Notes from the Field: Treading on thinning ice

Notes from the Field: Treading on thinning ice McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 22, 2007 - Volume 40 Number 07
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 40: 2007-2008 > November 22, 2007 > Notes from the Field: Treading on thinning ice


Treading on thinning ice

Caption follows

Bruno Tremblay prepares an auger to drill into an ice floe to insert a sonar to measure ice growth and melt. At left, the helicopter pilot carries a gun to ward off polar bears.

Day 1-Friday, October 5, 2007: We are set to go—one night in Iqualuit, then Resolute Bay, the point of departure of the Amundsen, a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, for leg 3 of its ArcticNet crossing of the Northwest Passage. ArcticNet is a network of researchers studying the impact of climate change in the coastal Canadian Arctic. When we get to Iqualuit, we find out that 10 percent of the cargo is still in Ottawa. The missing cargo contains half the parts of my Ice Mass Balance Buoy, which is a central piece of my buoy deployment effort in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The buoys will gather data on everything from internal ice temperature to sea ice thickness and make it possible to validate dynamic (ice motion) and thermodynamic (ice growth and melt) components of sea ice models. The cargo attendant tells us that the cargo will probably make it for Monday evening in Resolute. The problem with this plan is that the Amundsen is leaving Resolute on Monday before dawn and we're supposed to be on it.

Day 2—Saturday, October 6, 2007: We get to the airport fresh and early. I talk to the airline company manager and learn that there might be another company that could take care of our cargo. We climb on the plane to Resolute, and the first thing we set out to do when we arrive is to sort out our cargo conundrum with a company that can deliver it in time for the Amundsen transit through Resolute. For the first time, we breathe. We go back to the hotel, eat steak, talk to Aziz, the hotel owner, who suggests a much better deal with another charter company who would bring the cargo a day earlier. Aziz is East Indian and has lived in Resolute for 29 years now. The new cargo shipment is confirmed that night with the airline manager. We watch Montreal play hockey against Toronto on TV—they lose in overtime. We were annoyed at Montreal having lost but overall happy that the cargo affair was finally settled.

Day 3—Sunday, October 7, 2007: Today was a nice quiet day—inside the hotel. Outside, there are winds of 60 kilometres per hour with gusts at 75 km/hr and blowing snow. The cargo charter company is confident—they will land with our gear in Resolute Bay at around 10:00 p.m. We go for a walk to check if the depanneur is open; we can barely walk. The depanneur is closed.

We can't see a thing, drifting snow to our knees, so we decide to just go back up the way we arrived—the comfort of our hotel room is calling. Our cargo did make it—7:00 p.m., three hours earlier than planned. The pilot had to land with a 70 km/hr tail wind. Aziz takes us in his truck to the airport in the storm, we move the stuff from the hull of the airplane. It turns out Aziz has access to the cargo area after hours and drives the snow plow. He also refuels the airplanes (after normal hours). Now I understand what Aziz meant when he said to me earlier, "if you need anything in Resolute, I can get it for you."

Day 4—Monday, October 8, 2007: The Amundsen is delayed in its arrival in Resolute Bay—the ship was hit by the same storm we had the day before. At 12:45 p.m., we receive a call from the ship instructing us to be at the airport with all our gear by 1:30. At the airport, the Amundsen's helicopter picks us up and we fly above the black water to the ship in no time. We land on the helicopter deck, drop all the personal cargo and the helicopter is out again for two more trips to bring all our buoys and equip.m.ent on board. After a science meeting to discuss the next day's activities, I watch the ice floes go by from the bridge—I love the ambiance there. It is dark, with only a few dim green lights in the background and the spotlight on the roof to help the captain steer through thinner or spottier iced areas. It is not that late, but it feels like it.

Day 5-Tuesday, October 9, 2007: Today, we tested the buoy on the helicopter deck and hooked up all the instruments. We "talk" to the buoy with the mini-computer and all sensors were reading correctly. We spend the rest of the day trying to make everything fit in the helicopter and still have some space left for the pilot.

Day 6-Wednesday, October 10, 2007: We woke up this morning and went directly to the bridge to meet with the captain. We look at the latest satellite maps and identify a region with several healthy floes. After one hour of ice watching, we decide to do a reconnaissance flight. We spot a healthy floe, the helicopter lands but after five metres of drilling we still haven't hit bottom. We get back on the helicopter and locate another floe nearby for potential deployment. We get all our gear out of the helicopter and start to drill the ice to lower our equipment. We drill the first hole, attach an extension to drill the second metre but the security pin between the two auger flights is frozen and was never properly in place.

We lose the first auger with the drill bit attached in the hole, 30 centimetres beneath the surface. We rescue the bit. Luckily, we had our Canadian Tire waterproof gloves. We finish the drilling and hook all the instruments to the satellite transmitter located in the main buoy hull. We return to the Amundsen just before dusk. It had already started its journey south but we easily caught up with the helicopter flying back. We go for dinner, dead and sore but glad to have started.

Bruno Tremblay is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. His research focuses on high-latitude climate change, with special emphasis on the future of the sea ice cover in a warming world.

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