Some days are not as busy as we hope them to be. At sea, this occurs a lot. There are researchers aboard Sikuliaq who have been waiting a week to begin the core of their work. Today, everyone waits out the thick, icy bulk of the morning. Float coats are put on and they are taken off again. Lunch comes and goes. We want to recover one of the Upwelling’s moorings, but it’s beneath dense ice floes, at least relative to what we’ve seen. So, we wait, first as the ship gets a more precise fix on the mooring’s position, which can be imaged by the ship’s multi-beam sonar—and by taking three slant-range readings from an acoustic ping’s time of flight there and back from the mooring release. So, we know exactly where it is. We could drop a penny over the rail into the 80 meters of water and we would be pretty sure to miss the aluminum cage and the red Viny floats. But we wouldn’t miss by much.
Then we wait because one large floe is moving though the area, large enough the ship is more likely to break it into pieces than push it safely away. There are plenty of ponds to recover the mooring, but it’s easy to forget we don’t get to choose. We cannot see the mooring. We can see the ponds, and the frustration at waiting plays tricks on our sensibilities. The ice is moving. The ship is holding steady. We must wait for a lake to manifest in exactly the right spot, and if we convince ourselves the ship is a good reference point—because it knows exactly where it is to within half meter anywhere on the globe—we know where we should be looking.
Then we wait because there’s enough floes generally, we’re concerned we can navigate the ship effectively through the ice and to the mooring once it surfaces. We debate whether it’s best to leave it and come back later in the cruise. The mooring can bide its time. The release batteries are good for another year, and it has already spent a year under pack and frazil ice, grease windrows and isolated floes.
If it pops up now under a floe, things could get delicate. I am almost too embarrassed to say I think of how this would play on reality TV. I can hear the narrator now. “If the mooring comes up under the ice…it could spell disaster…yada, yada, yada.” It won’t. We will make sure it doesn’t. And if it did, we’d work a solution there too. It’s what you do.
Ultimately, the decision is made to put the landing craft in the water and to fetch the mooring when it surfaces, then tow the mooring back to the ship. This way, we won’t worry so much about the ship’s positon and what it takes to maneuver to the mooring without pushing ice ahead of us. Because, once the mooring is on the surface, it is delicate. Things could get tense!
When we pop the release, the mooring surfaces clear off the port bow, dead center of a made-to-order pond, as per plan. The landing-craft scoots out to get it and ties it off with a rope. It’s a small mooring and easy to haul. We bring the hardware back aboard so we can get at the data, a years-worth of physics over the shelf break, a years-worth of listening for whales, a years-worth of fish profiling. Mike and Jennifer shut down the AZFP transducers via laptop. Verification is as old-school as a portable am bedside radio tuned to hear the chirp and then the lack of chirp. Later, the mooring’s batteries will be swapped and the instruments readied for another deployment and another year on the shelf-break.
Back to what else we were doing.
You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp& @Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.
—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.