Date & Time: Fri. Oct. 21 2011, 22:20hrs (UTC-5)
Location: Gibbs Fiord, NE coast Baffin Island, Nunavut
Co-ordinates: 71° 23.557N 070° 06.131W
Weather: Sunny, high sirus 3/8,, Wind SW 8km/h, Temp -14°C, open water WMO Sea State 2.
Catch-up: Part II
In Gibbs Fiord on the northeast coast of Baffin Island this morning, surrounded y steep snowy mountain peaks. Incredible scenery, but consequently no internet signal. Taken a box core this morning in very cold temperatures, about -15°C with a wind chill pushing -25°C. 25cm of snow on the deck! Now inside warming up after taking lots of scenic photos. Curled up on the bunk while Anna watches old episodes of Bergerac on her laptop! A chance to catch up on some of the missing days, Monday 17th to Friday 21st . . .
Monday October 17th – Nares Strait
After completing our last piston core, GSC-02, at the boundary of Lancaster Sound and Baffin Bay the evening before, we spent Monday steaming north towards the westernmost of the Nares Strait transect stations. This was going to be a long haul up Baffin Bay of the east coast of Ellesmere Island, but would put us on the western end of the transect of nutrient, CTD and box-core stations across Nares Strait. The western stations had never previously been sampled due to severe ice conditions on the Ellesmere side. This year though, things were looking good. All day was spent steaming through new sea ice with glacially-derived icebergs appearing in the distance. That night however, our hopes of reaching the westernmost stations were dashed. Heavy sea-ice, including sizeable multi-year floes was seen on the satellite images to be moving swiftly down the Ellesmere coast coupled with increasingly strong northeasterly winds. The stations were now beneath impenetrable ice and we had no desire to get caught between the ice and a lee shore. So while most of us were sleeping, the Amundsen turned back southwards. The Captain and the Chief Scientist then decided to attempt the transect from the eastern, Greenland, side where there was a lot more open water. So in the very late hours off we steamed to the northeast and Greenland. Once in open water though things started to get difficult. The swell picked up with big 4-5m rollers tossing the ship around, plus the wind was gathering in strength, pushing 30 knots at times. We got on station off the coast of Greenland in the small hours of Tuesday morning and managed to take a boxcore off the heaving deck and in driving snow. But halfway through the station the swell and wind had become two strong and having any equipment dangling over the side of the vessel was deemed too dangerous. With 45 to 50 knot winds forecast, it was time to abort the station and run to the shelter of the Greenland coast and hopefully the pier at the American airforce base at Thule.
Tuesday October 18th – Thule, Greenland
We awoke on Thursday morning in on the northwestern coast of Greenland, sheltered from the strong winds and big swells of Nares Strait by Saunders Island. In the pre-dawn darkness the lights of Thule US Airforce base twinkled warmly below the flat top sheer-sided mountains. Here we could wait out the storm forecast to hammer down on us from the north, and hopefully tie up on the pier at Thule and experience some Greenlandic hospitality. There then began a series of back and forth radio and satellite phone conversations between the ship, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, the Greenlandic authorities, and the US Military. The Greenlanders were happy to have us land, but after lots of humming and harring, the American base commander at Thule denied us permission to land. Apparently their pier was closed for the winter despite being in ample open water. Whilst this may have indeed been the case, there was much speculation as to what the “real” reason was. A submarine tied up there? Special flying operations planned from the airbase? Or a case of international politics and Arctic sovereignty issues? Having been snubbed by the Americans, we decided to put to sea again and try and complete the station we’d aborted the night before. As the sun rose over the Greenland Icesheet we steamed off back into Nares Strait past many large icebergs. If the swell proved too big or the wind too strong we would run and hide in the shelter of Saunders Island again. In a big swell with strengthening winds we managed to complete the CTD and rosette casts we’d abandoned the night previously. Below decks things were rather nauseating with the ship, not really designed for big seas, rolling around in a most unsettling way. Everything on deck, in the labs and in our berths too was put away and lashed down.
After completing the easternmost station it was clear the conditions were too rough to continue this close to Greenland in the open water where the wind was whipping up large waves. As most of us were bracing ourselves in our bunks and trying to get what little sleep we could as the ship heaved, moaned and creaked around, the Amundsen began steaming west, trying to reach the newly-formed sea-ice in western Nares Strait that may afford us some protection again.
Wednesday October 19th – Northern Baffin Bay Foredeck Fire!
During the night the wind dropped to more comfortable levels but the swell, if anything, increased. We could not travel too far west for fear of getting caught in the thick ice, but where we were the ice was too thin to dampen the swell in any meaningful way. The day proved to be a very uncomfortable one with the ship continuing to heave about in the rolling sea. Designed with a shallow draught and a rounded hull to be an effective icebreaker and to survive being pinched in the ice, the Amundsen is not a comfortable open sea ship. To my surprise though, I didn’t suffer from sea sickness despite the way the vessel rolled. But the continued swaying made everyone feel immensely fatigued. Around noon we passed a large berg rolling in the big swell. The scene was a surreal one with the sea covered in a silver slick of large ice crystals that dampened the effects of the wind. It was as if we were steaming through a sea of liquid mercury. Again we tried to gain the central station of the transect, but only making 1 knot due to swell, with 30 nautical miles to go it was finally decided that we should abort, once and for all, the Nares Strait transect. We’d certainly tried, but for considerations of safety and time we had better start heading south. So, with the swell coming from the stern, we could now make a very smooth and pleasant steam at 13 knots. A vast improvement over the 1 knot headway we had been making beforehand! The smooth steaming and the promise of an extra unscheduled bar night revived morale dramatically.
Excitement was head at suppertime though. An announcement in French (the ship is part of the Coastguard’s Québec fleet and is manned almost exclusively by a French-speaking crew) called the crew to emergency stations – there had been an explosion on the foredeck! Swiftly after that the emergency siren sounded calling all personnel to their muster stations! We dashed to our berth, donning warm clothes and life jackets as we had practiced at the beginning of the cruise. The next step would be to assemble on the flight deck. A breathless Captain announced that this was not a drill, but given the fire was on the foredeck, we should stay in our cabins out of the strong winds and snow until advised. After a tense five minutes, watching the action on the camera overlooking the foredeck, it became clear that the explosion that had been witnessed was very minor and had been traced to a faulty extension cable that had shorted out in the salt spray. A very minor emergency indeed, but certainly demonstrated how quick the crew were to respond and how we, as science staff, took it seriously too. The unexpected bar night was celebrated in appropriate fashion!
Thursday October 20th – Northern Baffin Bay and Gibbs Fiord
As we had quit the Nares Strait transect earlier than expected, the opportunity presented itself to work a couple of stations on the northeast coast of Baffin Island that had had to be abandoned during a previous leg of the cruise due to bad weather. These stations, termed Gibbs-01 and Gibbs-02 were to be “basic” stations, with box core, plankton nets, benthic cameras, trawls, CTD and rosettes. They would also give the iceberg imaging team a chance to finally get their equipment working before their last pass at a large berg off Clyde Inlet along the Baffin coast. So it was towards Baffin that we steamed through smooth new ice. On our way we passed an area where seals were seen in great abundance, over a thousand of them hauled out on the new ice and seemingly unperturbed by the passage of the ship.
We arrived on the first of the two Baffin stations, Gibbs-02, to take the box core at around 2000hrs in a driving blizzard. As we worked on the foredeck, the snow was accumulating around us. Something pretty epic about working under such taxing conditions, at night, on a pitching deck in the flying snow! That station complete, we steamed through the darkness and snow into the depths of Gibbs Fiord.