“How was your trip?!” -“Scenic…”

Well, time that I checked back in here. I hope that no one was holding their breath for an update from that last trip, because it honestly took me a while to get to writing this conclusion post due the campaign being fairly disappointing data collection wise. The sting has worn off though, and even if you’re allotted ice time is cut to 1/5th of the original… at least you got that 1/5th?! We spent it slipping and sliding  over 2 km of rolling ice ridges and small melt rivers with 9 m of thickness measuring equipment strung out behind us. That 2 km of data will allow me to decipher thickness changes which have occurred since we originally did the walk in May. We also got to measure surface melt at a number of pre-installed stakes and collect two temperature sensors, these all being tasks which we rarely are able to do since we barely ever make back to the same piece of ice twice (let alone 4x now to this specific piece of ice).

And, it is always incredibly beautiful…

We had to leave a piece of malfunctioned equipment out on the ice island – so expect more next spring when I try to get back to troubleshoot!

Be well!


Wobbly(?) ice islands of Baffin Bay

After this week, you may not be reading much on ice islands for a good bit. So enjoy it now 😉 ! Somehow two trips to Arctic ice islands have snuck into the 2016 calendar, when the plan was for me to be behind a computer crunching ice island numbers and writing ice island words. Don’t worry – no complaints here.

This trip is purely a continuation of the last few entries, as we (a fellow grad student and I) are hitching rides to that monstrous ice island sexily named ‘PII-A-1-f’ which has been stubbornly grounded near the community of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut for something like a year and a half. Right now I’m patiently waiting here in Pond Inlet on the north coast of Baffin Island for the time tomorrow when I’m to go down to the beach and put my thumb out, as I’m told a big red boat (ship, if you’re picky) is supposed to steam by around happy hour. From there it’s a 2 or 3 day chug south, when we’ll get back on the ice island with the CCGS Amundsen’s fancy new helicopter. The images below, made available through NASA satellites and online mapping tools, show where we’re headed and through the clouds, the ice island itself from space.


Nothing extraordinary is happening on my end this time around (except that we fly out to a 12 sq km iceberg in a helicopter, no big deal…). I’m most excited to repeat my ice penetrating radar thickness transects – as I have never been able to get back to the same site twice to measure thickness change across a long distance. Our fancy stationary ice penetrating radar, which we installed last year, has steadily been measuring thickness change (a good 5 to 6 m) at that one location since October 2015. We’ll do a little maintenance to that system, along with the weather station which has started to tilt due to what I can only imagine is weariness due to 11 months in the elements. The radar and weather station systems will be left for another over-wintering, as we hope that this ice island eventually ungrounds itself and starts transiting south. We’re hoping for some drifting ice island data! It is very possible that this time will come soon, as the ice island has been seen to ‘wobble’ (pivot) greatly over the past 2 weeks with a large notch starting to form where we believe the ice island will split in two. Only time will tell, but we really could be chasing ice if this thing let’s go within the next 5 days.


Sentinel-1 satellite imagery (European Space Agency) showing the ice island pivot and notch forming.

While my work may be more of the same, my co-worker Ron’s field work is going to start him off on his project which is hoping to find a correlation between ice crystal structure and the signal which the ice island gives back to satellites, sometimes making is more or less hard to identify an ice island from surrounding sea ice. Our on-site work will consist of taking ice cores and making sure to mark their orientation in respect to that of the ice island (easier said than done, as the ice spins and breaks within the core barrel).

There will be a follow-up write-up soon after the work is complete. Fingers crossed for good weather and no Nanuq (polar bear)!

With that, signing off from stunning Pond Inlet.





Skidoos & Sunburns

A packed schedule and limited internet made additional updates from Qikiqtarjuaq impossible, so here is the belated overhaul of the nine days on the coast of Baffin Island:

I was picked up at the airport by Eric Brossier of the Vegabond, where we piled numerous cases and bags into his komatiq. Eric’s expeditions are absolutely worth a follow. He and his family have been around the Arctic, and beyond, in a sailboat. The adventures that his two young daughters are having are unimaginable (and they are becoming fluent in Inuktitut in the meantime!). I was then dropped off at the Angnakok’s residence where I was given a cozy room in the home of a respected and truly lovely couple who have lived in the community for decades.

Jay, who helped me get to the ice island and did his fair share of the grunt work once there, and I set out on Saturday for the ice island after one day of figuring out my way around town and prepping all of the equipment and materials that had been shipped and brought with me. We were both set up on our own skidoos (I got the 4-stroke Skandic 900 ‘Cadillac’ – it was a fun ride!), with Jay towing all of the equipment and gear on his own komatiq. Unfortunately, as we made the turn around Broughton Island (on which Qikiqtarjuaq is situated), we met a wall of cloud and snow which left our visibility quite minimal (think white, lots of white). At this point I was much appreciating our ability to turn around, wait an additional day and a half, and try again.

So… Monday morning came and the sun was shining, really shining. We were at the ice island in good time, and looked around for a bit for a proper access point – because somehow we had to get on top! That was the major worry during the planning for the trip – what if there was no natural access point to get on the ice island? Were we ready to climb our way on somehow? Thankfully, there was no need, as Jay was able to find a suitable snowdrift on the southeast face which we were able to motor up. Now, that is fun. (Coming down is too!)

We both were near t-shirt status by the end of the day. First up was the physically-easy modifications to the stationary ice penetrating radar that has been on the ice since last year. Then we went to work, setting out a number of ablation stakes and temperature sensors along a 3.5 km transect that the following day we were planning on towing a mobile ice radar and GPS along. This will give a better representation of the ice thickness surrounding that one point which the stationary system sits over. We also put out a number of fluorescent markers (think of them as our breadcrumb trail), so that a fellow researcher can repeat the thickness transect in July without trouble. This is another instance of the ice island being mobile causing havoc in a normally easy procedure, since following a simple GPS track would allow someone to re-do such a transect in most cases when on terra firma.

There was also a lot more snow than I was used to (as in, normally there is zero). So I also dug a number of snowpits to find the density of the snow layers. It was pretty fun sitting in a 1.5 m hole, identifying the various layers, testing their hardness and then recording their density and temperature. Call it a ‘snow geek out’ moment.

It was time to return home then, and I figured I may as well try and capture some of the glorious drive. I’ve put together all of the footage from my GoPro here.

It covers a few of the back-and-forths to the ice island over the week when it was on a timelapse mode, and also has some actual video footage of the radar being towed on our second day out. That operation went very well, there was still lots of sun (as you’ll notice) and we covered the 3.5 km transect and more with the radar. I was interested in crossing a ‘feature’ which I have been following with satellite imagery of the ice island, since I think this is where the next large fracture is going to occur, and I’m looking for evidence in the sub-surface structure to support this.

The GoPro footage also has some footage from the last field day. This was the day when I tried some new data collection methods, and I quite enjoyed my day as an oceanographer. We drilled 8 holes through the sea ice (approx. 1.25 m) with a large auger so that we could send down two instruments: a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor and a current meter, to collect information on the water column at various locations around the ice island. We found that even though the ice island is grounded at approximately 120 m, this must be a fairly isolated shoal since our casts indicated depths of over 320 m just nearby.

Unfortunately, due in part to user error and in part to instrument quirkiness, some data was not logged by the instruments. I’m certainly remembering the lessons from that, chalking it up to experience gained, and happy that we prioritized our sampling so that the more important data was collected.

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Overall, if you weigh the data which was collected on all 3 days and include the really special connections that I was so fortunate to make with Qikiqtarjuaq community members, the trip’s glass is certainly well more than half full. Hat’s off to Jay, my guide and extra set of hands, for all of his work. There is no way it would have been accomplished without him. He also was continually teaching me while we were out on the ice… I now know how to tell where the sea ice ends by looking at the colour of the clouds, when it’s best to hunt caribou, polar bear and seal, and to always pack an ice chisel!

That will be all from this end for a little while. PII-A-1-f will be visited again, we hope, in July by a fellow researcher, and then I plan to go back with a lab mate in September. But we’ll see what the summer season has in store for our site!



The Dream

This week I’m going to, once and for all, weather and field work gods permitting, substantively revisit a field site. It is something that is written into almost every field research proposal – this lofty goal of accessing an ice island not once, but twice, to assess the changes which took place in the intervening period. Though I’ve gotten close in 2012 and 2013, I have yet to get back in a meaningful way, data-collection wise.

This ice island which I and a local guide intend to snowmobile out to is 40 km from Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, a town of 520 people on the east coast of Baffin Island. Myself and friends accessed the ice island, coded PII-A-1-f, in October of 2015. We established a field site where we installed an ice penetrating radar to measure ice thickness and small weather station to record the associated environmental conditions. These systems have recorded and transmitted the data daily – so that elusive return trip was not necessary to collect the data (though recouping the instruments someday would be nice!). So I guess today I’m acting a bit like a little kid before bed who keeps asking for one more bedtime story, except this time it’s quite a resource intensive journey out to a huge slab of ice!

At one point this winter the priority task of this trip was to attend to the radar system which had flat-lined around the start of the new year. However, the poor thing just needed some sun rays (like any of us after the winter season), and we were back to receiving our daily ‘radargrams’ a few weeks later.

The rays pouring in. 


This was a very welcomed radargram after a few weeks of radar silence. 

Though I will check in on the radar and weather station, the purpose of this current trip is now to gather supplementary data around the station. We now have a very special, high-frequency data-set of ice island thickness and surface melt, but it’s just providing information at one point on a giant and variable ice surface. Now I have the opportunity to find out how thickness change varies spatially across the ice island by using a mobile radar and installing ablation [melt] stakes over transects stemming from the main field site.

The audacity of this work doesn’t stop here at the second visit to PII-A-1-f. Though this trip is really the second visit to this particular ice island, it’s a bit like the first in regards to the work being done. Now we have to get back again to re-do the transects and re-measure the ablation stakes so that we can determine the thickness change and surface melt over these transects. And we’re not just going for a third visit, but a forth too. These are planned from the trusty CCGS Amundsen in July and September later this year.

But for now, it’ll be a focus on making this trip a successful one. Fellow researchers working on sea ice surveys did a reconnaissance mission to the ice island just a few weeks ago while conducting sea ice surveys. I was relieved to find out that we’d be able to access the ice island with skidoos (and not some creative climbing and equipment hauling).

We hope to get out to the ice island this upcoming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Be on the lookout for an update after that!

In the meantime… If you’re hungry for some more information on ice islands along the Baffin Island coast, check out this pertinent, preliminary data-set (scroll down a bit on the site) from the Canadian Ice Island Drift, Deterioration and Detection database showing ice island occurrences between Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq, NU after the 2010 Petermann Glacier calving event. The Water and Ice Research Lab at Carleton University is currently amassing what will be an outstanding database of ice islands in Canadian waters after major calvings in northwest Greenland and northern Ellesmere Island. (Final note: I take full responsibility for this shameless plug.)

Be well,


Reliving through time-lapse

It has been 2 months since the last post written right after our big day on the ice in October. This is coming to you from the 2015 American Geophysical Union’s Annual Fall Meeting, where 24,000 geoscientists of one kind-or-another have converged on San Francisco for the week to talk about all things Earth and Space. Some of us took a break this afternoon from the graphs and plots (to a degree) to spend time learning of some extremely creative examples of Arctic science communication which are currently being undertaken. One of these presentations was by a PhD blogger who runs the site cryopolitics.com (check it out), while others introduced us to sound-scapes of Arctic change and how 3D printing can now be used to allow all of us to experience melting ice floes. These are amazing initiatives. I often grapple with how to communicate my own research, on a small scale, and my brain often gets tied in knots trying to figure out the best forms of mass communication regarding climate (and/or Arctic) science. Unfortunately for me, but I believe this is the case with many others in my community, these problems aren’t likely to be solved with the linear trains of thought to which I am prone. While I work on arching the rails of those thoughts, IF you (or anyone you know) would like to collaborate on using ice island inspired visual art, music, story-lines, creative data interpretation.. to bring and make relevant Arctic change via climate change to all of us in the lower latitudes, please do let me know! I think it could be quite fun and very possible to do, though I may be biased on the subject matter.

During this whole afternoon session, I remembered that I wanted to share a time-lapse video that my friend Graham (and superstar technician) had the foresight to set up. Better late than never, right? I suggest watching it a few times, at least once just for the cloud show.

Time really did seem to fly when we were on the ice that day. Only one or two of the pictures that you see in the previous post are mine. Thank you, over and over, to Graham, Gabriel and Jonathan for taking pictures that day and allowing me to share them (and help me to re-live that day as well!).

Can’t ask for more.

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.


Equipment delivery

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.

Be well,


Not done yet…

Snow on the foredeck. Sorry, only one picture this time around. Internet is moving slowly today!

Snow on the foredeck. Sorry, only one picture this time around. Internet is moving slowly today!

Here on the Amundsen, the first of three legs is coming to an end today. We’re chugging south from a transect across Baffin Bay at 76°N and will arrive in Pond Inlet, Nunavut later this morning where a small crew change will take place. The ten high school students and three teachers who have been shadowing us to learn all they can on Arctic science in their eleven days on board are disembarking there, and my friend & major help, Graham, will be joining us.

Reporting on Leg 4a, the one just wrapping up, doesn’t take long. Starting 36 hours late made for some tricky scheduling by the chief scientist, but we were quite successful in the oceanographic sampling department. Unfortunately, a case of ‘disappearing ice island’ hampered my efforts to survey any piece as I had done 2014. A particular piece in the vicinity of our ship’s planned track was being followed on satellite imagery until the end of August, but since that time has become too small or was obscured by surrounding sea ice, and we were no longer to monitor its location.

We did hope to do some bathymetric (sea floor) mapping to try and locate large scour marks made by ice islands running a ground. There is one location where this has happened repeatedly, and with great force, as far as we can tell from our remote monitoring with satellite imagery. The ‘unfortunately’ for this one was too much sea ice in the area, making it impossible to use the ship’s sonar for the mapping.

The one small, but fun, success was our retrieval of a beacon which I deployed on an ice island much further north in Kane Basin last year. This particular type of beacon floats, and the First Mate was able to spot it with his eagle eyes (and some trusty binoculars) bobbing in the waves 2000 ft away. Now we will try and redeploy the beacon on a new ice island, along with the three others given to us by Environment Canada’s staff of ice island fans.

Besides the above, it has been more and more preparation for the big days of work on the new leg 4b. We’re aiming for some large pieces of ice just north of the Cumberland Peninsula and Iqaluit. Our weather station is plugging away on the ‘Monkey’s Island’ just above the wheelhouse, the physical set up of the radar system is all ready, and it seems like we are just tying up the loose ends so that on the big day we are as smooth and efficient as possible.

Without much more science to report on, I’ll fill you in on the important comings-and-goings of Amundsen life.

  • Bar tending is a role that one is expected to fill, from time to time, when that someone is not busy with their own sampling operations. I finally fulfilled my duty as bar tender after 4 years coming on board. It’s a tough job, especially for someone who knows zero about mixed drinks. Orders for them also had to come with instructions.
  • I found the cappuccino machine. Yah – we are really roughing it up here. I am now developing a penchant for a foamed milk layer with my 10 am coffee. This will be an expensive habit when I get back to terra firma.
  • There is a new gym! It’s on the bottom floor too, so you don’t experience as much roll. But this seems to also take the fun out of your on-ship workout. Treadmills are so much more interesting when you need to devote at least ½ your brain to staying upright.
  • The pastry chef likes to sing. It is always in French, but today I recognized the Christmas tune. The snow draped over Baffin Island is getting him into the spirit apparently.

Most importantly: Please go to the below website and vote for Gabriel’s, my friend and shipmate, submission for the CARIS calendar competition. The underwater portion of the iceberg is mapped with a multibeam sonar, and Derek and I are on our way in the helicopter to deploy some beacons.



IMAGE #26!!

Keep wishing for that sunny weather for us! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!