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Daily Journals

August 24, 2006

The journal for today started out to be some background about the research mission of this cruise, and I promise to get back to that in a day or two, but I’ve got to share the excitement of the day.

breaking sea iceJust as we were beginning to break after our first afternoon lecture, Vladimir came into the hall and announced that there was sea ice around the ship. We all bolted out to see our first true sign of the Arctic. Mind you, we didn't stay long wearing just our inside clothes — the temperature on deck was 37 °F with a wind chill of about 17 °F. After gearing up, many of us returned to the deck to take pictures or simply stare in awe at the chunks of ice surrounding the ship as far as the eye could see. The thing that struck me was being able to see the underwater portions of the ice chunks (as much as 80%). We passed through the band of ice within about 30 minutes.

Later as we sat in the dining hall for our afternoon tea, we saw another large expanse of sea ice in front of the ship. Several of us geared up and headed to the deck above the bridge to watch as we entered what seemed to be an endless sea of white punctuated by dark streaks of open water. The ship moved easily amongst most of the large floating pieces. When the icebreaker encountered larger chunks we heard the thunk of metal against ice and felt the gentle shudder of the ship. Larger masses resulted in more vibration and sound and the occasional slowing of our speed, but the ship moved through the bands of sea ice with remarkable ease.

walrusSoon another sign of the Arctic appeared — two dark forms suddenly broke the surface of some open water just off the port side of the bow. I was alone on the top deck and wasn't sure what they were at first. Then one looked up at the ship — WALRUS! I had not really expected to see walruses, and here were two just below the bow. I leaned over to get a photo and the wind coming up over the front of the bridge almost took the camera out of my hands. I did, however, manage a couple of quick shots. We saw a total of five walruses over the next hour.

After the walrus sightings, a group of us went out on the bow to get a closer look at the sea ice. The excited voices and expressions reminded me of kids at an amusement park, complete with “ooohs” and “aaahhs” when a particularly big chunk of ice was hit.

Before the trip I had wondered how it would sound and feel when the icebreaker encountered ice. As I know now, it depends on the ice. Passing through patchy sea ice reminds me of the sound and vibration you experience when driving over rumble strips on the highway, with short or long bursts depending on the patch size. Thicker ice creates a more dramatic effect. If you happen to be lying in bed when the ship breaks through thick ice, it feels like a group of people are shaking and tilting your mattress for a second or two. Up on the 8th deck the sound of ice hitting the ship is muffled, but the lower you go, the more noticeable the sound becomes. I lowered a microphone over the bow and recorded the sounds of ice hitting metal, ice blocks bashing against other ice and water splashing up over the ice as the ship trudges forward.

Looking out my window, I'm having a hard time imagining that I will sleep much tonight, both for the anticipation of what we might see on the ice and, more likely, because of the shudders that vibrate through the ship as we plow ahead.

—Mike Dunn


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