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1 April, 2003

Science On Ice

Today I got my first real taste of working on the ice away from the science shack area. Jerry, Jim and I loaded up the snowmobile and headed south of the high school and the helicopter pad.

After taking a GPS (Global Positioning System) reading from the shore area we measured a distance of 250 feet from the shoreline and began using the augers to drill. We use two auger sizes, a four-foot long and a seven-foot long. The four-foot auger is used first and when it has reached its maximum depth it is removed, the hole cleared of ice and the seven-foot auger is inserted. The seven-foot auger is used until we reach the seawater. Occasionally, on thicker ice areas, we are forced to use shovels and the smaller auger to dig out a large hole and begin drilling from the bottom of the hole. This task of digging before we drill is not, I repeat not a fun task especially when you have five layers of weather gear on.

Once we drill through the ice and reach the seawater the hole is scooped free of ice, slush and any floating debris. A probe is then lowered into the hole approximately ten meters and data is collected on the waters salinity level, dissolved oxygen and the temperature. As a final step we take a GPS reading of the site so that we can return to collect more data at a later date.

We continued this process until we reached about 3000 feet from shore, near the International Dateline. That is our absolute limit of how far we can go before we either reach the landing strip or Russian territory. We spent a little over five hours on the ice and to be quite honest my gear kept me very warm and dry.

An interesting thing happened while we were drilling the last hole in the ice a snowstorm swept in creating a white out. Moderately high wind and snow limited our visibility to around 20 feet. Getting back to the island was slow and difficult against the wind and snow blowing directly at us but we eventually made it back without incident.

It was interesting and a little exciting working on the ice knowing that the cold, moving ocean is beneath your feet. While at our farthest point I got a sense of being on an alien world. Chunks of ice of all sizes piled around you and covered with snow, two big rocky islands visible east and west appear completely uninhabited from our viewpoint, and only the sound of the wind. Although extremely tiring it was an awesome experience and day.

A view of Big Diomede, Russia near our last drill site of the day.

Collecting sensor data on salinity, dissolved oxygen and temperature in one of the drill holes.

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