To us, that's because of the mile and a half of water underneath us. There's no way of retrieving it if we drop anything.

HARRIS: ...slip into the water over the edge.

Ms. CALVERT: Ready?

Ms. IKEN: Yep.

(Soundbite of water)

HARRIS: On the surface of the ice, there's very little sign of life. A kittiwake, a gull-like bird, flaps by, but that's about the only sign of life here. However, under the ice a lot is going on, and that's what Elizabeth Calvert is going down to take a look at.

(Soundbite of water)

HARRIS: Twenty minutes pass, then 30, then 35.

(Soundbite of divers)

HARRIS: OK. This is the divers coming up to the surface.

(Soundbite of divers)

Ms. IKEN: That was a long dive.

Ms. CALVERT: My fingers don't work anymore.

HARRIS: So welcome back.

Ms. CALVERT: Thanks.

HARRIS: How was it?

Ms. CALVERT: Oh, cold, but it's really pretty under there, lots of anthropods.

Ms. IKEN: That's good.

Ms. CALVERT: Yeah.

HARRIS: Richard Harris, NPR News, someplace in the Arctic Ocean.

Ms. CALVERT: My lips don't work right now.

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