One of our main research sites is called Cinder Cones. It is an area where methane is actively being released from the seafloor and we really want to know who eats it so it stays out of the atmosphere. Its microbes… but which ones!? But step one? Getting a dive site there.
This starts with heading out on the ice, using all of our trainings (both new and old) to make sure we stay safe. Today we were accompanied by Mitch, the person in charge of Sea Ice Safety, as well as a Cadre of people to get to the site and knock out a dive. This is a challenge in itself, but step one is getting to the site.
The sea ice is thick this year (2m/6ft or so at least) but there are still cracks and we need to make sure that they are both thick enough and wide enough for our vehicles (designed to cross cracks) to cross. Our Piston Bully (the red vehicle shown at the top) can cross cold ice that is >30cm thick and areas less thick than that as long as the gap is <91 cm. We are trained (and have an expert along to help) to make sure we are always on ice that is much better than this limit. The challenge is actually recognizing a crack sometimes and also, sometimes cracks can be larger than that. Above is a photo of the crack that turned a 5 hour day into an 8+ hour day. It is too wide and thin to cross, but also completely covered by snow. To measure thickness we have to dig it out and then drill down to see how thick it is. And we (and by we I mean mostly Michael and Jacob) something on the order of 25+ times.
We eventually found a crossing point that was nice and thick and narrow but it took us an additional 15 miles out of our way. And Piston Bully’s look cool and are great, but fast they are not. I expected to get to our dive site around 11am or so but we got there at 3:30 pm instead.
Most of this was spent digging and drilling. But the day was fine and the weather balmy (for Antarctica).
As an added advantage, I got to go to a part of the bay that I had never been before and as always, the views were just constantly beautiful and ever changing. Ice and rock, in constant battle and contrast.
In the end, we decided to postpone the dive until tomorrow. But we have a hut, a hole, and a safe route. Who could ask for anything more? Huge thanks to Mitch, Eric (the driller) and two people from the Carpenter Shop who spent the day with us to support our science.