Here they are! A few pictures to go along with the un-illustrated paragraphs I’ve subjected to you.So the trip is all wrapped up and we’re on our way home. Four more days of travel – but I’m getting to know Inuvik really well. I found the ski trails this afternoon while out for a run – with permission I did a few loops. I was so impressed! Terrain, lights, perfect white snow still. This is going to be the new destination for spring skiing.

Enjoy the few pictures! This was a great trip, and successful too, even with all the logistical obstacles. Somehow everything always works out. Have a great spring everyone and there will be more blogging action come July!

Ice rocks!

Our transports

“Snoopy” Our Electromagnetic Interference / ice thickness instrument

Ice ridges

For those of you ever questioning – 2″ metal augers, ocean water plus -25C air temperatures doesn’t equal easy drilling

Perfect angel snow

Snow angel of the Arctic

Digging…    I had the theme song to the movie ‘Holes’ in my head all week

(If you enjoyed the book and movie like we did growing up)

Enjoying the gorgeous sun

Installing Dave’s weather station

Oscar the muskox

…and friends

Little red museum on the desert tundra

Check my ride home!


So much ice!

Ice? Did you say ice? You mean, as in penguins and Eskimos and igloos and ICE? Yes. There is ice up here. No penguins though. But you can certainly see why igloos are made. You could cut this snow into blocks with a chain saw.

Back at the homestead by 7:30 is such a treat tonight. We’ve been on a bit of a rampage as everyday can be your last when you don’t know when the fuel is going to run out for your helicopters or if the weather is going to shut you down for the next week. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well. A good days work in under -20 C will do that.

Things have been really successful, which is nice to report. We pack up our two helicopters each morning with enough auger flights to drill to whatever country we’d pop up at if we drilled straight through the Earth. New Zealand? Then some food, a big piece of red metal (EMI) that looks like a bazooka that we haul around on a sled to measure the ice thickness, and enough down jackets to make a feather bed. I stepped on the scale at the airport with all my whole get-up on and determined I put on 20 pounds worth of clothing and boots before going out. Either that or I really easily put on that blubber layer to keep myself warm.

Today and yesterday we’ve flown about 150 kilometers offshore to the west of Sachs Harbour to drill holes – so many holes – to measure ice thickness of different multi-year ice flows. Drilling 10 – 11 meters with a 2” auger should be simple. Whenever you do anything in sub -20C, especially involving water, is never simple though. The good news is that we were testing out a new ice thickness instrument which we’ll just have to drag over the ice and we’ll get an automatic ice thickness reading. But this is the first time anyone on this trip has used it and it arrived, like normal, the day before we left for Sachs. So no one really believes it works yet…or everyone is just cautiously hesitant to until we drill enough holes that measure the same thickness to validate its readings.  It is going to be such a beautiful day when our leader, Klaus, decides that ‘Snoopy’ (we didn’t name it…) does in fact tell the truth.

I keep talking about our fuel situation, with is always evolving – right up to the bitter end. The Canadian Wildlife Service was great and let us use their store here on the island. We went right through their 20 drums, so we replaced that with drums flown in from Inuvik on an old DC3. So then we dipped into the replacements, and are going to have to now bring in another flight load to replace those. Today is the very last flight day though, so we have to make it worth it! One helicopter is going to fly to the limit of the helicopter’s range to put in another triangle of beacons on three ice flows northwest of where we’ve mostly been staged. Hopefully I’ll get out this afternoon on helicopter number two to get back on the ice island and get that radar to take some more thickness readings of the ice island to the south.  It would be awesome if the Snoopy machine would take thickness readings of the ice island too – but it flat lines at 15 m thickness.

The fieldwork on this trip is completely different than what I experienced on the Amundsen – October’s icebreaker. It’s pretty awesome to be in charge of when you come and go – and the helicopter’s are here to do your bidding. The Amundsen had its own schedule, so the stress level was always off the charts to get your work done in a perpetually underestimated time frame. Even just having the helicopters stay with you all day, and not leave you at each site, calms my nerves. The helicopters can then shut down and you can get all of your equipment out without the fear of having your head lopped off. They are long days though – the time out on the ice plus the transit back and forth, then the packing and unpacking at each end. So you learn little tricks to survive the day comfortably. I’ve got my outfit down to  tee – 5 layers top and bottom. 2 buffs, gloves and mitts, glasses, definitely only one pair of socks (less is more on this occasion). I’m super jealous of Margaret, our local wildlife monitor who has come out with us on polar bear watch, who has beautiful musk ox gloves. The women in town knit the most gorgeous scarves and socks out of kiviat – the soft musk ox hair. Their supplies were bought out by a group of Americans who were up here last month. Which is good for my wallet but I know my feet would be incredibly happy with a pair of those toasty socks.

Then there are the little things like 2 sandwiches – with as much heavy meat and cheese as you want. Peanut butter and jelly holds up pretty well too and is a good dessert. A thermos of hot tea is crucial as well. A single hot sip honestly warms you all the way to the tips of your toes and makes it easy to keep working. I’m still rationing my Cadbury mini-Easter eggs too. They may be the only chocolate left here in the house.

We have had had no reason to spend one penny here in Sachs Harbour. Lucky too, that we bought enough food. We’d be spending a lot more if we didn’t, since Margaret told us that cans of Coke are going for $5 a can down at the Co-op. Having Margaret along has been great. She was showing pictures of the polar bear that her son had just brought home and she documented the whole processes of preserving the hide.

So last day today, pack up tomorrow and start the trip back south on Sunday. There’s got to be one more story out of this trip. Just hopefully nothing too exciting involving close encounters of the big-white-bear kind. ‘Til then!


When work actually happens!

I think I should say a bit more about what is actually going on up here and why the four of us from Carleton and the University of Manitoba made the trek to this hamlet tucked away in the expanse of the Western Canadian Arctic. I landed this incredible gig where I head to the north for two to four weeks and fly around on helicopters and land on immense icebergs (‘ice islands’). These ice islands are breaking off of ice shelves farther north and drift south along Canada’s coasts. With less sea ice these days (thanks to polar warming which probably also has a hand in the break off of these ice masses to start with), developers are looking to explore for and extract oil and gas offshore farther north as well. Coupling extremely large blocks of ice (100 m thick, 270 sq km in surface area, up to 22.5 billion tonnes before deterioration begins…) and extraction infrastructure would not be a pretty sight. I think I know who’d win. So that’s why resource companies and government departments are interested in getting a handle on how these ice islands move and deteriorate. All this in the hope that they’ll be able to predict where the ice islands will drift so risk assessment and management plans can be developed.

These snippets are a continuation of work I did last October onboard a coast guard icebreaker. That work focused on three ice islands that are currently in the Eastern Canadian Arctic and would be of concern to developers and owners of existing infrastructure off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland (i.e., Grand Banks).

Right now, after four days of travel, we’ve landed in Sachs Harbour (as the last post describes) to do work on sea ice and continue work I’m involved with on ice islands. This time we’re in the Western Canadian Arctic – which for me is a cool opportunity to compare the drift and deterioration mechanisms, life spans, dimensions, etc. to those now in the east.

We have to keep things exciting though! We were stuck in Inuvik for an extra day as fuel issues were sorted out. I want to say now, that the guys from U of M are top notch and had made sure that fuel was available and would be released to us. This was not the case though. The whole town is rationing fuel now – since fuel only comes in on barge during the summer months when the sea is open. It could be as late as August. We thought everything was handled when the Canadian Wildlife Service said that they would sell their supply of oil to us, a 20 barrels. Wicked! Done. We boarded our little King Beech the next morning (it’s pretty crazy when the pilot climbs right over you to get into the cockpit), passed tree line a few minutes after take-off and were in Sachs by noon. The oil drums were located down at the beach, so we got them up to the airport and again, we’re golden, right? Our helicopters fly in the next day (which is always really cool to say), one pilot gets out and right away says, “That’s all the fuel, right there?” Apparently it was enough to last 2 days of ice surveys and the flight to the mainland. No where near the seven to nine days we were hoping to be out.

Of course it is also the Easter weekend. Issues aren’t going to be resolved right now, that’s for sure. Ah well, just a bummer to make it all the way up here and be cut short. But we do get a couple of days, at least! We did get out on the ice yesterday, and I did get to my main ice island target. Which is what I’ll quickly describe now, since I know you’re probably starting to tire of our fuel shortage woes.

After quite the morning of preparation, we lifted off around 1pm and headed straight off the coast to the west. But first I saw my first, and so far, only wildlife – 2 musk ox  galloping (a little less than gracefully) below me. That was my only personal goal for  the entire trip. Checked off! So – going west it is actually hard to discern where land stops and sea begins, since the land is so flat and the snow drifts act similarly. That’s until you get a while out, where huge lines of rubble fit ice slabs (that sounds too small for what they are) together like a puzzle.

We made four stops on multi-year ice floes (ice that hasn’t melted over previous summers) to deploy beacons for the U of M team. We had fun with big augers, drilling holes about a meter into the ice for the beacons to be placed in. And on the way home, how convenient, was my ice island! I was surprised at how different it was from the ones I worked on in October. The sea ice came all the way up it’s top surface, so it would be hard to notice it was any different from its surroundings if we had not had satellite imagery to show us the differences. This ice island came from the Markham Ice Shelf/Glacier on Northwestern Ellesmere Island, and was actually ‘dirty’ –you could tell that it had at one point been land ice. Super cool.

So the beacon got out, stake was drilled into the ice to attach/measure surface melt – if we do get back to the ice island in the coming years. Even readng off of th gound penetrating radar (see previous entries for user woes).

It was a gorgeous day. A sunscreen and sunglasses kind of day. Which also allows for temperatures to plummet. Exposed skin doesn’t go through stages of being cold. All of a sudden whatever it was covering (fingers, I noticed) just stop working. But looking around you and not seeing a single soul, or even a bump on the horizon, is a really incredible experience and makes dealing with little chilled digits well worth it.

After a really productive afternoon, we boarded back into our choppers and headed backto the ‘bustling’ Sachs Harbour airport. It’s amazing! You can just walk into the airport ‘terminal’ – totally unlocked, no one there. Security isn’t really an issue here.

On the way home though, I had to keep pinching myself every once in a while. You start to get complacent/used to seeing ice in every direction with a beautifully gleaming sun starting to dip on the horizon – but you want to always appreciate it because we certainly won’t have endless opportunities for the experience. Plus we’re lucky to even see it once! I hope the pictures I get up eventually will do it justice.

Thunder Bay isn’t too isolated and Ottawa isn’t too small, I promise.

Made it!

Five days after leaving Ottawa we finally landed in Sachs Harbour, just on the SW tip of Banks Island. I’m here for the next nine days with a group of guys from the University of Manitoba to do a joint sea ice/ice island project. We were delayed in Inuvik, on the Northwest Territories mainland, because there has been a bit of a fuel emergency here at Sachs.  And of course there are lots of bureaucratic hoops to jump through too. No one wants to give up their ration. And no more fuel comes in until as late as August. And a helicopter goes through a barrel of oil and hour. Anyways, always an adventure…! I guess the big polar bear survey last week ate into the fuel we had already purchased.

Which brings me to polar bears. They are big and white. And have started to bread with Grizzlies. Our hostel is called the Polar Grizz. The owner shot this:

And this is the view from my window.

Don’t worry ma and pa. I’m going to convince one of the town guard dogs to come along and be my alarm.

Anyways, we haven’t done any field work yet. We did spend the day getting everything all rigged up and whizzing away. Our front yard looked like some kind of crazy scientist’s layer.

The best thing was what I found in the front yard during the monster set up.The Easter Bunny had to come early to Sachs Harbour to make sure it could make the whole trip back to the southern lats before Sunday.

Hunting and fishing is a mainstay in this little community of about 75 people. Apparently someone even tried to start a musk ox ‘farm’ here at one point. I’ll take a picture later, but was quite an endeavour! There are hides all around town, and pictures of the great cuddly giants on every wall.

I think places like this are great, and you have to be one tough crew to get through these winters. I may have to chuckle inside next time someone tells me Ottawa is too small for them.

Well, winter is definitely still here. And the internet is still slow. Therefore pictures aren’t making it up tonight. Hopefully will have a more cooperative connection tomorrow. We did make it out today, so there is more to tell.

There’s a pesky fuel issue though. We’re stuck in the middle of lots of confusion, so there may not be many work days left. Then there will be time for lots of pictures!

Stay warm!