Mountains in the Clouds

Well I would like to say I did extraordinary and exciting things today. In reality, i mostly wrapped loose ends associated with research in far flung places on the globe. Customs paperwork, lots of packing and cleaning, and a bit more of all of that is on the menu for tomorrow as well. This is what I have to show for it. Four boxes of research gear and (not shown) 8 sample containers and a freezer full of items ready to travel with me home. At the end of the day i was rewarded with a wonderful view of the discovery mountain ranges being lit by extraordinary light.

The light reflects of the glacier that is carving through the mountains giving a floating look to the peaks that have survived its ever present erosional forcing.

One of the great things is that as the sun starts to make more of a descent from the sky, the angles change. The sun is going to set in only 13 days for the first time since September. The weather has already begun its slow creep into cold as night approaches. But in the mean time it provides character to the sea (foreground), cliffs (black in front), and mountains.

How long do ice holes stick around?

A student in Julia McFarland’s class at Egan Junior High asked “how often do you have to redrill the holes in the ice.”

The answer is… well it depends. Two factors really impact this 1) how often you tend to it and 2) the time of year. Early in the season (around august through November) the ice is still thickening and it is cold out. In conditions like this it can take as little as a week until it is very difficult to re-open the hole to below. A chain saw will still work but at some point the ice has grown on the sides that one can’t fit down the hole ever if there is open water at the top. If we go out and chip it open every couple to four days, even at that time of year, then the hole will stay good for about a month. However, a hut makes a big difference and we dove out of the same hole that we drilled at the end of August until December with very little work (although we were in and out of it all the time.) So anywhere from a few days to 4 months.

This time we needed a hole to stay open that couldn’t be tended – the solution? A BIG hole. This hole has been open for over a month and not covered up. You can see that we (and I use the Royal we – meaning mostly Terril and Martin) have been chipping only half of it as it was so big. However this is also possible because of the time of the year


This is the bottom of the ice right now, and what you can see is many ruts and lines of erosion as the water is slowly melting it away from below. This creates a place for fish to live and algae to grow but also means that we don’t have to worry too much about the ice actually sealing up the hole again. On windy days it gets a frozen crust, but nothing that a bit of hard work can’t crack back open.

Warm weather diving.

In the last post I pointed out that it was pretty warm out. I spoke to soon.

The weather stayed sunny but the wind has picked up and this late in the season there is nothing in the way of shelter as we get ready to get in the water. It may be a balmy -2C (28 F) in the water but with windchill at -20 C, it is still a bit cold to have exposed hands when getting suited up. When finally putting on my dry gloves they don’t really fit mostly because both they and I are frozen. However once in the water comfort takes over again and back to science we go.

The worm tubes are dense at all the sites. One of the challenges of coring is not getting one of the clams in it. You can see their siphons sitting just below the sediment surface here (they look like a pair of holes).

The timing of this project worked out perfectly. The visibility is rapidly improving and is already up to around 100ft. Here is a close up of the worm tubes which are still in full form. Note the brownish hue on the sediment. That is likely the benthic diatoms that are still blooming away.

In addition to worms there are tonnes of different kinds of cnidarians (anemones and hydroids). They eat the passing plankton using their tentacles.

These are some of the most abundant types of infauna, they are sand anemones called Edwarsia. I had always thought that this was how they always lived but I discovered that they actually burrow around sideways just below the sediment surface in most of the cores. While the are not as numerically as abundant as the spionid polychaetes, they may provide more biomass.

This is why it is a bit difficult to get out our site. This is one of three large cracks that we have to walk over and take all of our gear over. For reference that is about a meter (3ft) across. You can also see the ice algae covering it.

If you look closely in the crack in the bottom right hand corner you can see a Pleuragramma icefish that make caves in the ice to hide from predators, mostly seals.

Terril was my dive buddy again. Here he is lite from above by the bright sunny summer day that is awaiting him. You can also see the tether that connects us.