July 31, 2015: Dancing with the ice

We tried to go north over toward the Canadian side where the satellite images suggested more open water, true but found thick ridged ice, perhaps multi-year ice that we speculate came from the Arctic Ocean flushed out late last year. The big blocks refroze into a jumbled mess and are now sitting around next the Nunavut coast… so although the satellite saw some bits of open water, it can’t detect ice thickness, and some ice ridges are over 20m thick – no way any ship can get through that.

Oden can easily handle 3 m of ice; 20m is quite anomalous here.  Winds from the east were packing the ice westward toward us, not a good situation, so we had to retreat back toward open water, then sent out the helicopters to scout a new route further east, trying to get through more continuous but less ridged ice more toward the Greenland side… heavy slow going; some ridging here too.  Typical ship speeds 1 or 2 knots through the ice.  The ship is quite powerful and it is really something to see the thick ice breaking under the bow.  Now stopped, it is too foggy to proceed as we have to see to pick our way through the ice ridges, and helicopters are grounded when it is foggy.  So, we are waiting for the fog to clear or hoping for some bad weather (i.e., high winds) that would actually be good to blow away the fog and flush out the ice.  At the moment (4:00AM) a curious polar bear is walking around on the ice in front of the ship; first one we’ve seen. She thought about climbing onto the ship via the fantail, but then thought better of it.

Pack IceBasically all going fine but it is much slower than hoped for getting through the ice – this is just bad luck that some of the thick old ice is jammed in place at the entrance to Nares Strait — if forms a kind of architectural arch supported against each coast, and it just sits there… for now the ice is jostling back and fourth across the strait.  One good blow and it would probably break up and head south. Each day of delay loses a bit of science.  We’ve been training on helicopter safety, emergency medicine for the land teams, getting the lab groups trained, and staging about 12 tons of gear on the ship’s fantail, which we will helicopter off the ship for the land teams, once we get to Petermann fjord.





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