Dec 6, 2008
Today was our first ‘ice station’ when the ship moors next to floating sea ice, we set a plank down onto the ice, and then walk onto the frozen ocean to start collecting samples. The sea ice floats in large chunks in the ocean, so the ship is able to pass through the little ice islands and stop to float next to larger ones. Since the Oden is an icebreaker, it is able to break through ice a few meters thick by sliding on top of the ice and rocking back and forth by shifting ballast (weight stored in the ship to keep it steady in the ocean) from one side to another and back again until the rocking motion causes the ice to break apart.
Heeling (mechanical rocking of the ship) to break the ice
There are three main ways that crewmembers reach the ice; either by mooring next to it and using a plank, deploying 6-person boats across the water, or by using a crane basket and climbing onto it, but the plank is the easiest method because you don’t have to pack everything with you at once (so there’s less pressure worrying about forgetting something).
At this first ice station I helped another crew member with his underwater camera to take video of what it looks like under the ice through an auger (ice drilled) hole. The images are pretty cool because light penetrates well through the ice and you can see good images of the different ice colors and algae, and while we were setting up the equipment a really large (~6.5ft?) crab eater seal wandered over towards us and barked a bit, which was awesome. (Close encounters of the seal kind!) The resulting video filmed by Jeff Peneston (with ice holes drilled by yours truly and a few others) shows what it looks like to use the ice augers (drills) and the view from underneath the ice.
Views above and under the sea ice
After being out on the ice, I have to say the Swedish polar survival suits we were issued for the field are really amazing- they keep you so warm and dry inside that the only part of your body that could possibly get cold is your face or hands. For a lot of the sampling you have to wear lab / surgical gloves only, (the kind doctors wear) which aren’t insulating at all, but it’s because normal ski gloves get too contaminated and the surgical gloves can be thrown out after each ice core we touch. This means that I have to hold onto large ice cores while only wearing surgical gloves though, so my hands get VERY cold very fast. In other cold news I’ve become a big fan of sock liners, which keep my feet extra warm, and although I’m usually not a cocoa fan it’s become a bit of a necessity after I get back from the ice simply to thaw my hands out after touching so many cores without warm gloves.
The unusual thing about having our first ice station today is that the boat stopped for the first time in two weeks. It’s a really weird feeling because I’ve gotten used to the sensation of movement and momentum all the time, and now that it has stopped it feels like someone lessened the gravity on the ship or something- you end up putting more power behind each step than is necessary when the boat is stopped, because you’re used to the ‘pushing’ sensation of the boat and it’s weird to walk around without that feeling, similar jumping off of a treadmill and walking strangely for a while.
We have another station tomorrow, which frankly is a bit soon because we still have to process all the samples from today and clean / sterilize all the equipment again, but we’ll see how it goes…