Well, there has been some good excitement since my last entry from the trailer compound – so get ready! I can let you know ahead of time that I’ve made it on the flight home. The 45 minute delay for my flight from Iqaluit to Ottawa almost had me screaming (I felt like I had been through my share of delays, and all out cancellations in the past 2 weeks). But a few deep breaths and the complementary service en route to Ottawa all help!
Starting from where I left off makes the most sense. We got out of our DEW line camp just as a bout of violent flu was starting to make the rounds. So Mike and I dodged that bullet. We made our way back to Qikiqtarjuaq that Thursday evening, and our favourite (it was charming, but actually the only option) hotel. I actually had a welcoming party at the airport – being met with hugs and helping hands was certainly uplifting. Dinner was even on the table when we walked through the hotel doors. The hotel manager/cook and the long staying guests were family by the end of the trip and were such good sports dealing with our erratic departure and landing times, and waited through the ‘one-more-hour’ saga for days on end with us.
Friday morning brought clear skies to Qikiqtarjuaq, which I have learned is not known for its sunny weather, but does tout itself as the best place to watch icebergs in the world. I can attest to many cool, shapely bergs floating by town with the tides. Too bad our destination berg couldn’t be delivered to us this way! We’ve learned by this point that you don’t give up good weather days in the Arctic (many were squandered earlier in the expedition trying to get logistics settled between the boat, its crew and the iceberg previously). Our calls to the ship in the morning had us playing the ‘one more hour’ game, once again. By mid-day, we decided to make a go at it. Conditions had been steadily getting better there, and we hoped by the time we made it, the fog would have cleared and made way for brilliant blue skies and buzzing helicopters. Of course, right at our point of no return during the flight (right over that northern Bermuda Triangle, I swear), we got the call that the conditions were actually deteriorating. So we set down on a true piece of tundra and gave them that one more hour, while Mike poured in our reserve Jerry cans of fuel and I watched for any meandering curious Arctic creatures (specifically of the Ursus genre).
This stop was especially hard on the heart – we were only a 30 minute flight away from this tease of an iceberg and were able to actually see it in the air. When we called in and the discussion lead to a ‘let’s try it’ – it was all systems go. Mike and I jumped into our immersion suits for our longer flight above the water and it was lift off. At this point, we did not have enough fuel to get us back to Qikiqtarjuaq, where we started 2 hours earlier. It was iceberg or bust.
As we closed in, we were able to see that the ice island was actually creating its own micro-weather system. The cold ice, warmer sea, and light winds combined to create a circle of low lying fog. The skies directly above the berg were more or less clear, while the ship and those calling the shots, were in the midst of fog dense enough to cause close to zero horizontal visibility.
As corny as it sounds, it is hard for me to describe all of the feelings I had at this point. Excitement – for sure – at finally seeing this ice. I am close to calling it ‘my’ ice – though it really isn’t. I have come fairly attached to these over the months (which became fairly apparent when I was somewhat appalled by the suggestion of a woman at a presentation I gave to blow the ice islands up if they ever became a threat to offshore equipment). Relief too – since we had been attempting to get there for 9 straight days. But the whole thing was a bit taunting since I knew that I was not going to be given any time to do any of the work that I had prepared for. All of the time and effort put into prepping equipment, prepping myself, submitting permit applications, and on and on…was certainly in the back of my head. I have been warned repeatedly, that this is the nature of field work. Arctic field work, on top of that. I guess it was my time to experience the trials of the northern researcher for myself. A good lesson, undoubtedly.
After we landed on the ice, next to the ship, it really was only pure excitement. I had to remember that the BBC crew and the scientists had been stuck on a small ship (no where near as large as what we had last October) for the past 10+ days. So when Mike and I touched down, we were the entertainment! I was whisked away to the ship, where we all exchanged stories of the past weeks and we could all start to piece together what had been happening in parallel at sea and on land. After a quick meeting of the higher-ups planning the aerial shots that they needed with the helicopter’s aid, I was served proper British tea with a healthy slice of chocolate cake. And it just kept coming, with the Icelandic chef (the boat was flying the Icelandic flag and operating on Greenland time) insisting that I must be starving I was delivered a perfect omelet, toast, cheese, cheese, more dessert…. They were going to have to roll me off that ship.
What also made all of this more of a unique experience was the fact every time I looked around a film man had been recording it all. Being served apple tart – check. Sipping tea with the British Antarctic Survey team – check. Upstairs in the ‘lab’ looking at the scanned underwater images of the berg with the scientists – check. I was even coached through a short interview on the adventure of getting to the berg. Even though I won’t be starring on any BBC documentary this time around, I just might get my own YouTube clip!
Meeting some of the biggest names in polar science was worth all the troubles as well. Finding out what they had planned to do, what they actually were able to accomplish (mostly from the boat) and where their normal work took them was a great learning experience for me. I only got an hour or two – not the 9 or 10 days I had hoped for – but at least I got even that amount of time with them!
And that was really, about it, for our time on the berg! The helicopter returned, we fueled up – did a few hops around the island picking up and putting out GPS units and we were off. Every second of this is on camera though – it really was a production. Super interesting to see how these films and shows are all put together after being filmed out of sequence. The time and effort put in by the BBC crew and staff is also extremely notable and whatever comes out of it (look out for “Operation Iceberg” in September) should be really interesting.
(Quick side note – the film crew and expedition leaders are top notch guys with hilarious and true British humour. So witty and so quick, it was hard to keep up!)
It doesn’t quite end here. We still made it off the berg that night. Mike put in one crazy day and flew us back to Qikiqtarjuaq by 1:30 am. We watched the sun both set and rise on that 2 hour flight! We made the right choice in coming back that night, as we were once again fogged in that morning when we woke. At least we weren’t stuck on the berg, but we were stuck in Qik when I needed to be in Iqaluit (a four hour journey south) by evening to give a presentation in town. So much of the trip had gone not according to plan (to say the least) that this presentation was going to be the trips saving grace for me. Somehow, after lunch and with little time to spare, we skirted out under the clouds surrounding Broughton Island and were flying through the fjord – enjoying once again that amazing view of ice caps, massive glaciers, teaming waterfalls and turquoise waters. Yes – it is that good.
To end it off here – we touched down just after 6 and I made it to the presentation that I am so happy was put together. Thanks to some CBC radio, local print media and the Nunavut Research Institute putting up posters around town, I had a full house! The recent attention to these ice islands after the break away event in July from the Petermann Glacier of NW Greenland (same glacier these ice islands are from that have been a part of this study) has sparked interest and was a perfect opportunity for me to showcase all of the work currently being done on ice islands that are so close to communities in the north already.
With that, I’ll sign off for another season. Only stay tuned for some photos. Thanks for following all of the action, hopefully more to come!