Archive for September 2002

12 days?

this weekend went past in a flurry of jobs done / started. We’ve got most of the music put onto CDs, I made a comp of reels and jigs last night that I’m listening to right now (Na Connerys, Norouet, Slainte Mhath). Since we’re doing the music this may be the one time in our lives that we can impose our own tastes on everyone else. We’re going with Belle and Sebastian during dinner, a mix of celtic, cover tunes, and punk/folk after. And what’s a Canadian wedding without the logdriver’s waltz?

Stressing me out on top of this is an urgent desire to get some work done. Cory’s suggested I only try to work part time this week. So today I’ve developed a small goal – to include porosity in my model. Porosity’s the amount of volume filled with air or water within the sea ice. In the winter it’s caused by the block like structure of a ridge, think of it like lego blocks all glued together and piled into bunch.

In the summer, you can see porosity in this pic I took of some mulityear ice. There’s an extensive network of drainage channels formed from ice melt. The ice is in a state of decay, but in a few weeks as the temperature gets colder, the water in these channels will freeze and the flow will become non-porous, solid multi-year ice. In any accurate models of ice melt, the channels have to be taken into consideration, you may measure 1m of ice, but if it looks like this, you have significantly less mass.
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arctic 2002

I picked up my photos today, it’s amazing to see these pictures from the past three weeks and realize I was just there. As soon as I arrived in Edmonton, the North felt very far away. It’s any entirely different way of thinking, an entirely different landscape (I cheered when the plane landed in Yellowknife and I saw trees), and I’m amazed at how quickly the whole feel of the arctic was forgotten upon my arrival home. Flannel sheets, blue skies, and clean hands. I am no longer covered in grease, the thick black stuff you can see on this wire here. I seemed to have a slight inability to avoid bumping into the wires when I was aboard.

i also have a few rolls worth of pictures of the ice that the ship sailed through. In this pic you can see that a large portion of the ice exists underwater, this is just part of a larger floe. Only 10% of the ice is normally above the surface due to buoyancy constraints. I love these pictures because the colours are so beautiful, the dark water, the glacial blue ice under the water, and the white crusty ice above. I do have one really cool picture of the underside of the ice, I’ll put that up later, where you can see the drainage channels from the melt water all rushing through the ice where it would form a fresh water layer below. Very cool. Well, very cool for me anyways.

I’ll be working on getting the pictures up in the next week, it’ll take a while to sort through them and come up with a format. Oh, and hello to Cath who posted on this site for the first time, thanks for saying hi. Feel free to give us hints on cool places to go in Scotland or Northern Ireland if you have any suggestions…
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Arctic 2002: Pearse Point

Pearce Point, -122.7667 W, 69.8333 N.

During the 1920s and 30s there was a RCMP detachment at Pearce Point during the summer months when the Inuit maintained a seasonal hunting camp. For these hardy men from the south, it must have seemed a beautiful but desolate spot. More for a show of sovereignty that actual purpose, small ships carried up enough wood to build identical two room quarters throughout the Arctic. At Pearce Point, a protected bay open to the north and the waters of the Amundsen Gulf, the police shack still stands, and is still occupied seasonally.

We anchored in the bay for a few hours, enough time for some of us to walk and explore ashore. From the ship, the land called me, rugged and inviting. The fragile tundra of Barrow is here raised above the seas by basalt cliffs broken only in a few places such as the RCMP beach where we could land from a small boat.

The rocky ground was covered with brown mosses, except for a tower outcropping in the bay entirely cut off from land and rising dominantly from the water. Its surface was green and alive, suggesting that grazing may have played a part in halting the growth of green foliage on the mainland.

This is caribou country, and walking on the beach we made our way to the RCMP hut.

Originally covered in red wooded shingles, gaps had been replaced with blue tarps and the ground outside was littered with oil drums, remnants of old clothing, and jerry cans in a picture of neglect. The cabin itself was chained shut and currently in use as a hunting base. Peering through the windows feeling vaguely guilty of trespass, the evidence of domestic comfort contrasted the disrepair outside. In front of the window was a table covered with a red checked tablecloth, the familiar shapes of bottles of HP sauce, jars of pickles, and an opened bag of nacho chips.

In that bag of nacho chips lies one of the current threats to the people of Nunavut. Just seventy years ago, the hunting parties at Pearce Point would have camped in their traditional manner, travelled by dogsled, and lived a life of balance at a subsistence level. The advent of 1950s government policy created vast changes in the North; groups were moved from fertile hunting areas to large accessible communities where welfare, alcohol, and the snowmobile drastically marked the culture.

Now junk food is the latest threat to northern communities, seventy years ago working a dog team across the arctic demanded a high caloric intake. This cultural and genetic requirement for a high food intake is no longer needed in the era of snowmobile transport. Yet the Inuit people are often unaware of the nutritionally deficient nature of junk food consumed as a replacement to some traditional food sources and this adds one more health issue to an already fragile way of life. (Credit for my awareness of this problem goes to Jim’s experience in Cape Dorset).

This is caribou country, but it is also bear country too. Last year a shore party ran into a grizzly in these hills and we were instructed to travel in groups and maintain radio contact. I explored with Ryan, a veteran deckhand, and Kharla, a steward, who was also seeing the Arctic for the first time. The two of us walked with broad grins plastered onto our faces at the sights of even the smallest lichen on a rock.

I took an entire roll of film in two hours, attempting to capture just one view of the bay to bring home. The rocky cliffs form a natural circle, the water deep in the centre and rising sharply at the cliffs and beaches. The Laurier rested at anchor gracefully and her bulk was matched perfectly by the bulk of the tower outcropping rising from the water nearby.

Exploring inland, we followed a gravel road up and over the first hill. In the past, Pearce Point was one of the DEW line stations, early warning radar against the threat of attack in the cold war. The captain earlier told me stories of the type of men working at these stations, half-crazed lonely men who’d get south for only six weeks twice a year. A lifestyle devoid of all free choice; completely dictated by the force of routine and the company of their fellow station workers. Separated from society effectively in the pre-satellite world and staring at radar paranoid of attacks, there’s little wonder that the minds of some of these men might become a little unhinged.

The remains of the DEW line station comb the landscape at Pearce Point, a network of gravel roads leading in circles. We climbed one and reached a trailer that may have once been accommodations but now lay in shambles with broken windows and missing doors. The inside walls were covered with graffiti, names from previous coast guard visitors dating as early as 1985, a list to which Kharla and Ryan added their names. More interesting was a native who’d described a trip he was undertaking in 1999, travelling by snowmachine and sled dogs from Barrow, Alaska, to an eventual destination in Greenland. I hope he found his way safely.

Further above this trailer was a large metal hut or barn labelled the Pearce Point Science Station. I’ve no idea what research was originally conducted here, and going inside the hut provided no further clues. The hut was empty except for more discarded clothes and ominously, the skeletal remains of the spine and ribs of a large mammal. While relieved that it wasn’t a human form, looking at the remains of a bear’s dinner, the equivalent to finding yourself in a bear’s den, was mildly uncomfortable. I’ve run into Grizzlies in the Canadian Rockies, but a hungry Arctic grizzly eager to store fat for the winter may be a different concept. I was quite happy to go outside again.

Behind the hut was one last hill. We climbed up to gain a view of the other side. Rising over the crest, we saw what I can only believe was a very large plug of volcanic rock, rising vertically a great distance from a still lake, the outside rock of the volcano long weathered away. I believe this to be volcanic based on the occurrence on basaltic rock in imperfect hexagonal columns formed during cooling that were visible in the nearby cliffs and on the face of the plug itself. Here again, scientific description fails to convey the grandeur of what I saw.

If Canada were ever to build a castle, defensible from all forms of medieval warfare, this would be the place to construct one more impregnable than any in history. The sides of the plug rise vertically in cliffs to a relatively flat surface hundreds of meters above the lake. In my fantasy castle, its only connection to the mainland would have to be a swinging rope bridge, delicately spanning the drop below. In my head I’m combining the book on 14th century history I’ve been reading with Northern Ireland’s Carrick-a -Rede Bridge and Scotland’s Dunnotar Castle, perhaps inspired by the similar, though much grander, geology I see here. But I blink, and my fantasy vanishes.

Before me lies the steep, inaccessible cliffs rising up out of the waters. There will be no castle at Pearce Point, this is not a human place and the very few that have adapted to live here are not castle builders. There are no cities to defend, for the Arctic defends itself, its natural citadel rising to face me in sheer majesty. The lesson of the Arctic has been that we have only a small place on this planet, while our civilizations have risen and fallen in the south, the arctic has remained inviolate, subject to forces greater than those of man.
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Arctic Photo Gallery

The Laurier

Putting in Moorings

Running the Winch

Kathy at work

Mooring Floats

she’s a working boat

my favourite pulley picture

more pulleys

this winch is
called “blackie”

birds, but we’re out of site of land

looking out to the deck
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Arctic 2002: aboard the laurier

I wrote this last night after seeing the first real pack ice of my trip:

I had gone to sleep in the afternoon to rest before working stations at two am and when I lay down, open waters surrounded the ship. A few hours later the ship’s grinding halting progress woke me. Instead of lying flat as she steamed, she pitched up and then crashed downwards in almost slow motion, far slower than any ocean swell I’d experienced.

I rose and went to my porthole. Through the dim light of dusk and fog (9:23pm) I could see vast chunks of ice over a meter thick moving past my vantage. The effect from this level was ephemeral, unreal. In the dense fog I could see no further than 20 meters ahead and that range was dominated completely by these huge thick floes of melting multiyear ice.

It becomes hard to explain the noise they made, their size, and their power. They were large enough to heave our ship around, thick and numerous enough to make me concerned about getting through unimpeded. They were the ghostly guardians of Canadian sovereignty in the north, far more imposing that any military presence.

Scientifically they were on average a 30 cm freeboard, over 1m in total thickness. The size of the floes was just on the order of 10m in diameter such that the pieces could move against each other freely, the open water between floes a meter or more. The degradation of the ice through the summer had rendered them porous and perhaps more delicate. I suspect melt and drainage had occurred leaving a porous freeboard with height much greater than expected through mass balance.

Searching for a different perspective, I went up one flight of stairs to be a level above the deck and from the heated comfort and 180-degree view of the winch room, stared out at the ice we chomped through. The forward lights of the deck illuminated the nearby ice for about 20m on each side of the bow. From this perspective, the ice no longer slid by mysterious, but boiled and tossed in tandem with the ship’s pitch. Our nose would ride upwards on a floe, then break down, thrusting the ice below the surface and away, leaving swirling dark waters. The floe would then reappear in pieces on the sides of the ship, displacing more water in a turbulent motion. The size of the floes, with a thickness 1/10th the diameter, made them suitable for motion, rising up on their ends, then falling thundering down. In the low light of the fog, the scene was one of destructive solitude. Never before on this ship had I thought of it was small until that then in the winch room watching the ship battle the ice.

To my port side, the light from the kitchen portholes illuminated a small fragment of the ice, which shone a bright glacial blue. All around, the ice was dark and hidden, yet in this one area, it’s fragile colour leapt up and claimed attention. Compared to the vast movement and power around, that slight colour seemed to reveal a hidden secret, a true picture of the life within the ice.

Then, like an invisible line in the pack, we crossed into open water in a matter of seconds. The pitch of the ship steadied to the gentle swell of the water that gleamed dark in all directions. We had travelled through a thin tongue of pack ice extending south from the massed bulk in the eastern Beaufort Sea pressed up against Banks Island. We were out of the magic, and I returned to bed.

Now, reading this description, I struggle to explain what I saw. Tonight moved me more than any physical sight I’ve seen in all of my travels. It was the organic and fluid motion of the pack, the large thick floes appearing suddenly in the fog, the battle of the ship for passage. It was my first experience of the sheer masses of ice in the Arctic. The energy contained within the ice, the forces generated by it, all served to leave me in awe. Perhaps in daylight such a picture would have given me a breathtaking view over large distances, but I’m glad my first exposure to ice came in the low light of evening fog. The true mysterious and hidden nature of the ice, so unconquered and ill understood was dominant in the landscape. We were just a small ship of humanity in such a vast foreign landscape. I feel privileged and humbled by such a world as this.
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Back to the coast

Corys’s trip to the sunshine coast
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Cory’s trip to the Sunshine Coast

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It is not too bad, yet…Trish

This is the first letter that I received from Trish. From the way she wrote it I think she wanted it posted. I hope.

I have since responded asking where the mail key is. Meanwhile the box is overflowing.

Trish says:

It’s monday at 6pm and it’s just started to rain gently, the seas are still flat with just gentle swell. It’s been very calm so far, we’ve alternated between blue skies and dense fog that descends suddenly and envelops us, leaving water drops on glasses. It makes the whole landscape seem rather otherworldly. We’re out of sight of land and when the fog clears I’m completely disoriented and lost. We could be anywhere and I’d not be able to sense the difference. Yesterday we did run into a bit of rough seas and was naseous for a while but nothing too rough. It’s all being very cooperative.

The laurier is a great ship, it’s a little lacking in lab space compared to the Tully and Vector, but the deck is really well suited to research. There’s also a multi-story hold that we can work in, you really do feel like you’re in the bowels of the ship when you’re down there.

I’m a bit homesick for you today, I miss your hugs and being able to talk to you about everything. I hope everything is going well there, and that you had a super weekend. Home seems very far away (I guess it is), maybe getting emails will make it seem closer. I wish you were here to share this with me(and today a little part of me wishes I was just at home). Still, I’m enjoying the experience.

Just flying into Barrow was amazing, it’s far above the treeline, and the tundra’s a golden brown dotted with permafrost lakes. During landing the plane circled out over the point and and we saw a polar bear walking amidst a horde of gulls all converging on a whale carcass from the annual hunt. The town itself looked exactly like what you’d picture an arctic town to be, various stages of disrepair, wood housing on stilts, and mud everywhere on the roads. I took a couple quick pictures but that’s all I had time for.

I’m the only young english speaking person in the science group, there are four japanese guys who are probably in their early thirties but they speak minimal english. They get off in a few days (on the 12th) and we’ll be down to 7 scientists, a skeleton group, we’ll be very busy next week. It makes it a bit lonely, but I’ll meet the crew as the trip progresses and there’s quite a few female crew which is really nice.

(edited for mushy content – ed.)

It is not too bad, yet…

I have had two nights alone so far and it has not been too bad. I think the weekends are easier. It is easier to convince people to stay up late to keep me company. I think I will notice trish?s absence more during the week when I come home from work and there is nobody home. I had to do some thinking the other day as to what actually filled my time before trish.

I like it better now?

— Cory
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