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Dispatch 9: Top of the World!...almost (81 degrees North)

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Fred Marin

September 20, 2019

Location: 80° 03’ N 140° 10’ W

Sea Conditions: 3763m water depth; complete ice coverage.

It’s really cold out today!  We awoke to -18° Celsius (-0.4° Fahrenheit) and a steady 10 knot breeze. I suppose it should not be a surprise because we are in the Arctic, and since yesterday have been between 80° and 81° North latitude, a little more than 9° of latitude below the North Pole.  This is the farthest north I have personally ever been, and it is exciting!  We are north of virtually all landmasses, except for Greenland, the Queen Elizabeth Islands and a few other smaller island clusters on the other side of the Arctic Ocean.  This is also going to be the most northern extent of our Arctic expedition, and the ship worked hard to get us here!

To give you an idea of how impressive the heavy icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent really is, we’ve been running one of five engines that drive the three diesel electric propellers while in open water.  To get through the ice, we’ve been running three-to-four engines keeping the fifth offline in case we ever got stuck and needed the extra boost.  Although we are in the Arctic during the sea ice minimum (this year has been especially minimal in ice coverage), there is still a lot of ice.  As it breaks apart through compression and expansion of the ice sheet by wind and currents, ice layers turn on end and refreeze in rifts which can be quite thick.  While the bridge keeps a lookout, and locates the path of least resistance, there is only so much they can do.  So, as we are chugging along aboard the Louis, and thicker portions of ice are met, they can jolt the ship which keeps us all on our toes.  In the case of exceptionally thick ice, the ship sometimes backs up along its track and rams forward until it breaks through the rift!

Now, what did we do today at this high latitude?  We set up our second ice station!  Finding the ice floe and parking the ship was a repeat of the process performed yesterday.  Again, we were fortunate to not need the helicopter to get out on the ice.  We just walked off the ship, which was ideal because the ship is right there if we ever need immediate shelter.  A quick escape from the ice is best because who knows when a fog will roll in, or a storm will kick up, or if a Polar bear will decide to make a visit… the list goes on.  Also, we don’t have to make several helicopter trips to deliver all the personnel and equipment to a distant ice floe.  Don’t get me wrong, I would never pass up a ride in a helicopter, but it should also only be utilized when necessary!

While we had less work to do on the ice today, the colder conditions made the day feel much longer.  Yesterday we deployed three instruments in the ice, and today we deployed just one; an Ice Tethered Profiler (ITP) with a Submersible Autonomous Moored Instrument (SAMI).  Kazu Tateyama, and his team from the Kitami Institute of Technology, again led the design and sampling of an ice transect to survey and collect samples characterizing the history, physics, chemistry, and biology of the floe on which we were stationed.  After closing the ice station, the ship backed away just enough to lower the CTD-rosette and plankton nets into the open water created by the ship to characterize the water column at this ice station. 

Next we are turning west and slightly south and deciding where to deploy our next Ice Tethered Profiler (ITP).  Will it be in open water, or will we be fortunate enough to establish a third ice station?

Last updated: September 30, 2019

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