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 (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!

Same ol’ tune?

By now, we here crew and researchers of the Amundsen, have mostly learned to roll with whatever unplanned (but almost expected?) curves are thrown into our meticulously drawn up plans. I expect that those of you who bother to follow these updates are learning this as well, so it is probably no surprise to hear that this is being written during hour 3 (4? 5?) of sitting in the side-chamber like room at the Iqaluit airport which seems to be traditionally reserved for the terminal’s air traffic controllers. The weather conditions in Resolute Bay, where the Amundsen is currently waiting for us, can only be described as ‘really not good’. The first words from the three people I met at the airport at 4:30 this morning, after an initial handshake, were, “have you seen the forecast for up there today?” Blizzard + 50 to 80 kmh winds gusting to 110 + periods of freezing rain + a southern wind building giant waves = no helicopter, no barge, and perhaps even no landing our plane. Thus, we wait it out in the south. Side note: I can now say that I’ve eaten Arctic shawarma because of this layover.

We’ve kept busy back in Ottawa with our preparations for this next tour of Arctic Canada since our ‘surprise’ field season when we went offshore Newfoundland and Labrador earlier this year. I’m joining 40 crew members, and a smattering of scientists, who will be on board for the full 5 week tour of Baffin Bay, the Labrador Sea and St. Lawrence River. Others will come and go as we stop in Pond Inlet and Iqaluit, NU on the way. About a dozen high school students from across the country are also joining us for a trip which all of their friends back home are going to be mega-jealous.

Our team is very appreciative of the large amount of time which has been allocated to ice island field work during this leg of the science cruise. If all goes to plan (and we know how well that usually goes), we will re-survey a small fragment of the ice island which we worked on in 2014. The beacon which we deployed to track the ice island’s drift since then is showing a location right in the vicinity of the ship’s planned track. However, if there is still a piece of ice associated with the beacon remains yet to be confirmed. Otherwise, we’ll look to do a similar thickness profile and photo-survey for 3D modeling on a new ice island. We’re also hoping to use the ship’s sonar to map the seafloor in a region where numerous ice islands have beached themselves, in the hopes of finding some significant scour marks.

The big work, which we would love all of your positive thoughts to be directed to, will take place in mid-October as we steam down the east coast of Baffin Island. There are a number of ice islands grounded along the coast, ranging from <1 km2 to >14 km2. All of the preparations I mentioned above will go toward two equipment installations on the chosen ice island (i.e., the one we reach when the sun is shining). We’re planning on setting up a prototype ice penetrating radar which will take daily ice thickness measurements for us to monitor the ice island’s thinning. The second system is a small weather station which will record, among other things, surface melt. We’ll use this (with the thickness) to determine the mass balance (thinning magnitude, with the top and bottom surface contributions known). The weather station is also decked out with a camera, which keeps an eye on the radar system, GPS, air and ice temperature sensors and a modem/antenna for transmitting all this data back to an email inbox. Because if we happen to lose the equipment to Neptune, we may as well have some data for all of this effort!


There was a lot cables and metal posts on my back porch for a few weeks!

radar boxes on some Loeb Building 'lawn'

radar boxes on some Loeb Building ‘lawn’



Thanks for reading, catch you somewhere near Greenland..

Over and out.


And that`s a wrap!

Well, that’s a wrap. Usually on the Amundsen I have some solid downtime to write trip updates as we go, since the ice island work is pretty spread out. That wasn’t the case this time around. The iceberg mapping team had no shortage of work over the past 3 weeks. It seemed that we were constantly in the right place at the right time. We may have also benefited from the fact that environmental conditions (i.e., no quality sea ice) were unfavourable for others` work on the ship – thus giving us more surveying days (sorry Kerri and Lauren!).


The ice was alright for these guys. Credit: Sylvain

We worked on 6 icebergs in total. Weather and sea ice conditions made it impossible to complete a ‘full’ survey of any one iceberg, but I am ecstatic by the amount of work which was accomplished. A full day would have included photo surveying from the helicopter and using the barge for laser scanning (for the icebergs’ above-water face) and multibeam sonar surveying (under-water portion) as well as oceanographic sampling to collect data for iceberg drift analysis. Some weather condition on any given day would confound things – either we wouldn’t be able to get high enough with the helicopter due to low cloud ceilings or there would be too much (‘non-quality’) sea ice for the barge to be deployed. On those days when the latter was the case we’d still conduct the laser scanning from the barge – just while the barge was still sitting on the Amundsen’s deck! The team from Laval who ran the multibeam were instrumental in helping us with this, since operations with the helicopter and the ship were often overlapping. Unfortunately, their underwater surveying was what was cancelled out in this situation, as you really do need to have the barge in the water for that to occur!

long tabular berg B&W

One of our iceberg sites. Credit: G. McCullough.

Our photo rig

Our photo rig

Sixteen beacons/GPS units were deployed on the six icebergs. These will be used for drift modeling but a German student on board, as well as us to help correct for the icebergs’ drift while we were surveying them. Photogrammetry surveys were conducted on five of the bergs. We tried to repeatedly survey the same pieces so that I can determine how precise (how close we get to the same answer) our future 3D models are. This will give us our model error, which I’ll then use to say that we could detect deterioration above this minimal level. The same goes for the laser scanning surveys, which we conducted on four of the icebergs.

Just another day at work. Credit: G. McCullough

Right now we are heavy into the data processing side of things. The correction for iceberg drift and rotation during surveying is proving to be a tricky puzzle. We’re working out our correction method on a sample dataset which we took from a survey of the Amundsen itself. Once this is figured out, I’ll work on the 3D model comparisons that are mentioned above, and we’ll also work with the Laval team to integrate their underwater iceberg survey so that we can demonstrate our ability to produce a full 3D map of an iceberg. And from that… potentially ask for further funding to conduct a dedicated iceberg/ice island study to use these tested methods to actually study deterioration over a longer period of time.


Look ma, data! (that being the partial side and top of an iceberg)

But actually, right now were are transiting home on the St. Lawrence. We all took a break from our computer screens yesterday to enjoy a traditional end-of-cruise BBQ on the helicopter deck. Today we are hoping to see some whales and other wildlife as we pass through the Sagueney .  Then tomorrow, we’re back in port!

The scenic shot. Credit:

The scenic shot. Credit: G. McCullough

And with that, I’ll be signing off for the summer as the next field adventures aren’t scheduled until October.

Have a great spring and summer everyone!


Field season came early!

Greetings from Newfoundland and Labrador! We are back on the CCGS Amundsen and are currently located between the Flemish Pass and the southern Labrador Sea. The ship is steaming north into the sea ice, or what is left of it.

Before I lay out the background on this trip and what we’ve been up to for the past 10 days, I should finish up the final week or two of the Svalbard trip. The skies continued to lighten while we were there, but unfortunately the sun failed to show through the cloud on the day of the Sun Festival. This is when the entire community comes out to the old hospital steps and waits for the first moment when the sun could possible shine above the mountains towering over the town of Longyearbyen. There is a 15 year streak of this occurring, but no one seemed discouraged at the gathering afterwards where we all dug into ‘sun’ donuts and waffles with caramel (!) cheese. The last weeks were also filled with skis up glaciers, an epic snowmobile expedition to a tidewater glacier named Paulabreen, a final exam and a short holiday in Oslo.

Skiing down Longyearbreen (breen = glacier)

Studying by candlelight

Studying by candlelight

The sun doing it`s best to peak out behind the mountains and clouds

The sun doing it`s best to peak out behind the mountains and clouds

Then it was back to Ottawa to prepare (with haste) for the field campaign which Derek (my graduate studies supervisor) and I are on now. Though we knew that this trip was in the works since December, nothing had been finalized before I left for Svalbard – which meant that none of our preparations had been either. The three week turn-around between Svalbard and Quebec City for the Amundsen’s mobilization worked out in the end and a Dodge Caravan filled with aluminum plates, metal storage cases, 10 ft metal beams and 150 kg of pea gravel (you’ll see…) wheeled into the Coast Guard docks in Quebec City on April 12. We spent the following days setting up our lab, and most importantly, setting up one of the major components of our iceberg mapping experiment.

The reason d’etre of Derek and I for these weeks is to test methods for mapping the above-water portions (or ‘sails’) of icebergs. Though our lab group mainly focuses on ice islands further north in the Canadian Arctic, this Amundsen cruise (dedicated to iceberg and sea ice study) was a perfect opportunity for us to develop these methods for future use on ice islands.

These methods include photogrammetry and laser scanning surveys of the iceberg’s sails. Photogrammetry (and specifically something called Structure from Motion) is essentially conducted with a series of overlapping aerial photos which sophisticated software stitches together to ultimately produce a 3D model of a target. However, a drifting target of ice makes this difficult. Distinct features can be hard to come by on a chunk of ice and we have to account for the movement which the iceberg underwent during the surveying. So, before we can do the photo-survey helicopter flight we have to use the helicopter for transport to the iceberg and deploy a series of ground control points (these are man-made features for the software to identify) and GPS units (for post-correction of the iceberg drift, and to give scale to the final model).

The ground control points (bottom-up). 10 kg of pea gravel are inserted around the perimeter to weigh it down. It was successful in not budging after being deployed on the ice!

The ground control points (bottom-up). 10 kg of pea gravel are inserted around the perimeter to weigh it down. It was successful in not budging after being deployed on the ice!

The GPS placement is also important for the second method that we are testing – the laser scanning. This is done from the small barge which can be deployed from the Amundsen and was the method which which Derek and I had the least experience.  We had some help in the set-up and calibration of the instruments while in Quebec City, where we strapped the set-up (those aluminum plates and beams) and the laser scanner, two GPS units and something called an inertial monitoring unit (to account for the barge movement) on-top of the Dodge and drove around the Coast Guard docks. We certainly had everyone’s full attention with our get-up, and after some modifications to mount the survey-frame safely on the barge’s cabin, we were set to go. The plan is to circumnavigate an iceberg three times with the laser scanner to produce three separate models of the sail. An added plus is that there is another group on board with the equipment (a multibeam sonar) to map the underwater portion of the icebergs, coincident with our work. So we should have three models of an entire iceberg by the end of the trip.

The Caravan ready to go survey

The Caravan ready to go survey

Three surveys are also to be completed during the photo surveying. The idea of both the laser scanning and photogrammetry is to compare the three models produced by the single method to assess how precisely each method can produce a model. The variability between models can then be used to determine what magnitude of deterioration you could theoretically detect if you were able to survey a target over a longer period of time.

A lot hinges on the use of the helicopter. The GPS placement is necessary to account for drift during laser scanning as well as photo surveying. And of course this is always complicated by flying conditions. During our first big day of surveying yesterday we had to work in bursts during brief windows of adequate flying conditions. I have never had to consider the proper conditions for the barge in previous years but am now learning that there are a number of considerations on this front as well. It cannot be deployed when the sea ice concentration is too high, or when the sea state is too great. Getting back on the barge reminds me of my first trip in 2011 on the ship when I helped the team working the AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) from the barge. My first day out I got so sea sick that sprawled out in the small red shelter that they have onboard. Remembering this makes me understand at least one of the reasons for only operating the little vessel such as this when the waves and swell are of a permissible size!

The sea ice concentration issue came up yesterday during our first day of surveying. However, we adjusted – we still did the laser scanning, just with the barge still on-board the Amundsen’s deck! It was an interesting day, and quintessentially Amundsen. We planned our perfect survey day weeks ago. This would be 10 hours of activities in a pre-determined sequence, but we all know by now that those plans go out the window in no time on this ship and you do what you can to adjust. It is really nice to report that we already have solid data from yesterday’s work – GPS units were put out and three surveys from both the helicopter, and docked barge, were conducted.

The final element of our project is oceanographic data collection for a collaborator’s research on iceberg drift modeling. This does hinge on getting the barge in the water, which we hope to do today. First though, we have to locate an iceberg that was identified on some satellite imagery yesterday. This is proving difficult in 15 m visibility!

A major reason why yesterday was such a success is that Derek and I were given 3 opportunities to test our external camera mount (‘the Pod’) on the helicopter, and the wireless control for operating the camera, in the first few days of the trip. We also got out on the barge and tested the laser scanning on the Amundsen itself. This really helped our confidence and allowed us to hone our methods for the few days of true surveying which we are given. One modification included the replacement of plexi-glass like material for The Pod, which had me scouring the industrial section of St. John’s while we were in-port.

East Coast Trail break

East Coast Trail break


I think it is safe to leave it at that for now. Cross your fingers for clear skis and calm seas (seems like we just keep asking for more and more!).


Next up: pictures from yesterday! I just need to raid another computer’s files for those!

Catching the rays

Two weeks and a number of experiences later…

We are all amazed that we have been on Svalbard for close to a month. Since the last entry we’ve been vaulted through a week each of lectures on glacial dynamics and remote-sensing techniques and taken excursions to two local glaciers to test equipment and learn of their unique histories.

View into town from Longyearbyen

View into town from the glacier Longyearbyen 

Ice penetrating radar – which must have come up in a previous entry – is used for glacial profiling and we took a half-day excursion to the local glacier, Longyearbyen, to test out the university’s equipment. When we use radar for ice islands we are mostly concerned about determining their thickness. This is true for glaciologists as well, however, they also tend to experiment with their antenna frequency to hone-in on stratification within the ice. This can give hints to the locations of boundaries between cold and temperate ice, debris layers and melt water channels or englacial lakes. Detecting these features is useful in constructing a theory on the glacier’s past, and possibly it’s future. The university has sourced some amazing equipment for this. Their radar uses fiber optic connections and is tough enough to withstand snowmobile speeds. Plans are brewing to improve the slow towing of two sets of skis on the ice islands!

The radar set up

The radar set up

A small group revisited the glacier over the weekend for a relaxed ski on a beautiful day. I was impressed at the Fischers, as well as my shins, for holding up well on the descent!

Mine relics

Mine relics

Starting off

Starting off

The place to be!

The place to be!

Svalbard Selfie

Svalbard Selfie

Coming down

Coming down

The 'toothpick' skis

The ‘toothpick’ skis

I spent the last week learning about various techniques to detect changes in the cryosphere (glaciers, sea ice, ice shelves, ice sheets, etc.) with spaceborne sensors. I’m hoping to determine a way to detect the change in an ice island’s thickness with satellite collected data, so this week was especially pertinent for what’s to come with the research to be conducted back in Ottawa.

We did get to venture out on a stunning day to Tunabreen, a glacier ending at the water (now covered with sea ice). It was a good 2 hour skidoo ride out along two fjords and we were graced with the presence of caribou, at least 1 seal, and sun beams (!!!). Tunabreen is a glacier that has been slowly retreating – which evidence seen in the local seabed from its annual push mounds (due to slight advancements before further retreat). It calves regularly when the ocean warms over the summer, but we also saw some fresh rubble from a recent calving.

Tan anyone?

Tan anyone?





The wall

The wall


The sun is set to shine on Longyearbyen proper tomorrow – given that the clouds cooperate. We are set to go to a little festival to greet it tomorrow. That, on top of a trip to another ice cave today in yet another local glacier more-or-less out my backdoor, makes for a solid weekend!

Enjoy your own weekends, wherever you find yourself!

Down we go!

Down we go!