Though the Arctic Ocean ice pack is shrinking, ice is still present in the Beaufort Sea in August. Ice melt usually begins in mid to late June and by the end of July, the landfast ice along the coasts has given way to open ocean and icebergs. While on the Norseman II, our group experienced both the good and the bad of working in a sea full of icebergs. I will start with some of the bad.
Con #1: You can get trapped
A smaller research vessel was supposed to begin work the same day that we did, working the shallower science stations as we did the deeper ones. Unfortunately, the other boat was stuck 180 nautical miles northwest of us in Barrow, Alaska for 4 days because the icebergs in between were too densely packed to safely navigate through. The scientific crew on the smaller vessel had to wait on shore for the boat to show up while the rest of us began work. When you are on a tight schedule of having to do dozens of station in one week, this is far from ideal.
Con #2: A twisty, turny route
Unless you are on an icebreaker, large icebergs can create a moving maze that a ship has to navigate through while trying to go from station to station in a timely manner. This can mean sharp turns (make sure you strap in your equipment really well and maintain three points of contact with the ship) and forging paths that look like this:
Luckily for us, we had an excellent captain who got us where we needed to go without us becoming trapped or damaged by ice. His excellent navigating (and evidence for Pro #3) can be seen in the video I recorded by attaching a GoPro to the starboard side of the ship. In the video, you can see the ship change speed, turn, and go in reverse to avoid the ice.
(Video added 9/17/14)
Working in ice can also be great!
Pro #1: Calm seas
Sea ice dampens waves and swell, leading to glassy conditions like this:
For the seasick-prone, like myself, this has obvious benefits. Calm seas also mean that we can deploy scientific equipment more safely and effectively: at one station, we had to adjust locations by “running for the ice” because the seas were too rough to collect samples. Worked like a dream.
Pro #2: Charismatic megafuana
Animals like walruses and polar bears hang out on the ice. Our last day on the Norseman II, we all ran to the deck when the captain announced the presence of bears of the ice in front of us.
Pro# 3: Ice is gorgeous
Despite all the danger associated with icebergs, they are BEAUTIFUL. Pictures>1000 words so:
All in all, I think the pros of working around ice greatly outweigh the cons. I will take views like the ones above over views of tropical islands any day 🙂