By Anna Crawford
DGES MSc student
Any field work seems to come with its share of stories, adventures and complications to overcome. The time that I spent on-board the CCGS Amundsen last October was no different. I boarded the icebreaker off the coast of Nunavut after traveling via Yellowknife and Kugluktuk, meeting my other three project members en-route. I was joining an already existing project funded in part by ArcticNet and the Canadian Ice Service – the latter who is interested in modelling ice island drift and deterioration. You can think of ice islands as being extensive and flat-topped (‘tabular’) icebergs – the size is really the differentiating factor, as they can have the surface area the size of a small city.
Ice islands are being seen at an increased frequency due to the break-up of ice shelves with the warming Arctic climate. There is potential for a collision between an ice island and ships or natural resource extraction infrastructure as both are seen further north with the reduction in sea ice. These risks are why the CIS and off-shore developers want to study and model ice islands independently from icebergs and where our project got its start.
My research looks at the ‘on-ice’ portion of the ice island so I was the lucky one flown with a helicopter to set up field sites on the two ice islands that were studied in October. At each site an ablation stake (to measure surface melt) was installed, ice thickness measurements were taken and a GPS tracking beacon set up – which are now giving us hourly updates of the ice islands’ positions. I had two excellent volunteers with me, one to drill into the ice – the other to carry the rifle in case of strong, four legged, wandering visitors. We were a well oiled machine by the third day and fifth site – getting our work time down from two hours to 45 minutes; especially important when under pressure from bad weather and flying conditions.
A unique part of the overall project is the use of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to map the underwater portion of the ice island. The experts in the use of AUVs were my companion researchers for the month and it was a fun opportunity to get out on the barge to test the sophisticated yet finicky equipment out.
I am extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to complete a field season early on in my program, to have experienced such wonderful scenery and to work with other established researchers. The Canadian Arctic waters are full of breathtaking sights and this project’s research is deeply engaging as it is a unique project so pertinent to changes in the region. Anyone who gets to research this part of the world is truly fortunate.