Please note: You are viewing the unstyled version of this website. Either your browser does not support CSS (cascading style sheets) or it has been disabled. Skip navigation.

Dispatch 20: Almost an IBO

   Print Change text to small (default) Change text to medium Change text to large

Alex Kain

October 6, 2009

Up North, even the most thorough plans can dissolve in the face of the Arctic's true arbiter: the weather.

Stormy weather can toss the ship around the sea and prevent bongo net deployments. Howling winds can make rosette casts impossible. Or, like today, snow and fog can complicate extensive plans to set up an Ice-Based Observatory (IBO) on a floe of multi-year ice.

IBOs consist of a group of buoys that monitor the conditions of the ice, ocean water, and atmosphere in order to further scientists' understanding of changing environmental conditions. Currently, scientific groups from around the world are collaborating to establish the Arctic Observing Network, which will consist of a drifting array of IBOs throughout the Arctic Ocean.

Today's thick fog cover prevented WHOI's Rick Krishfield and helicopter pilot Jim Myra from identifying a floe both large and thick enough to support the weight of the helicopter, gear, and teams setting up each of the three IBO buoys.

Pack ice can be deceptive in appearance. Snow cover can obscure melt ponds and other surface imperfections that detract from the ice's strength. Additionally, the edges of the floe are thinner than its bulk. They contain fault lines that can break under pressure from gear or people.

In choosing a site for a mooring deployment, the helicopter is used to observe the ice from a high elevation. The aerial perspective allows for assessing the viability of various floes based on their size, but also estimating their age and thickness by looking at shape, ridging, and color. Generally, a crystalline blue hue indicates that a floe has lasted longer than one melt season and is safe to land on.

Foggy conditions obscure views of the ice and estimations of strength. Today, Krishfield and Myra found a floe four meters thick, but that was only the size of a hockey rink. The two decided that it was big enough to support only the installment of an Ice-Tethered Profiler (ITP) and to allow for scientists to take ice core samples. The IBO, they decided, will be deployed tomorrow when weather conditions are predicted to improve and larger floes can be found.

The small team that flew out found a pristine environment and thick ice ideal for an ITP installment.

Crew Rod

Coast Guard crewmembers stand ready to receive equipment being lowered to the helicopter platform.

Chief Officer Rod Strowbridge ensures that helicopter pilot Jim Myra has everything he needs before takeoff.

Louis Floe

The helicopter ride provided sweeping views of the Louis and ITP site.

The floe was roughly the size of a hockey rink. Photo courtesy of Kazu Tateyama.

Louis and helicopter Floe

Disembarking the helicopter. The Louis looms in the distance.

Winchman Ed Bridgeman used his laugh, and a shotgun, to ward off polar bears.

Auger Kazu

A gas-powered auger drills a hole in the ice to begin the ITP installation process. An anchor, a line, and a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth monitor (CTD) will be lowered through the hole to complete the process.

WHOI's Jim Dunn guides the CTD through the auger-created hole.

Auger Core

Kazu Tateyama from the Kitami Institute of Technology collects ice samples. His orange Mustang suit burns with color in the white environment.

Alice Orlich and Kristina Brown inspect a fresh ice core sample. Drill holes in the core allow for temperature assessments.

Yale grip Auger

WHOI's Kris Newhall captures the ITP line in a "Yale grip." The Yale grip functions like a trap to stop the descent of the anchor so instruments can be attached to the line. Like its namesake, the grip is strong, trustworthy, and very attractive.

Though it looks like a candy cane, the ice corer is neither minty nor delicious.

Lilliputians Minicores

Next to the top of the ITP, Myra and Hogue resemble Lilliputians beside an electric cord.

Orlich and Brown saw the core samples into ten-centimeter segments to allow for transport. Whoever opens up this storage tub will be disappointed to learn that the cartons contain ice, not ice cream.

Buoy boys Orlich and Kazu

WHOI's "Buoy Boys" stand proudly next to the ITP. The white beacon atop the yellow float will transmit ocean profiles via satellite to Woods Hole laboratories. The profiles will then be posted online for public viewing.

Orlich and Tateyama and drill to determine the ice's depth.

Orlich Blizzard

Alice Orlich loves her job.

During takeoff and landing, the helicopter creates a blizzard on the floe. Anyone on the floe must crouch down, turn away from the blades, and hold on to gear so that it doesn't fly away.

All text and photos property of Alex Kain unless otherwise indicated.

Last updated: October 7, 2019

whoi logo

Copyright ©2007 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, All Rights Reserved, Privacy Policy.
Problems or questions about the site, please contact