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Antarctica 2012: Ice Station 2

Helicopter_landing

Following the break-up of our first ice station we sailed on to find a very suitable floe in which to plant our ship. The mooring of the ship to the floe was successful, and safety analysis determined this site to be fit.

The door opens on the second ice station.

The composition of this ice floe was very interesting. The thickness of the ice was incredibly variable. Some groups indicated two holes drilled only a foot apart showed an ice thickness change of nearly a meter! This, coupled with the floe’s appearance suggests this ice started as several smaller floes that were pushed together by wind and waves until these floes became jumbled. Some would have overlapped each other and some would even have turned on their sides to relieve the pressure. The floes then spent some time in this position, growing into a single piece of ice. That’s the current theory of origin.

Luck was apparently on our side, as we stumbled upon the only two worksites reported to have even thickness and smooth surfaces. These proved an ideal place to measure the rate at which fluid moved through the ice, so our tests commenced.

Early in the second day we discovered a crack running beside our two sites.

This was taken very seriously, particularly since our last station broke into pieces. We notified the bridge of our discovery, moved our equipment on the shipside of the crack, and had the FTO perform a risk analysis. We believe the crack had been there all along, but did not become uncovered until significant wind and traffic moved through the site. We placed markers that allowed us to monitor the crack, ensuring it was not growing over time.

As we were working we heard a loud boom from another team next to us. They work with an experiment that counts krill. They use equipment traditionally used to transfer salmon from one tank to another in fish farms. Apparently they pump water through a chamber that performs imaging to determine how many krill have been swept through the chamber with the pumped water. One of their hoses became plugged, and the side of their tank exploded. Nobody was hurt. They do have a second pump with them, and they received from the Science Technical Support (S.T.S.) members aboard the ship to repair the damaged tank. The S.T.S. members are very clever at repairing or redesigning equipment with whatever they have on hand. As an engineer, this is about the highest compliment I can think of.

The Automated Underwater Vehicle (A.U.V.) team was seen doing trials off the rear of the boat. I have included a photo of the A.U.V. hanging from the back of the Aurora. I also managed a photo of one of our two helicopters landing on the helideck. Their presence aboard has been a real asset in finding suitable ice floes.

The first day on our site the wind was calm and the weather was good, but the weather here is never content to remain. By the second day we were working in -21 degree C conditions with 15 knots of wind. This, coupled with experiments requiring you to hold ice in your hands, is enough to make anyone’s mind wander inside for a hot drink. We bared the cold until the wind threatened our measurements, then gladly went inside for a good meal.

Christian wears his school colors in spite of the cold.

The weather determined we were finished with this station.

A few biologists indicated this ice was more biologically active than was expected for this location and time of year, which was exciting to hear.

We believe we collected good data in our experiments, and are eager to give them further analysis. My discussions with the other scientists aboard lead me to believe that most aboard are happy with the results of our first full station.

We celebrated our first successful ice station as we departed. I was shocked to learn our ship has a laser light machine, a fog machine, and karaoke. What a relaxing end to two cold and hard days of work.

Another day at sea and we are now stuck in the ice. Our engines run full as we travel only inches at a time. Apparently this is a normal occurrence and nobody seems particularly worried about it. While I am eager to get new data, I am enjoying the extra time to do data analysis, catch up on correspondence, and get some needed sleep.

Although we are all waiting again for ice, we are without the charge of anticipation that accompanied us before the first station. I think everyone now knows what working on the ice is like, and most people have enough work to keep them busy during the delay.

We have spent most of the night pushing full throttle into the ice only to back off, reverse a little, and ram the ice again. I awoke to visit the bridge at 4 a.m. as part of an ice observation program, and was surprised to note that I had slept soundly through the squeaks and rattles generated by the engine’s vibration.

I chuckled as I made my way up to the bridge for observation. I imagined walking onto the bridge and seeing a crewmember pointing ahead and boldly crying out, “ramming speed!” In contrast with this imagining, the bridge’s crew seemed relaxed and unconcerned at our slow progress. We didn’t move enough in the last hour to warrant ice observation, so I gladly returned to a bed that had managed to grow cold in my two minutes of absence.

Our ship developed a crack in the primary engine’s exhaust manifold later in the morning, so it was taken offline for repair. I have been told that this is well within the range of normal. The smaller of the two engines is still operational, and can be heard throttling angrily up and down. At the moment it appears we are attempting to break through a thick band to get to an area of open water. I have been told this open channel leads to some promising looking ice near an iceberg. I am hoping a closer assessment shows we can find a suitable floe nearby, as I would love to get a closer look at the icebergs that now frequently loom in the distance.

I was privileged to attend a talk aboard about green and blue icebergs, and theories of their formation. I would encourage you look these up, as the photos seen were magnificent. One scientist aboard noted that a photo he took of a green iceberg was incorrectly captioned. The caption indicated it was green due to algal growth. This information has been propagated with the photo, but is not true. In his particular case the iceberg was sampled and showed no algal growth, so be wary if you find information claiming all green icebergs are due to algae. [Editor's note: David wrote to say that anyone interested in green icebergs should track down the Dec. 1993 issue of National Geographic--"this publication got the story right."]

I had a daydream about waking up tomorrow near an iceberg. The snow is so blinding here that in the daytime my window just looks white. I have to actually get close to the window, or put on tinted goggles to get a good look outside. Maybe tomorrow I will peek out and discover that the wall of white initially seen turn out to be the white wall of an iceberg. It seems unlikely, but we can all dream, right?

Whether an iceberg accompanies us or not, I look forward to our next ice station. Data analysis is alright, but I’d rather work on the ice while it is available. It is so exciting to have the doors to the ship thrown open to the cold and to walk down the gangplank onto an unknown floe. I want new ice, new sights, and new data. Hopefully soon.