December 21, 2007
Position 71° 54.875' N 125° 25.973' W
Things are a little slow today onboard the ship. Equipment is unpacked, inventories taken, labs organized, and cargo waited for. Since I can only get in the way at this point, I thought I would take some time to explain a little bit more about what I am doing up here.
Over the next few weeks I will be participating in the Circumpolar Flaw Lead (CFL) Study. This $40 million, 4 year project is sponsored by the Canadian Government and is the largest study in the International Polar Year cooperative. The flaw lead occurs at edge of the Arctic ice pack and is the part of the Arctic that is most susceptible to changes in the climate. Ten teams of scientists, each with their own unique interests, will try to put together the puzzle pieces of this ecosystem. The CCGS Amundsen will drift in and near the flaw lead for a 10-month time frame (October 2007-August of 2008) and provide the scientists with a floating laboratory from which to launch their experiments.
The CCGS Amundsen is quite an impressive ship. Her length is 98.5m (322'7"), her width 19.5m (64'0") and she drafts 7.2m (23'6") of water. For Leg 5 of this extended Arctic journey, she carries a crew of 40 and a complement of 30 scientists. The Amundsen, originally built in 1979, was recently renovated in 2003 to become a world-class science icebreaker.
Each cabin is equipped with a monitor that not only receives a few TV channels (most are in French), but also displays the ships navigational information and several different camera angles from inside and outside the ship. Soon there will be science going on 24/7 as all 10 teams will need to coordinate their sampling and instrument schedules to make the most efficient use of not only their own time, but that of the Canadian Coast Guard and taxpayers as well.
I will be working primarily with team #8, the contaminants team, led by Dr. Gary Stern of the University of Manitoba. Gary is not onboard for Leg 5. We passed each other somewhere in midair as he disembarked at the end of Leg 4. His work is being carried on by several scientists onboard including Debbie Armstrong, Amanda Caulk, and Monika Pucko. This group is interested in measuring the amount of chemicals such as halogenated hydrocarbons and trace metals present in the Arctic air, ice, and water. PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination is not just a problem for the more urban areas of the world as these substances eventually make there way to some of the most remote places on earth through air and wind currents.
I sat in on the steering committee today and the decision was that there will not be much steering going on today and possibly tomorrow. Right now we are locked in the ice in near Sachs Harbor and will be looking to break free as soon as possible. An Arctic wind storm is due in later tonight, however, and we will stay near the shelter of the island. This is not so much for protection of the boat against the wind, but to conserve fuel. If we were to head into the Amundsen Gulf today, the wind storm would cause the ice to shift beneath us, and we would burn unnecessary fuel trying to maintain our location. It is better to stay near shore where the ice cannot shift, then steam out once the winds have died down. A helicopter flight is scheduled for 11 am tomorrow to scout the ice conditions in the gulf and find a suitable place to base our experiments.
I took advantage of the down time and wandered around the ship a bit, doing odd jobs for people here and there that needed some help. I am feeling somewhat useless right now, but that is the case with many others on board as well. Most of the groups, including mine, cannot start sampling now as we are not positioned in the right place. They simply are not interested in what is happening near the island and supplies are limited so they must be conserved for the main experiments.
I climbed up to the viewing platform on top of the bridge earlier today around noon to take in the view with several other scientists. What little light we have is lessened by cloud cover but none-the-less the scenery is surreal. I took several pictures in the bitter cold but was soon driven back inside by the frozen wind. I realized how cold it is out there when I felt the water dripping down my checks as the ice on my eyelashes melted away.
People have told me that I should enjoy the down time because once we've made our way to the first station, I will suddenly become very, very busy. I am.