Third Canada - US Extended Continental Shelf Survey in the Arctic (2010)

Third Canada - US Extended Continental Shelf Survey in the Arctic written by Natural Resources Canada’s David Mosher (Chief Scientist) and Walta-Anne Rainey (Scientific Technical Support)

David Mosher is a research scientist in marine geophysics with the Geological Survey of Canada - Atlantic, Natural Resources Canada. Specializing in marine seismic reflection acquisition, processing and interpretation, he works out of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. David has participated in over 40 marine expeditions to many parts of the globe, including serving on the first non-nuclear ice-breaker to the North Pole, and he has led over 30 expeditions as Chief Scientist,  including this and last year's missions.

Walta Ann Rainey, better known as Walli, is a Marine Geoscience Technologist with Natural Resources Canada’s Geological Survey of Canada- Atlantic. When in the office, she focuses on the Geographic Information System's work for the Extended Continental Shelf Programme and provides computer graphic support. While on board the Louis S. St-Laurent, Walli is providing Geographic Information System support to the science project and assisting with the processing of 3.5 kHz sub bottom profile data.

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Meeting the Ship 2

Another expedition starts with an early morning charter flight to Kugluktuk via Iqaluit. Kugluktuk, affectionately known as Kug, is a small hamlet in the northwest corner of Nunavut. The CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent rests just offshore of the community, and we will have to fly out to the ship by helicopter four people at a time and then all of our luggage and provisions. But first, reunions with old shipmates as the crew coming off the Louis are the crew from last year's expedition. There are many smiles, hugs and swapping of stories. We land on the Louis, and it takes but a few moments to refamiliarize ourselves with the lay of the land (ship), reoccupying the same cabin, stowing clothes and checking on the equipment. There are lots of bureaucratic things ensure all of our staff have cabins and are all registered with the ship's logistics office. We have a brief meeting of science staff when all are aboard, and the captain and I review plans. We have to wait a day or so off Kugluktuk as there are a significant number of crew who have not sailed on the Louis before, and they need to be familiarized with the vessel.

We weigh anchor on August 6 (my 50th birthday) and head west out into the Beaufort Sea via the Northwest Passage. It takes a couple of days of steaming. Our first plan of action is to survey in Canadian waters of the Beaufort Slope before heading into U.S. waters. As we enter the Beaufort Sea, the waters are a little rough, and some of the staff don't feel particularly well -- they will get used to it soon enough! By August 8, we're ready to start surveying.

We get the gear deployed and throw the switch -- nothing! As always, there are a few start-up problems. But we have a very experienced group of technicians, and before long we are in business. After a couple of days of surveying, with the usual ups and downs of equipment issues, we meet up with the United States Coast Guard Cutter Healy, an ice breaker slightly larger than the Louis and certainly younger but nowhere near as comfortable. The captain, a U.S. liaison scientist and I fly over to the Healy to meet with their captain and scientists. In the U.S., the Coast Guard is a military force, and the Healy is designed as such, with few portholes, steel decking and bulkheads and fewer creature comforts than the Louis. During our visit, there was an exchange of a few personnel between the two ships as part of the collaboration between Canada and the U.S. Upon our return to the Louis, the two ships rev up the engines and head for our first waypoint to begin in the U.S. exclusive economic zone. The survey has begun for real.

David Mosher, Chief Scientist, Natural Resources Canada


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The First Few Days Onboard

Though you know you’re on a ship, it doesn’t always feel that way. In calm seas and light winds, you barely feel the vessel move. Our first two days on board were like that. Even when we set sail, leaving Coronation Gulf, Nunavut, heading out of the Northwest Passage into the Beaufort Sea, I barely noticed.  I’d like to say it was the same for all, but a few people had never been on a ship before, and they soon regretted the rejected offer of Gravol.

The first two to three days were hectic. Science personnel were busy setting up their computer work stations and geophysical gear and adjusting every item to ensure it was in good working order when deployed. The crew deployed. The crew were abuzz with activity as well. For a lot of them, this was their first trip on the Louis S. St. Laurent and, in some cases, to the Arctic. Everyone was excited to be underway, heading to the open waters of the Beaufort. Along the way, we paused and took part in the fire and boat drills. We all got the chance to try on one of the survival suits -- a must on every ship but especially so in the Arctic. We then had to learn the meaning of the emergency bells: seven short blasts and one longer blast … Fire; one long, continuously ringing bell … Get to your life boat station. The fire drill included a mock injury to put the medical personnel through their paces as well.

We were given an opportunity to meet our fellow shipmates. The captain hosted a meet-and-greet for all ship and science personnel. It was a wonderful, relaxed way to meet everyone. These are the people we’ll be working and living with for the next six weeks. It’s nice to be able to put a name to a face.

And now back to business. Time to put all the long, hard preparations to the test. Let’s get the gear in the water, and it’s full steam ahead. Or at the very least, full four knots per hour ahead.

- Wali

Walta Ann Rainey, Scientific Technical Support, Natural Resources Canada


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Communication is Critical

We've had about 10 days of joint operations with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (Healy) and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent (Louis) so far. As in all operations, there have been a few snags, but overall, data acquisition has been excellent.

There were quite a few crew on both the Healy and Louis who were not familiar with our operations. In our operations, constant slow speed and straight lines are a necessity -- and almost impossible to achieve when breaking ice! The Healy helps us out with that by breaking ice in front of us. Constant fog, reducing visibility, is another factor to be reckoned with. So, communication is critical, both between the two ships and between the bridge and our lab. That is starting to really come together. One thing that helps with communication is the wireless connection we established between the two ships. It is the same as a wireless Internet connection in your house, except we have a large antenna on the ship's crow’s nest to transmit and receive. The wireless connection allows us to mount computer drives, share files and even establish a telephone connection -- like skyping -- between ships.

When we are within about a five km range, the system works incredibly well -- a long distance call to the U.S., and no charge! We have established a regular communication schedule to ensure we communicate frequently.

So far, we've dabbled around the edges of the ice pack, sometimes getting into some heavy stuff and sometimes in wide open water. We've surveyed the U.S. EEZ (exclusive economic zone) area and are now working off of Northwind Ridge, west of the main pack. The intent from here is to head north, hopefully to about 85 degrees north, where we will survey around the Alpha Ridge.

Our biggest equipment problem so far has been with water leaking into our hydrophone array. An early morning wake-up call this morning attests to that. At 2 a.m., we had to bring in the array and fix it ... ouch! We've not seen much wildlife. A few seals and polar bears so far, but they have been well off in the distance. Polar bears are amazing creatures. We saw one yesterday on an ice flow (I remind you that we are over 500 km from any land), and he dove into the water with a big splash. He stayed submerged for a while, then came up out of the water onto another flow and trotted off. They don't fear much of anything -- even two big red ships. Our mammal observer said he saw one the other day that stood up on its rear legs and crashed down on the ice a few times with his front paws -- a threatening gesture to scare away that big red animal with a white stripe sailing off in the distance.

- David

David Mosher, Chief Scientist, Natural Resources Canada


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Living on board a ship in the Arctic

Living and working on a ship in the Arctic can be both rewarding and challenging. It gives you an opportunity to work in a  place few have the chance to, and it leaves you with an experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Working from a Coast Guard vessel is key to both the work and the location, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a pleasure trip. Canadian Coast Guard ships are well equipped with most of life’s necessities and modern amenities. The Louis S. St- Laurent is equipped with satellite TV, internet, video games, a library of books and DVDs, and comfortable lounges. The ship operates 24/7, and at any given time there are people working, people sleeping and people somewhere in-between. It provides a comfortable platform from which to live and conduct our scientific research. BUT the differences between land and sea can turn life’s everyday activities into challenges. Every task must be performed with a little extra thought and care.

Walking, climbing, eating, bathing, sleeping -- all simple activities must be done with care. The hallways (companionways) all have handrails, and if you ever wonder what they are for, wait for a big swell or thick piece of ice and you’ll find out in a hurry. Every threshold between halls and rooms is raised 4 to 6 inches. To enter, you must step up and over or end up on your face. The stairways are narrow and at a steeper angle, going up or down, so it’s a good idea to  keep one hand on the handrail.   One sudden jolt and down you’ll go. Eating your meals can be a challenge in rough waters or while breaking through thick ice. The tables are equipped with raised edges, so that when your dishes slide, and they will, at least they won’t immediately fall to the floor. I can’t imagine how the kitchen staff functions sometimes. Picture yourself trying to prepare a meal with pots and pans, hot liquids and hot burners in the kitchen that’s in constant motion.

Showering can be an adventure, too, standing in a small stall trying to bathe while keeping your balance and always having one hand at the ready in case you need to grab hold. I’ve spoken with several people about this subject. A couple of showering suggestions were offered by some of the more seasoned crew. You can lean against the shower wall to stay upright, or you can take a wide stance with loose knees so that you’re ready to shift your weight at all times. Now there’s something you never think about when you’re showering at home.

Sleeping has its own complications. Besides having to adjust to a bed that moves, the movements are not always as pleasant as a gentle rocking motion lulling you to sleep. While in open water, the ship takes on a rhythm that you can adjust to, but when breaking ice, there is no rhythm. The motion can be smooth and flat for a few moments then a sudden jolt, a slide left, a roll right, a quick heave, then back to flat. And this motion switches out constantly. You can’t anticipate what’s coming. Add to the motion continuous daylight. And as exciting as it is to stand in the sunshine at three o’clock in the morning, the lack of total darkness can play havoc with your internal clock and disrupt your sleep patterns. After a long workday, you relax and unwind, but on some level you’re expecting some external sign to indicate it’s time to go to bed. I seem to always be waiting for the sun to go down. Many nights I have sat in my cabin reading a book and lost all track of time. Thinking its only 10 p.m., I look at my watch and find its 2:30 a.m. and the sun outside my window is still shining brightly.

The human body is an amazing machine. Given enough time, it can acclimatize to almost any new living arrangements. However, I am starting to wonder, How long will it take to adjust to being on land again? I wonder, Will I continue to walk down hallways and step over imaginary raised thresholds? Will I be able to sleep in a bed that’s stationary? Will I miss the lack of constant motion? Instead of suffering from seasickness, will I instead suffer from land-sickness?

- Walli

Walta Ann Rainey, Marine Geoscience Technologist, Natural Resources Canada


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The idea behind a 2 icebreaker program is that one ship can break ice ahead of the other to permit efficient acquisition of quality data. To go it alone is either impossible, extremely impractical, or just plain dangerous. While the Louis S. St-Laurent acquires seismic data, we have gear streaming out of the stern of the vessel. We can't use very many propeller revs or the centre shaft (Louis has three propellers) for risk of damaging the gear in the water. Also, we can't go backwards if we get stuck in ice.

Not a very good situation for an ice breaker. But with the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaking ice for us, they clear the path and we get excellent quality data. Even then, however, there are some rough spots and there were a few times when the Healy had to circle around and break us out of a jam. Sometimes, we flip it around and we break ice for the Healy so she can acquire high quality multibeam bathymetry data. It’s a rough ride when you're breaking ice...not the nice periodic roll of a ship on the open sea, but a smash, bang, and jerky motion that will throw you out of your rack...and noisy too. Anyway, the idea was the two ships would work together acquiring data for about 30 days. That was the plan...reality is a different thing. Unfortunately, as we proceeded to our northern targets where the two ships in tandem would be most important, the Louis developed a propeller shaft bearing problem. It took us a couple of days to fix it, so Healy went on ahead without us. We caught up and a few days later and got some work done when we suddenly had to go on a medevac, from 82 degrees north all the way through the heaviest ice to 70 degrees (Tuktoyuktuk).

Although these days of transit for the med-evac were a bust for scientific work, it was impressive to see the two ice breaker working together to break the ice; alternating leads or sometimes working side by side. What are friends for, but to help you out in a time of need. We salvaged a couple of days more work together after the med-evac, but on September 4th, the Healy had to break off and head for Barrow, Alaska. She had a crew change scheduled for September 6th and she delayed as long as she could. It was time to say good-bye. It was sad to see her go and now we had to deal with what comes all by ourselves; still working in ice, still not able to put on too many revs and still not able to go in reverse. Our bridge officers just love doing science!

- David

David Mosher, Chief Scientist, Natural Resources Canada


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The End

Yesterday, we turned our equipment off for good. We reached the end of the line and have run out of time. Everything was working well too...a shame to have to turn it off, but better to quit while ahead, I suppose. We've covered over 10,000 km through ice and waves ... and did I mention fog...loads of fog, reaching as far north as 82º 34'. We covered all of our objectives in the southern part of Canada Basin and lost a few in the northern part, but no one said it would be easy. After the program, our Captain had a surprise for us. It turned out the Healy left us with a gift. For each of us was a medal - a US Coast Guard Service Medal - for more than 21 consecutive days of polar research above the Arctic Circle.

Because our work was collaborative with the US, the Captain of the Healy qualified our work as service to the US and therefore qualified us for these medals. That was nice of them. Unfortunately we did not have time to raft the two ships together and exchange gifts, but we had gifts of our own for them that we sent over. To each crew member and scientific staff, we had large badges signifying the expedition. And to the ship, we had brought along a glass trophy holding a globe with the Arctic being the principal focal point and words engraved signifying our appreciation for their work and support.

We are heading now to Paulatuk, full steam ahead. We'll drop our northern colleagues off in Paulatuk; their home town, then proceed to Kugluktuk for our crew change and flight home. Of course, everyone is excited about going home. Me, I am trying to figure out how to get to those areas that we missed as part of next year's pro gram.

- David

David Mosher Chief Scientist, Natural Resources Canada


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