Ice Island Ops 2014

Greetings from Greenland!

We are the red box


I am happy to be reporting from the CCGS Amundsen during the 2014 ArcticNet science cruise. The Amundsen set-off from Quebec City in early July and before the first personnel rotation in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, the crew conducted underwater exploration activities with a remotely-operated vehicle, participated in a joint campaign with the Polar 6, a German aircraft which collected data on the ship’s emissions, and also did multiple days of melt-pond sampling on sea-ice within the Northwest Passage. All of that before the crew and officers were bombarded with requests to visit a chunk of fresh-water ice floating in Baffin Bay starting on the evening on July 24.


Cruise track of the CCGS Amundsen: Leg 1a (purple line), 8 July (Quebec City, red star) to 24 July (Resolute, purple star) and Leg 1b from the 24th through 14 August (Kugluktuk, NU, blue star) by way of an ice island (green star) and Greenland.

With that, another field campaign adventure started! It may be said that it started a few days earlier with some adventures getting from Ottawa to Iqaluit to Resolute and onto the ship. I can say that fog plagues the east coast of the Arctic and doesn’t just screw with helicopter flights but with large fixed wing scheduled flights as well. We, the 19 scientists en route to the ship, did get to spend a nice evening in the Polar Continental Shelf Project’s base. Resolute is a bit of a hub for research activity in the Arctic and the base is impressively equipped with what seems like any equipment or vehicle necessary to make research possible in any corner of the Canadian Arctic.

Fog delayed the crew change from the Amundsen the next morning, so we were able to take part in the town’s ‘Community Day’, where the town’s residents and visiting scientists mingle during fun presentations and activities. Later that evening we were on board and the ship started breaking ice that had set in heavily in parts of the Northwest Passage. Preparations for ice island work started in earnest, as the ice island target was only 30 hours away. I had been following the drift of PII-A-1-f, an ice island that had been a part of the larger calving event from the Petermann Glacier in 2012. Still sizeable at 35 sq km, this ice island was the most likely to survive for a long period and allow us to revisit it next summer. This would allow me to assess deterioration over that period of time and is my ultimate goal with this work. Another benefit of PII-A-1-f was that it was located perfectly in-line with the Amundsen’s cruise track so we would not have to go off-course for even a minute.

I can keep this story short, since I have already reported sob stories from 2012 and 2013. I hope that 2014 does not end up the same way, but our first attempt was indeed thwarted by a number of conditions that led to the helicopter being unable to land on the ice and leave three scientists there for many hours. Fog was rolling in from the distance, the sea was in such a calm state that it reflected the overcast sky perfectly and resulted in no distinction between the two, and the ice actually creating its own fog layer that hovered due to the zero wind in the area. Maybe I should be used to it by now, and I think I am to a point, but it is still a gut-punch to prepare so intensely and be left staring at the ice. ‘So close yet so far’ is the typical thing to write in this case.


The fog layer. I thought that our team could look like rock stars at a concert out there with our own fog machine.


While waiting for the final decision to be made, we did do a full circumnavigation of the ice island to use the Amundsen’s sonar equipment in an attempt to map the underwater sidewalls of the ice island. It took 2 hrs and 40 min to transit around the entire perimeter. One of my objectives this year is to take a series of aerial photos with a digital camera for the creation of a 3D model of the ice island. Though I didn’t do the aerial work, I did get an excellent dataset of 1900 photos of the entire perimeter’s above-water sidewalls (1 image every 5 seconds for ~ 3 hours…, plus some). Hopefully these can be matched up with the underwater sonar mapping I mentioned, and one project can be started from the few hours spent at the site. 

What fun lives in an under-ice cave?

We had to start steaming away, east towards Greenland, to keep the ship on schedule and not waste time for possible future opportunities for ice island field work. We are still early in the cruise (we have another two weeks) and both the science and ship crews assure me that there is lots of time and effort left to make this field season worth all that prep!


One of the more picturesque of the 1900 images that I have now looked through!

Also, I’ve decided that if I’m ever down about the way things are going, that I need to remember that there is still time, and that things are good if you are fortunate enough to wear a jacket in July!

Remembering 2013.

I realize and apologize for writing so scantly on the research trip of last summer. The events of that trip alone were impossible to keep up with, and the same can be said for each passing week since we disembarked the CCGS Amundsen in Pond Inlet, Nunavut in August.

That summer excursion was exciting yet stressful at times with our ice island sampling ultimately foiled by persistent bad weather (fog) and persistent wildlife (polar bears).  That one sentence does not do the three week trip justice, but for the purposes of this entry, is all that is necessary to wrap that chapter up before moving on to the ultimately more important fall of 2013.

Those that are involved with Arctic research or listen to the CBC – and know the work that our lab is involved with – already know of the events that unfolded in the Western Canadian Arctic in September. I have meant to write about it here, at least to give all those involved in the accident their due acknowledgement, for a long time. On a peaceful ski along a favourite trail this morning after a thoughtful drive through my perfectly lit Adirondack Mountains yesterday, it was decided that this refection on 2013 was necessary before turning the calendar over to a yet unwritten 2014.

Members of ArcticNet, including those that carry out their work from the Amundsen year after year, were rocked in early September when an accident with the ship’s helicopter took three respected, expert and kind men away from us. They were each at the top of their field and though the emotion of those on board at that time, their close colleagues and friends, and so importantly their families, is unimaginable, I want to attempt to show condolence and state how it deeply touched us all, right across the country.

It is certain that they will be remembered, for this widely spread community has evolved into a supportive and tightly-woven network of researchers and friends who will make sure of it. I personally owe thanks to this group, as well as to amazingly understanding friends and family for their care over the past few months.

Natural, industrial and political events of global importance are currently playing out in the Arctic. The continuation of the research carried out on the Amundsen, as well as elsewhere in the region, is incredibly important as these unfold. 2014 will undoubtedly be a significant year in the region. 

For tonight, while reflecting on our own years and ringing in the new, let’s raise a glass to our three friends and this community. Take care.



Back on the boat!


After a year in dry-dock, the CCGS Amundsen is once again steaming north to the Canadian Arctic for its annual Scientific Research Cruise. Everyone, scientists and crew, are excited to get back to work since last year`s trip was cancelled due to majorly needed engine repairs. It’s all systems go now and we’re humming along on a smooth ride with our 4 shinning new engines.

I am here with a new graduate student, Melissa, to re-instate our lab’s ice island field work. I realize that I feel much more comfortable and calm this time on board as I have the routine down and know the ins and outs of the ship. It is also fun for me to have Melissa around, since it is her first trip to the Arctic; she is extra excited and brings great energy.

We will only be visiting one ice island on this two and a half week trip, before getting off in Pond Inlet, a small town at the northern reaches of Baffin Island. There will be a small rotation of scientists then – Melissa and I will disembark with a few others and a new group will come on board and head even further north and into Greenland waters. The scientists on that leg, many from the University of Manitoba, will be modern scientific storm chasers – looking for a storm at the start of the perennial sea ice cover so that they can send instruments out to measure different processes occurring before, during and after the storm.

This ‘leg’ that Melissa and I are on from Quebec City to Pond Inlet has its own fun and perhaps not as nerve-racking missions. We are doing intensive sampling starting this evening in two fjords along the Labrador Coast. Sam Fjord, I am told, is incredible with its 5000 ft cliffs vertical on either side of you. After the fjords we will be stopping in Pangnirtung, another small town but on the southern portion of Baffin Island, to bring on board two specialized ROV (remotely operated vehicle) drivers. They are going to deploy a massive cube of a robot through the ‘moon pool’ in the center of the ship and look for deep sea, cold water corals in the middle of Baffin Bay. This won’t be until early next week. THEN we will get more serious about choosing the ice island that we will target as our field site. There are many between 5-10 sq km along the Baffin Island coast, some from the 2010 break of the Petermann Glacier, which we visited back in 2011 (see way earlier posts). There are also pieces from the 2012 Petermann Glacier break-off event, and at least one ice island produced by the Ryder Glacier – the neighbor of the Petermann Glacier in Northwestern Greenland.

For now, Melissa and I will prep our equipment and plan as best we can for the big day. That can be another post as well. Right now we are all excited to get to the first real stations in the fjord – those will be the first tests of the other scientists’ equipment and procedures. I must say that the ice island work may be stressful because the nature of it being a one shot deal (only one ice island, limited time, no mess-ups!), but I will never have to sample water or take a core from the ocean floor at 2 am. For now I can simply enjoy waking up to ever increasing amounts of sunshine and a new, beautiful backdrop of scenery every morning.

FYI – this post is long over due and a bit late because of weak internet connections. There is more to share and will come in the next few days. Hopefully pictures too!



It may not be possible to blame inanimate ice flows for their actions, but the ‘extreme ice features’ of the Beaufort Sea certainly haven’t been behaving as expected this season. As a result, I am writing to you from the comfort of my own bedroom instead of the PolarGrizz Bed and Breakfast in Sachs Harbour. While yet still cozy, the location (scroll out) is much more exciting.

A field season and the accompanying data collection was sacrificed due to safety concerns (fellow researchers were forced to spend an unexpected night on an ice floe less than a week before we were to embark north). However, we are still excited and learning much from the abnormal events currently playing out in the Western Canadian Arctic.

To start, last year’s sea ice minimum was the lowest extents ever recorded. Following (though perhaps not correlated) this March was the 5th lowest maximum extent of sea ice. Even if it is not possible to say a low maximum extent reached in February/March will cause a low minimum extent in September, it is shown that both (minimum and maximum sea ice extents) are experiencing decreasing trends. Along with that are the decreasing amounts of multi-year sea ice, which is what my colleagues from the University of Manitoba were setting out to measure, instrument and remotely monitor during the floes drift in the Beaufort Sea.

The low maximum extent and decreased multi-year ice amounts were not the sole causes of our field operations being cancelled. A perfect alignment of events including early (2 months) ice break-up from the west and heavy winds from the east created the conditions necessary to push the existing ice floes out of reach from our planned field base in Sachs Harbour. This video of time-lapsed satellite imagery caused a few uneasy turns of the stomach as it circulated the internet. A map for scale and location may be helpful to understand the magnitude of the break-up over the 2 months.

The field work and subsequent analysis we were to undertake on extreme ice features (ice islands and multi-year ice floes) is conducted as part of the Beaufort Regional Environmental Assessment. The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are hot spots for present and future offshore development. It is troubling to think that the conditions outlined above may cause the offshore activity to speed up, as it could be mistaken that ice hazards no longer exist in the vicinity. This is not the case, as Shell learned last September during the record low sea ice extents of 2012. Shell shut down Arctic operations prematurely due to multiple equipment and environmental issues. If anything, the unpredictable nature of Arctic weather and ice conditions should spur a precautionary approach when planning increases of resource extraction or ship traffic in the isolated and severe region.

The Arctic is under public, private sector and government eye at the moment. I hope that the changes occurring to this beautiful environment are taken seriously by all three parties. If there is one link to watch the full way through it is this short video, which is spot on in the explanation of the ironic cause and effect loop, between human actions and the Arctic’s transformation.

And that’s a wrap!

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!


So the adventure keeps on rolling here on Baffin Island. I don’t know how exciting it is to read about us waiting around, but sometimes the best stories come when your schedule and plans go completely awry.

I’m sitting here writing this at Cape Hooper – where FOX 4, an old Distant Early Warning sight, was set up in the 60s. Now it is the sight of a massive, two year long clean-up operation. The workers stay in a little trailer camp off to the side of a pretty impressive runway (larger than some of the towns’ that I’ve been through recently). – For a picture!

Why we are here is the fun part though. After sitting in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut from Friday through Monday, we were finally called in from the BBC crew out at the ice island. They had managed to store a fuel cache for us on the ice, so that when we got there we would be able to refuel the helicopter. This was pretty important because the distance from Qikiqtarjuaq to the ice was pretty much the exact limit of the helicopters range on one tank of gas and 4 jerry cans that we have stored away for back up. The nearest community to the iceberg, Clyde River, has issued a warning that they were not releasing fuel to anyone. So it was iceberg or bust!

The bummer was that we had sat out some beauty days in Qikiqtarjuaq. Perfect for flying and perfect for work on the ice.  Best not to think of what might have been though…(but hard not to!).

Anyways, it was all systems go on Wednesday. The weather in town was great, so we took off and the ride up the coast of Baffin Island is once again, amazing. Breathtaking, incredible, majestic…throw in any beauty and impressing adjective you want.

About an hour into our two hour trip, we got a satellite phone call from our BBC logistics contact in the UK. We were startled, to say the least, a piece of the ice island had broken away from the main part of the berg, and even more astounded to learn that it was where the fuel had been cached and they had planned for us to land! Apparently, the ship had been moored alongside at the time as well and had to slip its ropes in a good hurry. I have heard other stories since, but in the long run, a 3 mile fracture resulted and then completely separated from the main iceberg and is now freely floating in the sea (away from everything else which is still grounded). To say the least, Mike (pilot) and I are extremely relieved that we weren’t just touching down when all of the excitement began!

After stopping at the same camp where we are now (again), we continued back to Qikiqtarjuaq for the night. We’re a little bit of a joke (harmless I believe) to the rest of the guests (or the 1 guest and the manager) of the little Qik hotel. Every night was supposed to be our last, so the return after actually flying away was a bit much. I did have my own welcoming crew at the airport though – my gaggle of four Bieber fashion girls came running up the road and walked me to the hotel. After whatever disappointment you went through that day, those girls would surely cheer you up.

Where are we? That was Monday. So on to Tuesday. We were up pretty early because the ship crew had been able to get some more fuel on the ice Monday night and we thought we would have another shot. I’d say it was at the crack of dawn, but that isn’t too much after dusk here. Flying by 7:30 and we were again cruising down the stunning coast line, spirits high. Almost exactly where we received our rerouting phone call the day before, we hit just a wall of weather. Fog, cloud, rain – whatever could form in the sky ahead, did. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle of the arctic or something. So it was another trip back to Cape Hooper to try and wait it out. As we still had a full day ahead of us, we were hopeful that the weather would clear and we’d still be able to make our way north. Of course things just don’t always go as you plan up here (maybe I should’ve learned that already, but you got to keep hoping). So it is now Wednesday evening and we still haven’t left Cape Hooper/Fox 4! These guys are super nice to let us bunk up and eat all of their delicious food (I’m going to come home and need a few long runs after this!). They are having their own issues – the planes that were supposed to bring in more food haven’t been able to land because of the same weather, so they are on their last full meal tonight the cook tells me. Maybe Mike and I will be cracking open our little survival kit tomorrow night and chowing down on some Hershey’s. Could be worse – if this camp wasn’t here we’d be on some random island. This is much more comfortable and warm, and safe! They have 8 polar bear monitors in a camp of 45 people! I have yet to see one, but apparently there was a good 12 foot one at the end of my bunk trailer last night…As long as it stays down at the other end, I’m cool.

One of the locals from the closest town (150 k away…) taught us some fun polar bear lessons today. Apparently, if you ask to see a polar bear – you’ll get what you ask for. And if you are staring at one and it starts stretching its front limbs and shoulders, it’s just limbering up – so watch out. They’ll also leave you alone if you’re the black sheep of your family. Which I don’t think I am, but hopefully I’m not the baby either.

We’re all wondering a bit, what’s next. Every time I see someone in camp that I haven’t seen for 2 hours, the question is, “You’re still here?”. It’s up to the fog, whenever it lifts, we’ll go. We have only enough fuel to either get us to the iceberg or back to Qikiqtarjuaq. So no iffy attempts. We did try once to get out yesterday afternoon – we were going to island hop underneath the cloud ceiling (of 300 feet), but after getting around the next island south, there was complete opaque fog and nothing to see. So that was our only ‘playing around’ fuel, now it is only definite flights!

It looks like tonight is another night at Fox 4! Thankfully I have a good friend in this pilot, or else I think we would both be going a bit mad by this point! And tomorrow is another day – I do wish that it would bring some blue skies!