Bonjour, hello, friends!
Sidewall of PII-A-1-f with Baffin Island as a magnificent backdrop. Photo: Patricia DeRepentigny
The Amundsen and most of the personnel, are resting in Frobisher Bay near Iqaluit, NU on this last Sunday of Leg 4b. It was a leg packed full of unusual..?, difficult..?, or at least not-your-normal-sampling-station, activities. Our chief scientist illustrated our success over this leg by colour coding our reached, missed, or altered objectives and it was obvious that we had accomplished close to everything planned. That was not an easy task for the lead guy, with all of the complications imposed by weather, malfunctioning equipment, and many operations which competed for daylight. Goals reached include: taking a variety of cores along the east coast of Baffin Island, using the remotely operative vehicle to explore the ocean floor for cold-tolerant critters, deploying some sophisticated, semi-permanent sensors on the sea floor (the ‘lander’) and in the water column (the ‘float’), and… a very successful day spent installing equipment on a 14 km2 ice island barcoded ‘PII-A-1-f’!
It is with much happiness, and relief, that I get to write that. I am always dumbfounded at the extravagant ratio of time and effort put into preparation to that spent during one day on the ice, and this was especially true in 2015. However, I do not mean to downplay what was accomplished last Tuesday. The effort did not cease until the last helicopter flight, returning our team members to the ship, could be seen lifting off from the Amundsen’s deck. This trip has me remembering my first trip in 2011 in many ways: same cruise location and timing, same bunk, many familiar faces on board, and working on the ice pounding computer keys (in the case of 2015, prying a hole in the ice open) until the very bitter end.
We had been monitoring the location of a number of ice islands over the month, and even though PII-A-1-f was grounded (I’d optimally collect data on a mobile, deteriorating piece), it was pivoting 180° – a good sign that it could dislodge itself, and was also an order of magnitude larger than anything else around. We were incredibly fortunate that the good weather held out for us to make it to the more southerly reaches of Baffin Island. PII-A-1-f was grounded just 30 km from the community of Qikiqtarjuaq, which may ring a bell for those who remember the 2012, adventure-riddled sojourn in the area.
The last thing I had to worry about was the presence of un belle ours polaire, with the chances being heightened due to the ice island being grounded so close to land. The decision to test our chances with the grounded, more easily bear accessible ice island was balanced by the likelihood of this piece outlasting other fragments, and thereby providing much more data and the possibility of retrieving our equipment next year.
The amazing ice crew
Setting radar settings
Drilling, drilling, drilling
Our teamwork was exceptional on the ice. We were geared up and on the helicopter deck for 7 am and the installation sites were determined before the helicopter equipment sling arrived at 9:15. It was non-stop set-up until we needed to be back on the ship at 4:30 pm due to sunset and impending darkness. My friend and technician-extraordinaire, Graham, solo’ed the weather station while I went to work on the radar system. We were able to confirm that both systems were collecting data and successfully transmitting it for our remote retrieval (quite important if you consider these systems as disposable) by calling contacts, on the ship and even the manufacturer in Vancouver, by radio and satellite phone. While this was all going swimmingly, it was the drilling of 17 x 5+ m deep holes that bottle-necked the operation. Our first two systems, a steam drill and power-drill auger combo, were slow, unfamiliar, and/or malfunctioning. Thankfully, you can always resort to manual power! These holes were necessary for anchoring our systems and supporting accessories such as solar panel arrays and satellite antennas. Also, very thankfully, I had two team members who never ceased alternating their drilling and bear monitoring duties. Completing the installations would have been impossible without them.
Additionally, an important last piece of the puzzle would have come back on the ship with us if it wasn’t for Jonathan’s ingenuity. At the last hole to be drilled we realized that some coupling, needed for a metal post that was to host an instrument to measure surface melt, would not fit into the 2” hole that our auger was capable of drilling. The steam drill really came in handy at this point, when we snaked the hose through the pipe itself and with a little applied pressure, got the post 4 m into the ice before we heard the chopper blades starting up.
Sometimes you need to hug your equipment and provide some comforting words of encouragement.
The good weather didn’t stop for the following days, which let me have a chance to drop beacons and do some aerial photography for 3D modeling on small icebergs in the region. But getting the installations all set, and confirmations of the daily data transfer, was what I really was on board to accomplish. I stepped into the shower after a team dinner on Tuesday evening and promptly experienced 4 resounding neck ‘adjustments’. Ahhhh, that was welcomed!
What a work space!
I can sign off happily for 2015, though I think a picture-heavy post is warranted for next week when I’m back in Ottawa.