Glacial Culdesac

I went out on the 48 foot aluminum oil response vessel to set acoustic devices on the Beaufort Sea floor with some science consultants who work for one of the oil companies. They study the effect of industrial noise in the sea and bowhead whale migration.

The pack ice is much nearer the coast this year than in my previous two summers. The coordinates where we needed to set the devices were right in the middle of the ice. The ice is not a solid mass, but rather a beautiful sort of maze of open waters and ice bergs. We started to pick our way north and east through the ice, which, and it was much like the island maze in the Georgian Bay in Ontario that I fished as as a kid and in recent year with my nieces and nephews.

As we picked our way north east, the fog set in. We spent the next several hours going down one culdesac after another of open water that ended in no-way-out in the ice pack. The ice bergs were beautiful, ranging in color from aquablue below the surface to bright white above. We saw many spotted seals – the main food of polar bears, I think – and I thought we might see a bear or tracks on the ice pack, but saw neither. We did see several species of birds, one or two of which I had not seen near shore. I never felt in danger that we were in any ice that would crush our boat when it shifted, but only wondered if we’d ever get out of it or have to spend the night on the boat. Turned out to be one of the best days I’ve ever spent up here.

After a couple hours of this, I decided to head due west, and see if I could find the edge of the pack and just get out of it. We finally found the edge, and I motored south towards land. We then decided to try to skirt the southern edge of the pack, head east, and then see if we could perhaps find some open water to the east of our destination. About that time, the fog lifted all the way to land, and the leads were easy to see. We were able to motor almost to cruising speed and were able to set all the gear and take all the calibration readings the scientist needed.

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