Late yesterday afternoon we were nearing the position of the station that would marked the beginning of our planned long line of stations from Canada to Scotland (the “section”). We had been studying maps of the ice in the region, because at this time of year the shallow shelf seas east of the Labrador coast can be covered in pack ice as well as dotted with icebergs. A few days ago, the positions we wanted to reach were covered in ice, but the latest map was showing that the ice had cleared, leaving just some streaks of broken pack and some bergs. This was good news from the science perspective, since there was no danger that we would be blocked from doing the stations where we wanted to, but slightly disappointing from a sight-seeing perspective. Many people on board have never seen ice at sea before and were looking forward to catching a glimpse of it.
As it happens we had the best of both worlds – not too much ice to force us to change our plans, but a very enjoyable careful passage through a narrow streak of ice with white, green and blue chunks bobbing around us. Some pieces were hard, smooth and worn, often nearly completely submerged, while others were covered in newer soft white ice. One even sported a seal that casually slid into the water as the ship approached.
Our aim was to start our long section as close to the coast as possible, preferably within 1 mile of the shore. There is a small but strong current flowing southwards hugging the coastline here and we needed to make sure we made good measurements of it. The sea water is salty of course, but relatively fresh compared to the open ocean because it contains almost all the river run-off (and melting snow) from the whole of Canada. The vast amount of rain that falls over that huge country drains into Hudson Bay, and into the Atlantic through the Hudson Strait. Measuring the amount of water flowing even in this small current is very important to our aim to accurately measure the northward and southward flow in the subpolar region.
Happily the cleared ice allowed us to do the stations that we wanted to. Our first station was very close to land, and through the misty gloom of the late afternoon we were able just about to make out the low Labrador coast off the port side. The scene was complete with an imposing but grounded iceberg dead ahead. This made for a dramatic back drop to the start of the section.
The water is shallow here, so from yesterday evening onwards the work has intensified for the scientists. The test stations gave us training, practice and checks, but we are into the real thing now, and the work is non-stop 24 hours a day. Almost as soon as we have finished the station and drawing off the water samples, it is time to start again at the next station, just a few miles further on. We are keeping up with the pace though, and as we hone our sampling skills and the stations get deeper, we will be faster and will have more time between sampling to catch up on analysing samples and processing data.
You can see where we are, and the conditions we are having, by looking at the ship’s webcam and track charts at http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/images/webcams/rrjcr/index.php
Images: passing through a narrow band of ice, the Labrador Coast, and the first CTD of the section (with iceberg).