Thursday, August 18, 2011

Update 5 – Zombies

bones at Kekerton
Tuesday, August 9, 2011, instead of just looking at Kekerton Island through binoculars, we took the zodiac ashore. Wind swept, the island the station sits on is mostly formed of white granite covered with black lichen. Everywhere the rock is exposed, it sparkled. Once it was thought this area was rich in gold – I see how that assumption was formed by just looking at the rocks. A few patches of tundra thrived in the otherwise barren landscape. Tundra is squishy underfoot and, this time of year, green dotted with flowers and mushrooms ranging in colour from copper to red. A yellow butterfly flitted between blades of grass and flowers then darted out of sight when I tried to get its photograph.

The old whaling station has morphed into a park complete with plaques describing what to see, which isn't much anymore. Three rusting metal cauldrons, each huge in size, lined the designated path. I imagined whalers used them for rendering the whale blubber, but, I don't really know and I didn't bother reading the sign. Most of the buildings are completely gone – recycled by the Inuit into who knows what (at least everything got re-used). Graves still remain. The unfortunate people who died on Kekerton Island were 'buried' in wooden boxes and old barrels with rocks stacked on top. With time and perhaps polar bear intervention, most of the boxes have been cracked open. One box in particular was rendered completely open and clearly held two complete human skeletons. I wonder who they were? Being a whaler was clearly not an easy job.

Mr Noodle bowl garbage
Bones were scattered most everywhere I looked. I assume most belonged to animals, including a massive bowhead whale lower jaw bone and a smaller skull likely from a walrus. A few shards of pottery poked out of the rocks along with rusted links of chain. An old anchor rested on one of the rocks near the water as though someone put it there with the intention of retrieving it – even today it looked ready to be used. A friendly blue modern cabin and outhouse both with yellow trim sit at one end of the park. The cabin is small and cozy, it would be comfortable to stay in – way larger than my cabin on the ship. Unfortunately, others (not us) left garbage behind. In between the rocks empty pop cans and a Mr. Noodle bowl made of eternally-lasting styrofoam remained as a reminder of careless visitors.

That night we anchored again near Kekerton Island resulting in endless zombie jokes. We must have been tired because we actually found them funny.

polar eelpout
Saturday, August 13, 2011 – The weather has been calm and is forcasted to stay this way. Days blur together now as there isn't much variety to our tasks. Each day starts with pulling up the fishing line and processing the fish, a task that typically takes until early afternoon or longer. Then, I get in a CTD cast or two. In the evening the fishing line with just under 600 hooks is re-baited with squid from New Jersey and set out for recovery the next morning. We've had a couple successful fishing days, on Iva's last day we caught 75 turbot for her (her thesis revolves around turbot), which was the biggest turbot catch so far. The only fish caught that wasn't a turbot, skate or shark was a polar eelpout and only one took our bait. Head dwarfed the eelpout's gray stripped body and it was small compared to everything else we've caught. Since it was a new fish, I took pictures, then, we released it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 – Still fishing. Today started with our first fire/abandon ship drill. As a scientist, my tasks include getting my life-jacket out of my bunk and grabbing an immersion suit. Then, I go to the bridge to wait for direction. The bridge is my muster station, which always becomes mustard station in my mind. For this morning's drill, Kevin (the only other scientist currently on board) and I were in the lounge when the alarm went off. This immediately raised the question of if we should go down to our cabin, as it is a deck below where we were, to get a life-jacket or, just grab an immersions suit (which are stored in the lounge) and go to the bridge. We decided not to get the life-jackets, which turned out to be the wrong choice. Shortly after the first drill concluded as second one was called – this time we showed up with life-jacket's in hand.

Now that going home is getting closer and closer, my mind is wandering to the things I'd like to do when I get home – a long hot bath tops my list.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Update 4 - bad weather and more fishing

arctic skate
For three days (28-30 July 2011), Cumberland Sound endured gale force winds. We hid at anchor in Pangurtung Fjord, and even there the winds reached over 30 knots. At one point, the ship started dragging the anchor (the type of thing that only happens in the middle of the night – I was asleep and missed it).

Shifting our plans slightly to get some work done, we deployed an acoustic range test in Pangurtung Fjord in the afternoon of 29 July 2011. Strong wind and tides made the deployment difficult as the ship struggled to get on top of each position accurately. Acoustic tags of different types were dropped into the water at known locations and moorings with receivers were positioned at specific distances away. The aim is to determine how well the receivers can hear the tags over a year. How sound propagates through the water depends on density which can be determined from a CTD cast. I did a cast over the range test and discovered the water in Pangurtung Fjord creates a very different profile (fresher and warmer near the surface) than Cumberland Sound water.

On 31 July 2011, winds died down enough to venture into the Sound. Before we left, two new scientists came on board and Aaron went home. Now we have one more scientist than bunks, so someone is sleeping on the floor of the lab on a pile of lifejackets – and it's not me. First we put out another shark fishing line then 24 moorings were deployed, most with receivers on them plus another group for a range test. I even squeezed in three CTD casts and downloaded all the data. I'm still seeing a temperature minimum around 100m. By the evening the sound was calm, so we drifted for the night.

We started 1 Aug 2011 by hauling up the shark line. Only three sharks took the bait and one escaped before we could get our hands on it. Two remained, one male and one female, both large animals in good shape. Nigel and Iva tagged both and released them. For the second one, in an effort to get a line around the shark, Nigel's nose rubbed the wrong way on the shark's skin, leaving him with bloody nose rubbed raw.

I finally got to build my first oceanographic mooring. It was deployed as soon as we were done with the sharks. The mooring went out in 270m of water, the mooring itself was 240m long with conductivity and temperature sensors spaced every 40m. Also, attached at the top was a dissolved carbon dioxide sensor for someone else's project (the sensor came in a wooden crate held together with star shaped screws – with me I have a screwdriver for almost any type of screw out there, except that). I've never worked with a carbon dioxide sensor before, so I checked the manual on how to deploy it. According to the manual, the sensor was ready to go and I could check that by waving a magnet over a red dot on the instrument's side, waiting 40 seconds, then looking for drips of liquid coming out a tiny tube. I saw the drops, so I'm assuming the instrument is ready to go. This mooring will be recovered at the end of August, the data downloaded, then re-deployed for the winter.

The second of August was another sunny, calm day. First thing in the morning we pulled up a long line of hooks we deployed the night before – I think there was 300 hooks total, each baited with squid. Right of the bat we had a shark and eventually we caught two more and each of them were tagged. We also caught our first arctic skate. When a skate comes out of the water, it curls up instinctively. When I saw this the first time, it looked exactly like the creature that fixed itself to the face of one of the crew members in Alien. In the end, we caught many skate and only two turbot – the first turbot was too small to tag, so only one turbot got tagged.

On our way to the next site, I was able detour for a CTD cast between two islands. As we did the cast, one of the crew members told me there was an old whaling station on one of the islands (Kekerton) along with a cemetery. I couldn't see any structures on the island from the ship, however, the whaling station was marked on the chart. It would have been nice to anchor near by and take a look around.

A sailing vessel with two masts passed us, along with two tug boats hauling barges. I was told the tugs were dropping off their loads at a mine up the sound – apparently, they are mining for diamonds. One of the tug boats was named 'Molly', a fact I learned listening them call on the radio (I never heard the name of the other tug or the sail boat).

The third and fourth of August blurred together as we spent the days fishing with a few CTD casts in between. It was one of the crew member's birthday so, Iva and I conducted a chemistry experiment by baking a cake based on what we could find on board – a number of substitutions were made, luckily resulting a tasty coffee cake. It's very difficult to covertly bake a cake on a small ship, no matter where one goes on board you have to pass through the galley. We managed because the captain put the birthday boy on bridge watch while we were mixing everything together. Later as the cake baked, we were all on deck working with the fishing lines. Another scientist pulled the cake from the oven and stashed it in our cabin (making for a nice smelling cabin). Iva planned in advance and had birthday candles on hand and we lit them without setting fire alarms off.

Swell came in and the winds picked up forcing us back into Pangurtung Fjord for the night of 4 August 2011. A crew swap will occur and we'll be changing focus next week – the shark wrestling phase of this expedition is done.

Working out the kinks

Since the ship is brand new (Iva and I were the first scientists when we got on in Frobisher Bay), there are kinks that need working out. The biggest one, in my mind, is the lack of random spare parts. Regularly, oceanographic equipment ends up jury-rigged together with wire, shackles, duct tape, tie wraps, hose clamps, etc. Most of the older research vessels have built up a collection of parts for this purpose, I find it odd not to have a stockpile to rely on. I travel with some of the parts I might need but, it's hard to prepare for everything that might break or what might need to be connected together. As scientists come and work on this ship and leave stuff behind, I'm sure in time this ship will build a lovely collection of spare items.

In the realm of other problematic things, my CTD has a dissolved oxygen sensor strapped to it (with a hose clamp and a tie wrap – no duct tape yet). This sensor requires water flow past a delicate membrane. The CTD has a pump for the conductivity sensor, so we've altered the tubing allowing water to also pass the oxygen sensor. However, the intake for the oxygen sensor is much smaller in diameter than the pump tubing. To make it compatible, tubing with an inner diameter workable with the oxygen sensor and an outer diameter that fits tightly inside the pump tubing has been cut into a couple short lengths to work as adapters. I brought more of this tubing in case I need to make more 'adapters' – right now, I expect I'll need it.

My other complaint is the medicine cabinet in my cabin. Three mirrored doors are held shut by magnets – an arrangement that works fine in a house. Unfortunately, the motion of the ship ripped the magnets free, leaving the doors to noisily flap about – whapwhap whapwhap whapwhap … We've now taped the doors shut (duct tape use #209) but, we still need to access the shelves inside and the stickiness of the tape doesn't last. The doors always come unstuck at 2 am, waking me up with their 'whapwhap whapwhap whapwhap' until I can't take it anymore and have to get up and fix them with more tape.