Ice Island Ops 2014

Greetings from Greenland!

We are the red box


I am happy to be reporting from the CCGS Amundsen during the 2014 ArcticNet science cruise. The Amundsen set-off from Quebec City in early July and before the first personnel rotation in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, the crew conducted underwater exploration activities with a remotely-operated vehicle, participated in a joint campaign with the Polar 6, a German aircraft which collected data on the ship’s emissions, and also did multiple days of melt-pond sampling on sea-ice within the Northwest Passage. All of that before the crew and officers were bombarded with requests to visit a chunk of fresh-water ice floating in Baffin Bay starting on the evening on July 24.


Cruise track of the CCGS Amundsen: Leg 1a (purple line), 8 July (Quebec City, red star) to 24 July (Resolute, purple star) and Leg 1b from the 24th through 14 August (Kugluktuk, NU, blue star) by way of an ice island (green star) and Greenland.

With that, another field campaign adventure started! It may be said that it started a few days earlier with some adventures getting from Ottawa to Iqaluit to Resolute and onto the ship. I can say that fog plagues the east coast of the Arctic and doesn’t just screw with helicopter flights but with large fixed wing scheduled flights as well. We, the 19 scientists en route to the ship, did get to spend a nice evening in the Polar Continental Shelf Project’s base. Resolute is a bit of a hub for research activity in the Arctic and the base is impressively equipped with what seems like any equipment or vehicle necessary to make research possible in any corner of the Canadian Arctic.

Fog delayed the crew change from the Amundsen the next morning, so we were able to take part in the town’s ‘Community Day’, where the town’s residents and visiting scientists mingle during fun presentations and activities. Later that evening we were on board and the ship started breaking ice that had set in heavily in parts of the Northwest Passage. Preparations for ice island work started in earnest, as the ice island target was only 30 hours away. I had been following the drift of PII-A-1-f, an ice island that had been a part of the larger calving event from the Petermann Glacier in 2012. Still sizeable at 35 sq km, this ice island was the most likely to survive for a long period and allow us to revisit it next summer. This would allow me to assess deterioration over that period of time and is my ultimate goal with this work. Another benefit of PII-A-1-f was that it was located perfectly in-line with the Amundsen’s cruise track so we would not have to go off-course for even a minute.

I can keep this story short, since I have already reported sob stories from 2012 and 2013. I hope that 2014 does not end up the same way, but our first attempt was indeed thwarted by a number of conditions that led to the helicopter being unable to land on the ice and leave three scientists there for many hours. Fog was rolling in from the distance, the sea was in such a calm state that it reflected the overcast sky perfectly and resulted in no distinction between the two, and the ice actually creating its own fog layer that hovered due to the zero wind in the area. Maybe I should be used to it by now, and I think I am to a point, but it is still a gut-punch to prepare so intensely and be left staring at the ice. ‘So close yet so far’ is the typical thing to write in this case.


The fog layer. I thought that our team could look like rock stars at a concert out there with our own fog machine.


While waiting for the final decision to be made, we did do a full circumnavigation of the ice island to use the Amundsen’s sonar equipment in an attempt to map the underwater sidewalls of the ice island. It took 2 hrs and 40 min to transit around the entire perimeter. One of my objectives this year is to take a series of aerial photos with a digital camera for the creation of a 3D model of the ice island. Though I didn’t do the aerial work, I did get an excellent dataset of 1900 photos of the entire perimeter’s above-water sidewalls (1 image every 5 seconds for ~ 3 hours…, plus some). Hopefully these can be matched up with the underwater sonar mapping I mentioned, and one project can be started from the few hours spent at the site. 

What fun lives in an under-ice cave?

We had to start steaming away, east towards Greenland, to keep the ship on schedule and not waste time for possible future opportunities for ice island field work. We are still early in the cruise (we have another two weeks) and both the science and ship crews assure me that there is lots of time and effort left to make this field season worth all that prep!


One of the more picturesque of the 1900 images that I have now looked through!

Also, I’ve decided that if I’m ever down about the way things are going, that I need to remember that there is still time, and that things are good if you are fortunate enough to wear a jacket in July!