26 August, 2004
Out on the Ice
It seems that my chance to actually go out onto the Arctic ice has finally arrived! Anders Karlqvist, of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and ACEX Information Officer, has asked if I would like some work to do. I've learned that answering "yes" to that question will bring on a new adventure and this is no exception.
There are silver radar detection targets that need to be assembled and placed at specific points out on the ice. Satellites will locate them and then using successive satellite pictures of the targets, the Ice Management Team will be better able to track the movements of the sea ice.
The targets are shipped folded flat in packages and need to be assembled in their 3D configuration. The problem is that the assembly must be done on-site because once put together there is no way that 60 or more of them will be able to fit in the helicopter along with 5 people.
All dressed up in our orange survival suits we get into the helicopter along with the packages of targets, wooden stakes, staplers, and the GPS coordinates for placing the targets. There is a light snow blowing as we take off for the first location. Arriving at that point Sven Stenval, our helicopter pilot, gently lands the craft and then bounces it a few times on the ice to make sure this part of the large ice floe will support our weight. We lift off again; oops, apparently this is not a suitable landing site. We set down again close by and get out with our equipment. At this site we will set the targets out in a large "X" configuration. Sven and I fold up the sides of the targets and tie them together to form their triangular shape; the light wind is actually helpful in lifting the target's 4 sides upright for us. The targets are then stapled to small wooden stakes pounded into the ice. When I take some of the assembled targets out to the stakes they act as kites and help propel me along in the wind. I walk gingerly on the snow-covered ice. I know that the ice is very thick below me, but the water beneath the ice is very deep - 1200 meters or so! This time of year some of the ice on top of the floes melts into "melt pools" and then often refreezes. The little crackling noises I hear as I step across the ice are just the cracking of the melt pool surface, but it is a bit creepy and unnerving all the same. The little bit of unease I feel is definitely outweighed by the experience of being out in the middle of an ice-covered expanse as far as I can see. After the constant crashing sounds of ice-breaking on the ship the silence here is unusual but a welcome relief. In the far distance is the Sovetskiy Soyuz, but there is no sign of my "home base", the Oden, from here.
We finish our duties at two more sites, each time placing the targets in a new configuration. Before we leave the last location, I must take a scramble up a 6' ice ridge to have my picture taken. It looks like the sort of place that an "ice bear" might hide and even though I am keen to see one, this is not the time; I ask my fellow teacher, Erik, to check that there is no bear lurking there. It's safe so I climb up and pose for my photo. Ulf Hedman, ACEX Logistics Coordinator, offers to take pictures of the rest of the team and we willingly oblige and pose on the drift. After sliding down and tossing a harmless snowball at Anders, it's time to head back to the Oden and a hot cup of strong Swedish coffee.
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