December 25, 2007
Position 71° 14.966' N 124° 24.088' W
This was unlike any Christmas morning I had ever experienced. I woke around 7 am and was getting ready to head below for a cup of coffee when I was asked to lend a hand on the ice. I jumped at the chance, dressed in layers, and headed to the bow of the ship. Twelve members of the science team and their equipment were lowered in groups of three onto the ice in the ice cage. I went down with the last group of three. My purpose was to lend an extra set of eyes on polar bear watch. It is much easier for the scientists to take their samples if they do not have to constantly look over their shoulders so it was my job to constantly scan the ice for movement. I was told that polar bears are more yellow than the surrounding ice but this advice is useless as the sodium vapor lamps of the ship cast a yellow glow over the ice pack. I guess polar bears have reached an evolutionary pinnacle in this regard. They are perfectly equipped to stalk and eat scientists who are sampling near an icebreaker. Nature is amazing.
Three teams took ice and surface water samples, while the Chinese contingent measured the ability of the ice pack to absorb light. I was surprised at the thickness of the ice. It was only about 1 foot thick on the flow we were standing on but I guess it is relatively fresh ice and will grow significantly in the coming months. The perspective is much different from the ice looking out onto the ice pack and back at the ship. Thankfully I see nothing but ice for the hour and a half spent on the flow. I would like to see a polar bear while I am up here but preferably this will occur from the safety of the ship.
The hot water flow in the moon pool significantly softened the ice overnight. At about 1 pm, the doors were closed, the engines started up and we were on the move again. The helicopter was dispatched to find the type of ice we were looking for, a relatively large sheet with new ice formation on the fringes. One was quickly located about 2 miles away and soon the ship ground to a halt in the middle of the sheet.
My afternoon and evening was spent preparing the ice cores. The cores were microstructured (separated in layers based on the crystal structure of the ice) and sectioned off accordingly with a band saw. The cores were handled in the cold room of the aft lab, which was set to -20°C but felt much warmer than on deck due to the lack of wind. The cores cannot be contaminated when analyzing for trace metals, so before they were stored the outsides were scraped down with special ceramic blades. Each layer will eventually be analyzed separately for both HCH and Hg content.
I am amazed at the on-the-go science that is conducted on this vessel. The scientists have a very good idea of what they would like to study prior to arriving on the Amundsen but modifications must constantly be made as the occasion requires. Nature does not always follow their plan. Supplies are short, unexpected things arise, yet the experiments proceed. Duct tape fixes everything. As one of the technical crew told me, "There are no problems here, only solutions."