A Paid Holiday?

So we wait. and wait. and wait…

Things have yet to line up for this poor BBC documentary crew. I’m happy to be left somewhat in the dark, not on the ship and not in the direct line of stressed out Brits that are loosing filming time with every attempt to board the ice island.

A quick update to get everyone up to speed – I arrived in Iqaluit, NU on Tuesday and was supposed to meet the BBC and scientists on Wednesday after a 5 hour heli flight north along the coast of Baffin Island. Unfortunately, Iqaluit and the ice island were both encased with fog on Wednesday, Thursday, and into Friday.

Thankfully, Friday had a few blue skies and Michael O’Sullivan, my fellow traveler and heli pilot, made the call to get as far as we could – hamlet hopping up Baffin Island to refuel along the way. We touched down in Pangnirtung, NU and then continued on to Qikiqtarjuaq, NU. Both are on opposite sides of the Penny Ice Cap and Auyuittuq National Park. The ride in between these two towns (populations in the 400s) was spectacular. 5000 ft peaks bordering a 1 mile wide valley with glaciers ripping down the sides from the ice cap and petering out into gushing waterfalls…Unreal!

When we checked in with the ship that night, we were told that the weather had indeed cleared there as well – but they were having trouble storing fuel for us on the ice because the swells at sea were too large and it was impossible to dock in right next to the ice and unload some fuel barrels by gang plank or crane. Today we checked in with the crew every hour, on the hour, and were brought up to speed on their attempts via barge. Hopefully, tomorrow will be the big day! The sun is shining strong and there isn’t fog or cloud to speak of (allowing me to enjoy that 24 hour sun!), so we want to take advantage!

The people in Qik are gregarious and friendly though, and it hasn’t been a rough stay at all. I was toured around the town by a giggling group of 4 girls last night. I’ve never run into bigger Justin Bieber fans in my life – who knew that there would be such a love for the pop kid all the way up here! These girls were decked out in Bieber tattoos, zipper pulls, the works!

Today was spent fishing, watching the pod of four bowhead whales feed in the bay, reading down on the rocks and watching icebergs drift past – farther out at sea.  I can’t complain – but certainly am hoping to get on the ship soon, before that fog comes back! We were hearing reports of seven polar bears being on the island – and I’d rather have 100% visibility while trekking around with those buddies roaming about!

At our little ‘North Inn’, there is no uploading of pictures, skyping home or endless hours on youtube. This will be just be me once more asking for your check back for images in a weeks time!

Rain rain, go away

Those over-used words, ‘be careful what you wish for’, may have caught up with me today. Just a week ago, I was wishing with all my might for a few drops of rain. Now, when all we need are clear skies to be able to get this flight underway to meet the folks at the ice (they made it, with only one brief moment of panic yesterday afternoon – dealing with permits and Coast Guard personnel), the skies have

When you hurry up to wait, you may as well slow down to take some pictures!

Here are some of the sights in, around, and out of Iqaluit.

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Back on a Boat!

Here we go again!

Touched down in Iqaluit! What a great town. My introductory run around town lead me past the town buildings to the beach at low tide and a meandering, rugged hillside trail in full bloom from which I looked out onto the bay cluttered with remnant ice. This is the end of the first leg of travel that will finish when I’m  dropped on a familiar piece of ice in Baffin Bay, just offshore from Clyde River, Nunavut (Baffin Island).

One reason this trip is exciting to me (as they all are in some way) is that I’ll be re-visiting an ice island (a very large, blocky or ‘tabular’ iceberg) that I worked on last October with a team based on a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker (scroll down below to find entries from that trip).

An ice island reminder. PII-Ba, Lancaster Sound. Oct 2011
6 km x 2 km, approx 11 sq km
Not even the largest we landed on last year!

Petermann Ice Island (PII)-1 has been grounded (had its southern drift paused by running aground) since March 2011. This has made planning this field work expedition somewhat easier, as we’ve known the ice islands location throughout. Of course, there is always the chance that it will free itself of the shoal and continue to drift. Luckily for us, this has yet to happen.

Satellite image of Petermann Ice Island B-1 October 2011

One major event did occur to the ice island in November of 2011, however. One-third of the ice island fractured away from the main piece, taking one of the GPS (global positioning system) tracking beacons, that had been left a month previous at an established field site, with it.  It was neat and interesting to be able to keep tabs on where the fragment (which subsequently fractured further into many smaller pieces) got to, especially as the sea ice broke up in the spring. The event decreased PII-B-1’s surface area from approximately 60 km2 to 39 km2 – still quite a sizable piece of ice.

Satellite imagery has also presented something of a mystery that we are about to investigate. A block of ice is seen in the picture below, just to the north of the ice island. It isn’t a piece of PII-B-1, and it is hard to imagine any sea ice being thick enough to run aground here as well (PII-B-1 was 103 m thick when measured in October). So, getting to the site on Wednesday will hopefully provide some answers!

MODIS satellite image
PII-B-1 with mystery ice to the northwest
April 19, 2012

15 Minutes of Fame

Another reason this I have been seriously anticipating this trip is that it is being held in conjunction with a documentary production with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)! The BBC crew has been working on this trip full force for months and has put together an all star case of scientists.  A team has already worked and filmed on the Store Glacier of Greenland for two weeks (documentary part 1). The scientists have been switched out and the new ice island team is currently steaming over to Canada from Greenland on board the MV Neptune.

Our ice islands group contains researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, University of St. Andrews (UK), New York University and Carleton University. Peter Wadhams (UK) is a highly respected climate scientist as well who has graciously taken interest in the project and will be joining us for the duration of the trip. Working alongside these experienced researchers is going to be a fantastic opportunity for me and is extremely exciting!

New Science, New Equipment

With all these impressive scientists comes impressive science! The group has loaded up the MV Neptune with equipment to drill a hole right through the ~100 m (thinner now) ice to take a full temperature profile of the berg along with tests of the waters beneath. This alone is going to take 2 full days of drilling! Side scanning sonar, AUVs (see previous entries for fun filled adventures containing these), wave buoys and more are in the lineup as well.

My own work is going to involve new gear as well. My supervisor at Carleton University (where I’m a graduate student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science ) and I spent yesterday on the lawn of Carleton in balmy Ottawa – setting up ground penetrating radars (for ice thickness measurement)and new GPS units so that I could get a handle on how they all set up and operate. I got some inquisitive looks from passers-by when they noticed I was towing around two sets of Nordic skis when it was 30+ ◦C and full humidity outside. I’ll be pulling the radar (a receiver on  one set of skis, the transmitter on the other) by rope across the ice island, hence the skis, plus crampons and an ice axe for to ease trekking over slippery ice and potentially pooling water.

Imagine this – minus the skidoo and sled, and separate the two sets of skis another 10 meters. Then put me in front!

Ice Camps and Helicopters

When the two part documentary airs on BBC-1 this September, there may also be some footage of the ice island team camping out on the ice island (another first for me)! I’ve been reading up on the Russian and North American ice camps of times gone by and this could be pretty exciting. What I do know will be happening and will also be a true rush is the next leg of the journey north. I will get to ride shot gun while helicopter-ing north from Iqaluit to meet up with the Neptune near Clyde River and the 5 hour trip over Baffin Island is something that I’ve been touting for weeks. The topography of Baffin Island caught everyone’s attention when we shipped by in October, including mine, and the flying over could be a total thrill. Our heli pilot was just impressing me with what we are going to be flying through as well. There will be a picture-post at the end of all this no doubt!

Ice Islands in the News

I won’t be able to update this blog until I am back in Iqaluit on the third of August due to limited Internet connections while on board the Neptune. If you are hungry for more news on these extensive chunks of ice though, please check out the sources below for articles and images of a huge new ice island that just broke off of the Petermann Glacier of NW Greenland (the origin of the ice island I am also working on now – which was created back in 2010). Also, browsing earlier posts in this blog will get anyone up to speed on why all of this research is pertinent and timely and why it is of use to stakeholders and of interest to the general public.

http://www.cbc.ca/labradormorning/episodes/2012/07/19/another-ice-island—on-the-way/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18896770

Please check back in around August 4th. Until then – take care and stay cool!