December 20, 2007
I had 2 alarm clocks set and a wake-up call scheduled for 2 AM to make certain that I got up on time. I showered, made a cup of coffee and left for the Esso Avitat hanger at the Winnipeg airport. Thankfully Peter's bags arrived late last night and the Russian contingent picked them up on the way to the hanger. While waiting for the plane to arrive from Quebec City, I had the chance to talk to Sergey Shutilin, a research scientist from the Arctic and Antarctica Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. Sergey was on the recent Russian expedition to the North Pole that resulted in the placing of a titanium Russian flag on the ocean floor beneath the sea ice. He told me of the difficulties faced in accomplishing this task with the two submersibles that it required. In the Arctic Ocean he explained, the water is very different than anywhere else. One of these differences is the existence of very pronounced haloclines, or density differences in the saltwater. Since waves tend to reflect off density differences, the crew had a hard time communicating with and coordinating the two submersibles once they dropped to a depth below the halocline. Eventually they were able to overcome this problem and we've all seen the result in the news. Two months ago, I was handing out a New York Times article on this very mission to my classes and trying to explain to them why this was such a big deal in the international community. Today, I was talking to a man who helped make it happen.
The plane arrived just shy of 5 am and we boarded soon after. The chartered 737 was filled to capacity with cargo, scientists, and crew members. We landed in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for a quick refueling before touching down in Inuvik, NWT at about 10 AM. It had gotten considerably colder since we left Winnipeg. When we stepped off the plane it was a chilly -20°C (-6°F) and completely dark. From Inuvik, there were 8 separate flights on four small planes to Sachs Harbor, a small community on Banks Island, several hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. Every 6 weeks there is an almost complete personnel change on the CCGS Amundsen. The planes leaving Inuvik would carry the most important people first, the captain, first officer, chief scientist, and others vital to the operation of the ship. For returning personnel, this process was done in reverse, with the least vital personnel leaving the ship first. This left the decision makers several hours to meet and go over logistics before the ship was passed on to the new watch. I was assigned to flight #7 out of 8 because I was not very vital to the operation of the ship. Several other scientists and I had about four hours to kill so rather than waiting in the airport terminal we hired a cab to take us to Inuvik where we wandered around a bit and enjoyed a few cups of coffee. At 11 am, the sun was still not visible and I was told that I would not see it again till I flew back south in three weeks time. We did however, get several hours of twilight which was nice. I hope that it will be this light farther north so I can actually see the Arctic while I am in the middle of it.
We boarded our twin otter at about 3 pm and arrived in Sachs Harbour about an hour and a half later. Within 5 minutes a helicopter landed and I boarded for the quick flight to the icebreaker which was sitting in the middle of the harbor, a few kilometers away. As we approached the ship from the front, the helicopter circled around and landed on the stern deck. We were ushered into the hanger and then brought to the logistics officer for our room assignments. I was assigned cabin 403 - by myself. Apparently I am vital to the operation of the ship after all, as my cabin is next door to the chief scientist's and I was not assigned a roommate. I don't know how this happened but I hope it does not change.
Dinner was scheduled from 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm (18:30 - 19:30 on the ship as it uses a 24 hour clock). I read somewhere that the Inuit living in the extreme north had to eat about 5000 calories per day in order to maintain weight. I was hoping the Arctic cold would cause me to lose a little bit of weight over these next few weeks while my body burns calories just trying to maintain temperature but the ship is too warm and after seeing what was offered for dinner, I don't think this is going to happen. The crew is French-Canadian and the food reflects their culinary tastes. One other scientist remarks that I am too skinny to survive in the Arctic. Politely, I still declined dessert.
After dinner I had a chance to go back to my cabin and unpack my bags which just arrived on the ship. At 20:00 a science meeting was held in the officer's lounge where we were informed of the basic ship protocols and the schedule for tomorrow. I don't think any sampling will be done tomorrow as all of the scientists have to unpack their gear and get their lab space organized. In the interim, the steering committee (they decide where the boat goes) will meet in the afternoon to discuss where the ship should head in the Amundsen Gulf first to start collecting data. I was assigned, along with Laura Sims, another research assistant, to organize the dispatches section of the CFL website (www.ipy-cfl.ca) for the next three weeks. It will be our job to make sure all of the study groups on board are represented and that the dispatches are posted at least 2-3 times a week. We will also have to assist some of the scientists who do not speak English as their primary language in writing the articles. This was a good assignment for me as I now it is my job to get a good idea of what everyone on the boat is up to, something I wanted to do anyway.
It has been a long day and I am very tired. It is now 22:00 and I have been up since 2. Everyone on board feels the same and heads to bed. Tomorrow will come fast.