In the Sea Ice: Part 2

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The next day, the day we were initially expecting to arrive at Davis, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we had no idea how long it would take us to reach our destination. Fortunately, we had the Basler fixed-wing aircraft, which had arrived at Davis Station to transport a group of expeditioners on board V1 to Mawson Station, fly up from Davis and take photos of the ice conditions around us and further south, looking for cracks in the ice that would let us through. An announcement went over the PA when the plane was about to arrive at our destination so we all rushed out, cameras ready, to see the plane fly overhead. Unfortunately, the conditions were not great and it was snowing quite heavily so visibility was poor. The crew received a lot of useful information from the reconnaissance and were able to investigate another lead further to the west. Unfortunately, luck was not with us and we continued over the following days to encounter thick ice wherever we went.

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On the 31st of October we finally awoke to clear skies, allowing us to send up the two Squirrel helicopters that we have on board the ship. Two of the crew went up with the pilots and took lots more photos and got a better idea of where we needed to go. They came back with bad news, they couldn’t identify any good leads through to Davis. Thus it appeared that our new strategy was to point the ship south and persist with the slow ice breaking in the thick ice until we could get somewhere with more possibilities. A few days later, we got some more clear weather so we could send the helicopters up again, along with the Basler from Davis. They returned this time with much better news. There was open water and lots of leads on the other side of the huge tabular iceberg (estimated to be 5 km long) that we had parked up next to the evening before. We were advised that there was around 10% of the trip that would be incredibly hard, 30% hard and 60% easy going. The 10%, however, would take up probably 50% of our remaining travel time. Therefore, our new time of arrival was estimated as six days away, on Saturday November 9th. Two weeks after our initial arrival date. Getting around the iceberg took the rest of the day but in the evening we broke through into thinner ice and made good distance. We got back into thick ice the next day and the helicopters were sent up again to investigate all the options we had.

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Sea ice is not stationary on the water, even though it feels like it when you are on the ship. The ice is constantly moving around with the currents from the ocean below it. It breaks apart and is forced together, causing broken ice to be pushed up onto neighbouring ice floes, freezing again and creating an incredible scene of frozen destruction as far as the eye can see. These piles of ice can be up to 2 m high on top of the submerged sea ice. After getting lots of info from the helicopter reconnaissance a course was plotted and we again persisted through the thick sea ice until the evening when suddenly we were in areas of thin ice (open water areas that had recently frozen over). Finally we were back to making decent progress south. So well in fact that before we knew it we were being advised that we would be reaching the edge of fast ice off Davis Station by the early morning of Wednesday November 6th. Fast ice, contrary to it’s name is sea ice that is attached to the shore (ie, ‘stuck fast’). It doesn’t move around with the ocean currents like other sea ice further out in the ocean (otherwise known as ‘pack ice’).

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