Ice Station Juha

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
March 25, 2015

Tonight we’re transiting. Lying in my rack on the 01 deck, this is something like sleeping/reading/typing on a very narrow bed bolted to the inside of a shipping container made of aluminum suspended by a crane in a windstorm consisting of cannon-shot bowling balls. We’re not swinging about per se, but we are being pushed side to side with seeming deliberate meteorological force. On this deck, crushing through ice 12 – 16” thick at about 3.5 knots also sounds a whole lot like a windstorm, with all the hail you can pack into it. Who doesn’t like a good storm when you’re dry inside a box made of steel plates?

Ice Station Driveway. Photo by Roger Topp
Ice Station Driveway. Photo by Roger Topp

Today I solved the mystery of the locked door. Didn’t stop me from locking Perry out of the stateroom this evening, but at least we both know exactly why our door keeps locking ‘itself’ — and locking one or the other of us out of the room. “This never happened to me before,” I told him couple days ago. Meaning, this is my third stateroom on the same boat, but first time even realizing there’s a button to lock the door on the inside. Thought maybe I’ve got a strange of way of gripping the lever handle this time out. We don’t have keys. We are not meaning to lock the door at any time of day or night.

Because two staterooms share a common head, Perry was able to use three doors to get into the room instead of the one. I was up in the rack, and because it’s a contortion (while under attack) to get down, I was waiting to see if he could navigate the three doors before getting down to help him with the one. “Roger, You locked me out of our room!”

“And yet here you are.”

He goes back into the head. I tell him he’s welcome to use the front door. He says, “Yes, but I have to use the bathroom.”

This makes sense. Earlier I noticed and showed him the error of our ways. The door button is suffering from cabin fever — and getting depressed by the wall when the door is pushed back. The door, when opened all the way, pretty much bangs right into the door to the head. I found the dent. Before he left to head back to the Bridge, Perry conducted his own investigation and found where the now missing doorstop had broken away. All mysteries explained.

But that wasn’t all that happened today.

The Sikuliaq in the ice at Ice Station Juha. Photo by Roger Topp
The Sikuliaq in the ice at Ice Station Juha. Photo by Roger Topp

We had our first ice station. Ice Station Juha, named after our Finnish ice pilot, Juha Varis. We spent the night in our tiny, half ship-length self-made canal, moored with an ice-anchor. Ever had one of those Paddingtonesque coats where the buttons are basically little sticks on a loop that you push through the eyes and when then turn they hold fast? Yep, basically like that. Perry led the way on the ice last evening, probing for weaknesses with an ice stick. Ethan followed with what looked to be a five foot length of 8×8 timber. That was our buttoning down for the night. By 10:00 this morning the crew had re-lowered the gangway and reflagged a safe perimeter for the scientists to work within. Didn’t stop the Captain, Alice, and I following Perry (this is key) out beyond that to get a good look at the ship from out beyond the bow. Perry is Yupik from St. Lawrence Island. He knows walking on sea ice.

Alice and Perry measuring ice thickness. Photo by Roger Topp
Alice and Perry measuring ice thickness. Photo by Roger Topp

Within the flagged perimeter, Alice and Perry ran transects, drilled holes, and measured the ice thickness. Rob took cores and collected water for a trace metals study. Brandon and Sam took cores to measure salinity and temperature in order to gauge ice strength for Evan and algal habitat for Brandon. Evan and I walked around taking pictures and distracting the bear guard. Ethan stood as bear guard, and up on the Bridge at least a couple observers stood bear watch — even if we were a little far south to see much in the way of bears. Sorry, no actual bears. It’s a good thing.

Sam and Brandon drilling cores. Photo by Roger Topp
Sam and Brandon drilling cores. Photo by Roger Topp

The ship looks good in ice. I like how the new lead behind the ship started to freeze up overnight, the rubble knitting itself together again, kinda like a bone graft, the bits of ice teaching the water in the in-between how to crystalize and seal around the wound of the ship. I like how the sun decided to come out and stay out all day. Just got back down from sunset (22:00) on the Bridge. One seal, two walrus, clear skies, and a mind-numbing number of photographs in just the short hour I was there. That star made the cleanest exit I have ever seen in my life, melting and then shrinking, orange, to a point and then gone. The sunrise this morning wasn’t bad either.

The Sikuliaq in the ice at Ice Station Juha. Photo by Roger Topp
The Sikuliaq in the ice at Ice Station Juha. Photo by Roger Topp

I like how there’s ice on three sides of the ship, that the boat’s a knife stilled mid-cut. I like that I got a picture of the Captain looking back at the boat, a picture of Perry pretending he had snagged a fish in one of the auger holes, a picture of Bern with Herculean cloud rays coming off his shoulders, a picture of the ship with what looks one of the science crew hauling it across the ice by the mooring rope, a picture of the ship with the nameplate in focus. The big, 36-frame spherical photo turned out well, and a whole lot of else went perfectly as well. I haven’t had time in the last 17 hours to take even a look at the video. The laptop (yes, that intrepid laptop) is chugging through some of it now. Still transiting in the morning, so provided the weather looks dismal (it won’t. It’ll be perfect I just know it), I’ll do some catching up.


Now. Navigating by Radarsat, somewhere in the Bering Sea south of St. Mathews. We’re looking for some good leads that will let us bear north and move more quickly. Parking in a floe is all well and good, but the ice field is moving southwest at about 1 knot and taking anything not under power with it. The better ice is north. So we drive on into the night.

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



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