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Dispatch 5: The Icescape and a Boat-building Competition

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Joey Wenig

September 25, 2014

Now that we’re into the icepack, the air has been getting noticeably colder. During a CTD/rosette cast this evening, the outdoor thermometer read -5 degrees Celsius, but the breeze blowing off the water and ice added quite a bite.  The number of layers I put on before going outside has been increasing rapidly—if the current trend continues, I’ll be wearing my long underwear tomorrow beneath pants, a shirt and sweater, insulated coveralls, and a Mustang jacket, along with a balaclava and my largest pair of mittens. My wardrobe can’t sustain this trend for long, though, so here’s hoping I packed enough warm clothing for when/if the thermometer starts to really drop, a strong likelihood in the coming weeks as winter descends over the Arctic. Fortunately for me, all of the experienced members of the science crew seem to have packed duplicates of everything important, so if my own gear falls short, I won’t be forced to spend the long CTD/rosette watches shivering madly, huddling for warmth against the air vents on deck, dreaming of more temperate climes.

As long as I’ve been sufficiently bundled, however, I’ve enjoyed the CTD/rosette watches. The ‘watches’ involve standing on deck and keeping an eye on the cable supporting the CTD/rosette while it’s in the water. Especially when the ship is surrounded by loose ice, as is typically the case now, it’s important to have someone looking out for chunks straying near to the running cable. If a sizeable piece of ice comes into contact with the cable, there’s a risk that the cable, which is moving fairly quickly, will saw into the ice. This could result in the ice getting firmly stuck around the cable. These chunks of ice can easily weigh as much as a car, so lifting the CTD/rosette into the bottom of one would mean catastrophic mangling for expensive equipment. Dislodging the ice chunk, meanwhile, would require some tricky maneuvering. All in all, it’s highly preferable to simply stop the winch whenever ice approaches, and either wait for the danger to pass, or ask the captain to turn on propulsion jets along the side of the ship to actively push the ice in the other direction. So, like I say, somebody needs to be standing and keeping watch over the cable as it feeds down into the dark and frigid depths. What this has meant for me is a guilt-free opportunity to simply stare out at the ice for long periods of time.

The icescape (note: without fast internet access, I can’t confirm that ‘icescape’ is a real word, but either way I’m going to use it, because ‘landscape’ just doesn’t feel right) is beautiful. The sight of glaringly white ice stretching to the horizon, interspersed with the metallic sheen of leads of open water, feels completely foreign. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The colors are simple—yesterday the sky and the water were grey, while the ‘freeboard’ of the ice (part above water) was white, and ‘draft’ (part of ice below water) was turquoise—but their effect is striking. Anyways, it’s a view that’s easy on the eyes, and makes a three-hour stretch of ensuring ice doesn’t bump into a cable more than bearable. That, and the fact that the whole time I’m fiercely hoping to spot the first polar bear of the cruise. 

An update on the ongoing series of initiatory events for Arctic ‘newbies’: tonight was a boat building competition, with the only guideline being that your boat had to support your egg(s). (I include the plural because if your egg breaks, you are required to replace it with two new ones and continue on, so that many competitors are now walking around with two, four, or even six eggs.) While my raft of Popsicle sticks, modeled after the Kon-Tiki, sank almost instantly when we assembled to conduct water tests (which unfortunately meant that my egg was crushed to smithereens by ‘Davy Jones’), other competitors came up with some impressive crafts that were not only seaworthy but also attractive (see photos for highlights).

Last updated: October 7, 2019

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