“We Nailed It”! Faith in field work, restored.


I am almost drawing a blank on how to start this. It has been over two years since an ice island field season has been successful, but as of Tuesday, 5 August 2014, we know that field operations on drifting masses of glacial ice is still possible!

The story should really start with a flashback to Sunday dinner a week and half ago, right after our first miss of this trip. It was jokingly put out there that the chief scientist was going to start whispering, “ice island, ice island” over the loudspeaker just to make me have small panic attacks and jump to get ready. The reality was not far off, as Tuesday morning I was awoken by the man himself, telling me to get my sleepy self to the wheelhouse ASAP to ‘come have a look’ at what was in front of us. Yup, there was an ice island, in all of its glory, that we didn’t know had drifted so far north due to our internet outages. We had still been planning on making our way back to the Greenland piece (things had been smoothed over internationally), but there is no way that we could pass up the weather that was presented to us. Bluebird skies, just a little wind, and zero fog. It was sunscreen-worthy conditions and we jumped to it.

Jonathan and Jean-Sebastian were trooper volunteers. They had already gone through the yes-no-maybe situations of the field ops over the past weeks. Both had also worked on their own projects well into the night and were expected to again the next night. But there was no hesitation to come and trek across the ice mass with me for the day.

Nine hours on the ice, another hour with the helicopter for photo work, and that was that! I could not be happier with what we accomplished on the ice. Timing estimates were exactly on target and all items on my list were miraculously checked off. High-precision GPS units recorded the ice island’s drift while we were on the ice, two tracking beacons were deployed to monitor drift after we left, a 1.5 km+ line of ice thickness and elevation data was collected with the radar system and another GPS, 13 melt stakes and 6 temperature loggers were installed over 500 and 200 m transects, and a camera was set up to monitor 1 set of melt stakes over time. To finish off with some excellent helicopter photo work was icing on the cake.

The most noteworthy accomplishment was the radar line. The surface was characterized by some serious ridges (easy for the system to navigate over on its two sets of xc skis) and troughs (not so easy). Melt ponds were splashed through and the skies seemed to target cryoconite holes (caused by sediment which melts into the ice due to low albedo and high solar energy retention).

In addition, samples were brought back for ‘the water people’ on board. The ship also conducted its rounds of science work – which included the collection of a serious photo-set of freeboard pictures, sonar mapping of the keel, and water sampling from both the zodiac and the ship for a variety of interests like carbon and sulphur fluxes and nutrient upwelling.

And that is that! The relief became greater and greater with each piece of equipment that worked. The smiles on everyone’s faces when we returned, including our own, is something to remember. The crew on board this year is fantastic, which is worth acknowledging again if I hadn’t before. The chief scientist, the captain and officers, the helicopter pilot, ship crew and other researchers are all included in this. The feeling was topped off when I came back from the photo work and my two on-ice team mates had waited for me before going to dinner, because that was a team activity too. I was even told it was ok to shower first (necessary after walking around in the sun in plastic floatation suits and pdfs for the day).

We are now transiting through the Northwest Passage, slowly and noisily. There is some serious sea-ice packed in here, which wasn’t helped by high winds from the east yesterday. We actually came into the passage in a gale warning. The winds made it impossible to do one last beacon deployment, but after Tuesday, I am not complaining about it!

What now? We have a week left to finish off the ship’s scheduled science and to make it to Kugluktuk, Nunavut. Apparently the ice conditions may change that departure point, but we’ll wait and see. As for field work – there are already rumblings about if and when we are going to hunt down this same piece as was worked on  this Tuesday, which I have named PII-K to mess a bit with the standard naming structure and to represent the Kane Basin where it was located. Now that we have the ‘taste of success’ we want to start planning for more!

I plan on writing one last entry – maybe a photo entry – on the other science ops on board. Everyone works incredibly hard and deserves recognition, and the variety of research is pretty interesting!

Rock on. And enjoy the pictures…

Out for a radar walk (p.s. the ice island was 150+ m thick!).

Out for a radar walk (p.s. the ice island was 150+ m thick!).

Science! GPS, beacons, melt stakes and temperature sensors.

Science! GPS, beacons, melt stakes and temperature sensors.

Our ice island, PII-K, with the Amundsen nudged up beside.

Our ice island, PII-K, with the Amundsen nudged up beside.

Taking it all in while waiting for our pick-up.

Taking it all in while waiting for our pick-up.


Hello ice, Hello Greenland

** Note, the following was written on Saturday, 2 August. We out-ran the internet providing satellites shortly after. **

Well, today’s edition of the ice chase will likely be described as comical after a few more hours have passed and the team regains its composure after the fresh hit of this morning.

We packed up last night in anticipation of being at our new ice island target (Petermann Ice Island-A-1-c), now in the Nares Strait between Canada and Greenland, at 9 am this morning. There was going to have to be a miracle change in weather for the helicopter to operate this morning, as we had been socked in with fog for the past week. Someone’s prayers worked, because I looked out my port-hole this morning, and after not too much neck craning, was able to spot a patch of sky! Incroyable!

The ship and science crews were rocking. The teamwork between the ship’s crew, the on-ice team, other scientists and the ‘decision makers’ is fantastic this year. There are others on board who are interested in samples from the ice island, as well as testing the surrounding waters and underwater mapping. It is great to have the whole ship involved because the boat is no longer idling just for you and everyone can benefit.

With everyone on-board readying for their own sampling, the on-ice team (The Ice Pac – our new team name!), left with the helicopter so that we could get a head start on work, as well as beat the rain that was following us.

The Canadian Ice Service has been a huge help, as they are every year, by providing me with the latest coordinates of these ice islands from the daily satellite imagery which they receive. I got the latest position about 20 minutes before take-off. This is important because the island had drifted east (not the way we would’ve liked!) since 31 July and when we were in the air we realized that it had moved suspiciously close to Greenland. Bright skies, light winds, no fog, warm working conditions… I thought that we were set! You can imagine the shock when we get the radio call that the ice island was within 12 miles of the Greenland shore and we were therefore unable to land as the ship does not have permits to operate in Greenland waters. Bam! That was it.

The good news is that we did some great photo work by flying at set altitudes and flight patterns. paths. Like the photo work we did on Saturday, this can lead to some 3D modeling (photogrammetry), and is one positive to take away from today.

We’re currently headed to our northernmost point for the cruise. It won’t be as high as we had hoped, as the ice bridge between Ellesmere Island (Canada) and Greenland is breaking apart and making navigation tricky. The ice flushing out of this region after the break may be chasing us soon enough!

So we will turn a 180 at that point and come back down, and hopefully there is still some sun and the perfect winds, pushing this morning’s target just a pinch west…

Over and out!


The scenery is always worth the flight

So close to PII-A-1-c!