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April 13th, 2009

Chris Linder: Live from the Bering Sea

Posted by Chris Linder

On April 3rd, photographer Chris Linder and science writer Helen Fields joined a team of 38 scientists for a 40-day expedition to study the impact of climate change on the Bering Sea ecosystem. While crisscrossing the Bering Sea, the science team will be collecting tiny marine plants and animals, water samples, ice cores, mud—in short, data on just about everything that defines this environment. Chris and Helen will post photo essays, sounds, and videos to the Polar Discovery website every day, as part of the Live from the Poles project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation. And every Monday Chris will share his favorite images here, explaining why he likes them, how he shot them, and why you should care about climate change in the Bering Sea. Don’t miss Chris’s insightful posts on writing the grants for such science-based photo expeditions and preparing for a sub-zero photo shoot.
The Healy at night. Photo by Chris Linder, courtesy WHOI

Floodlights light up the twilight sky on the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. Photo by Chris Linder, WHOI

It’s 11pm, and the sky has just melted into the electric blue of twilight. I’m covered head-to-toe in fleece but the wind is still sneaking chilly fingers down my back. Stretched out in front of me is 420 feet of US Coast Guard icebreaker, and at my back is the ice-covered water of the Bering Sea. The crew has just turned on the icebreaking floodlights, and the beams stab out into the night like dueling light sabers. All I need now is for the ice to cooperate. Too much sea ice, and the vibration of the ship’s hull crunching through it, will destroy my 6-second exposure. I wait, gloved finger on the cable release and my other hand on a tripod leg, until I feel the vibrations subside. The ship turns, the full moon slips behind a cloud… Click. Mirror up. Click. Shutter open. Thunk. Shutter closed, mirror down.

This first week has taught me that the best light in the Bering Sea happens after the sun goes down. For the first five days, we had nothing but lead-gray overcast skies. I can only do so much with a plain white, no-contrast background. Night to the rescue. As soon as it started to get dark on that first night, the deck lights came on and bathed the scientists and sea ice with beautiful light. Since then I’ve spent as much time as possible shooting the “available darkness” between dusk and dawn.

Speaking of dusk, it’s getting late, the ship is stopped, and instruments are about to go in the water. It’s time to zip up the exposure suit, pull on my waterproof, steel-toed boots and hard hat, and hit the deck with shutter blazing.

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