Heat Seeking Icebergs

September 10, 2015

Trying to find a good place to anchor in fjords near active glaciers is always interesting. Like usual there are no soundings so you have no idea where the deep and shallow areas are. Although it’s deep almost everywhere, right up to the rocky shore, so finding a good patch of shallow water is the tricky part. All of these fjords were carved out by glaciers which acted like a giant ice cream scoop leaving the cliffs sheer deep into the water. Imagine your boat is a little kid’s plastic bath tub toy boat. Now take that toy boat and drop it into a swimming pool and try to find a good anchorage. Your only option would be to drop anchor on the top step leading out of the pool. Since the pool is “uncharted” you have no idea where that shallow top step is located. Shallow also gets a new meaning as dropping anchor in 50 feet is now considered shallow, 60-70 feet is normal and once and awhile you have to drop anchor in 100-120 feet of water because that’s the shallowest water you can find. You still end up dropping anchor right next to the rocky shore (which is more like a
cliff than a shore) but at least you’re not dangerously close.

The first two years I learned how to sail I lived on anchor from the Chesapeake Bay to the Florida Keys. A couple years later when I sailed from Annapolis to Europe, Africa the Caribbean and back singlehanded I didn’t have the money to stay in marinas, so again I always anchored. I’ve anchored in just about every different bottom type you can imagine and it has taught me an important lesson. Buy the biggest anchor you possibly can fit on your boat and the heavier the chain the better. This may seem like common sense but many boats have puny ground tackle. I have a 73 pound Rocna (I had to cut the roll bar off with a hacksaw to make it fit so maybe it’s only 70lbs now) 150 feet of 3/8th chain (which is all I could fit) and another 1,000 feet of anchor rode. With this ground tackle I could anchor a 60 foot boat in 200 feet of water during a gale. I admit I’m a bit anchor crazy but that is what happens when you’ve lived on anchor, dragged anchor and watched people lose their boats due to insufficient anchors.

Okay, you’re in a fjord, you have spent the last two hours searching the shoreline trying to find somewhere shallow enough to drop the hook. You finally find a spot and down goes the anchor. But wait, that’s only half the battle, what about all the ice drifting this way that that? When searching the shoreline one of the things you look for are areas with less ice (keep in mind there is ice everywhere). Just because the ice isn’t there now doesn’t mean it won’t be there later, like once you’ve gone to bed. Nikki and I found a cove that looked mostly ice free, dropped anchor in 50 feet and went to sleep. Less than an hour later a 60 by 40 foot iceberg was literally knocking on the side of our hull. The tide was going out which I thought would help keep the ice from coming in, but as if possessed this strange berg was like some kind of heat seeking missile. We pulled anchor and moved to the opposite side of the cove and tried to go back to sleep. A half hour later this berg was right behind us just 20 feet away and closing. We ended up pulling anchor five times that night as this berg kept chasing us all over the cove. The berg itself was in the shape of a freighter with a bird’s neck and head coming out of the bridge deck. It was like this crazy ice bird was chasing us with an ice freighter. This all sounds crazy so I added a pic of this thing, the picture was taken from a distance but you can imagine having this thing chase you around all night.

That night like many others we kept an ice watch. That just means you set an alarm so you get up every hour and check for incoming ice bergs. You also get up right after the tide changes (if you can figure out when that is) as now the ice is coming from a different direction. For the most part the ice is more of a nuisance than a danger, but you don’t want a big piece tripping your anchor and pushing you ashore.

We have now officially ended our data collection for this season’s NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland program. Over the last month we have obtained 1,450 miles of bathymetric data and 70 CTD casts (often down to 1,675 feet). Not bad considering there are only two of us on board. We also found the warmer saltier water column in many places over the last month.

Since Annapolis we have been collecting data for another group of NASA scientists who work at Goddard Space Center near Washington DC. By using a thermosalinograph we have collected surface salinity and temperature data for around 4,500 miles at this point. Dr. Ludovic Brucker and Dr. Guillaume Vernieres are planning to use this data for ground truthing NASA’s Aquarius satellite. Aquarius can determine surface salinity and temperature from space but with all the ice in the Arctic it’s hard to get accurate readings up here, so we were helping to fill in the blank, so to speak. I’m using the past tense because during this expedition Aquarius broke and can’t be fixed. So now that data will go to help with ground truthing a couple other salinity satellites and in some ways it is more important now Aquarius is down for the count.

RBR, an ocean technology company, is the organization who are generously loaning us the CTD and thermosalinograph. Nikki is helping them in return by working with Dr Richards at RBR on a CTD to thermosalinograph comparison. We couldn’t have collected data for both NASA programs if it wasn’t for RBR’s help. You have heard me talk quite a bit about the CTD so I’ve added a picture of Nikki holding it along with a pic of the installed thermosalinograph.

When we do an expedition to the Arctic we don’t just collect data for one source. We collect as much important data for as many different sources as we can manage effectively. We have a very full plate this year, which is the way a research expedition should be.

We are now switching gears to micro plastics research. I know of a person who tried to do some trawling in the Arctic last year on my friend Jimmy Cornell’s boat but for whatever reason it was a bust (according to Jimmy and Marcus Erickson). So that means that at this point there is no data on Arctic micro plastics, zero. So we will trawl our way back to Sisimut and see what we find.

I may have forgotten to mention but we are keeping our boat in Sisimut this winter so we can do more research in Greenland next year.

Fortitudine Vincinimus

Matt Rutherford

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