March Madness

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
March 23, 2015

The Bridge, running in the dark.
The Bridge, running in the dark.

The important thing is that I finished reading that book yesterday and I have a fair shot of cutting my way through the next one in the remains of March. In the book the good guys won the day and the solar system, and I think we will too. Teams were picked, alliances made, battles fought, players sacrificed. I think the next book is going to be a bluesy love-story, which figures.

I’m pretty much color-correcting every photo I’m shooting, pulling it out of cloudy, Arctic blues and gifting it as much warmth as I can get away with. Then we’ve got those orange jackets, black and orange suits. I can work with that. They may not be spacesuits but sometimes it’s worth running outside with just a coat and not having to wriggle in and shuck off a shoulder-tight shell every half an hour.

Headlight at dawn.
Headlight at dawn.

Video off the bow before dawn. Fleece in a gale. Temperature 20F and a 25 knot wind just when we’re sitting still. I grabbed a hat and gloves after that one. We made way slowly with a single headlight. No tailgates and no one stopped us for having a light out. By about a 10:30 I noticed a bright blob of yellow in the sky behind us. I decided it must be the sun. First good peek in a week. Before that I was just glad it wasn’t raining, and location considered, the weather has been very good.

More light, and the shallow pressure ridges get shadows — sort of, if you push the contrast. I recorded more sound from below and outside, found a leeward railing to hang the shotgun mic over, maybe about twelve feet from the water/ice line. The ice doesn’t crack like glacier ice, like gunfire. The consistency is more like sponge-cake than melba toast. The GoPro does a great job of capturing (in 10x quicktime) how cracks radiate from the ship’s bow as we press forward. Little grey lightning strikes race off in front of us and then split open like a bad rendition of fault-line tectonics.

The Main Lab, not watching the game.
The Main Lab, not watching the game.

If anything gets lowered to the center of the earth today it’ll be iron hard and hard to damage. A railcar wheel is rigged to the load-handling system. A Van Veen grab is slated for the working deck. It’s comical seeing a tiny grab hanging from the A-frame. Feels like we could have brought a smaller boat, but the grab means we can do science while testing whether or not we can keep an instrument safe from ice. Typical with over-boarding gear, the getting in and the getting out of the game is where things change the quickest, and problems arise and a cast is intercepted.

rt_blog_090Scratch that. We found a nice sized lake so we put down, in addition to the Van Veen grab, a Bongo net, the CTD, and an ROV. So, yes, the day got busy and long. Most recently, the Bongo net went in about 20:30. Went down vertical, then came up vertical, not the most productive way to cast a net, but in the Arctic it’s how you do. Ice-fishing, for plankton, on an ocean. Big boat to catch the tiny, important stuff from the bottom on up.

Scratch that. Caught a big old wyrm (sp?) with the grab. Three grabs. That took a while. That was cold, the arctic mini-blast coming over the starboard gunwales. That was a lot of hose-pipes and jets of sea-water spraying about the place. Mustang Suit and Xtra Toughs. These are your friends. Cameras are all nicely decorated with salt speckle. The grey mud, the bivalves, the worms, the stars, the amphipods, rinsed and then collected in mom’s Tupperware. The big buckets, the screen boxes… We caught some part of a jelly with a bottom grab. The Van Veen is truly indiscriminate in who it picks to win.

Catching benthic critters
Catching benthic critters

Somewhere out there March madness is happening. It’s something to talk about when we’re not talking about the sea strainers and how often they need to be unclogged. When we were in Puerto Rico, we were close enough to shore to get a 4G signal and pipe that from a phone to the 50” TV in the main lab. Where we are now, there’s not so much as a lonely, distant scream in the dark of a signal.

rt_blog_093The engineering department carts ice up from below decks in the freight elevator — in 5 gallon buckets and a garbage can — and tosses it overboard where the gangway goes. “Back to where it came from.” There’s a small pile of brown and white slush on the lip of the deck, not dirt — algae, but it probably looks like snow melting off the yard where the kids are playing.

Another meeting today. There are actually a lot of meetings generating a fair amount of paperwork. For a change, I get to skim the icing off the top of the schedule. My one for the day was sitting in on the figuring out goals and teams for ice operations, who can auger holes or take ice-cores for whom. Who can be a second pair of hands, who can pull 12 cores within a couple square meters, and who needs a hundred-meter line of equally-spaced holes? Who needs a map out a pressure ridge, measure it and then mark it with red Kool-Aid so the ship can maneuver away and, under thrust, destroy the floe, a known quantity? Who needs a foot of ice to do science and who needs two feet of ice to test the ship’s performance? Who needs the freshest, most distant water in a virtual, outdoor, maritime cleanroom? Who needs to be out of the ship’s shadow so he can collect photons under the ice? Who DOESN’T suggest a good picture of the ship in ice could be taken out in front of the bow, where all the cracks begin? Who needs the port side to the ice so he can dance in front of the 3D mapping cameras? What will that look like in Oculus Rift? Who’s going to fire up the barbecue to bait the bears — and because, somewhere a game is on and you know we have hotdogs in the freezer.

Launching the ROV.
Launching the ROV.

Oh, and we did the ROV test run. Little yellow submarine. Scratch that. Light levels were low and steering difficult. Not the fault of the PS2 controller. More likely: cold hands from trying to play a console game in an Arctic wind tunnel on a screen smaller than we had for Dave’s Atari. And one tends not to play Halo in heavy gloves. This is why we dry-run these things in a grey puddle, have a quick go, practice, and get ready for the game. And go back and re-read the manual after dinner.

Scratch that. I’m not going to get to read but a page tonight. No, not a manual. Heaven forbid. Murakami! A bluesy Beetles brand of Mixed-Metaphor March Madness. Laundry is done. Time for bed.

Sun over the Bering Sea
Sun over the Bering Sea

— Roger Topp (UAMN Head of Exhibits, Design, and Digital Media Production)

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