Magazine article Oceanus

A Northern Winter

Magazine article Oceanus

A Northern Winter

Article excerpt

Preparing R/V Knorr for the North Atlantic and Labrador Sea

As the 1996-1997 ship schedule began to take shape in 1995, we learned that Voyage 147 would take R/V Knorr into the North Atlantic from October '96 through March of '97. The various science missions would require station keeping during CTD casts, deployment of current drifters, and expendable bathythermograph (XBT) launches, as well as weather system analysis designed to put Knorr in the path of the harshest weather conditions possible during the winter season. Long before the cruise, we began to tap all available assets that would help us with this challenge.

We were especially fortunate to benefit from the experience of Captain Robertson P. Dinsmore, retired manager of WHOI Marine Operations and also former US Coast Guard weather ship program manager. During a meeting in early October, prior to departure on the first leg of the cruise, Captain Dinsmore detailed his own experiences in the North Atlantic, and provided a wealth of information on ice accretion as well as movement of pack ice and icebergs throughout the changing seasons.

We also contacted the National Ice Center and the Canadian Ice Service by phone and selected a series of ice maps to be sent to the ship on a weekly update schedule. These ranged from charts showing the location of known icebergs to a map delineating the extent of all known ice as well as the edge of "sea ice."

The physical resources we assembled included such basics as hats and gloves, insulated work suits, shovels, and sand. We also began a search for what would become our next best friend--the ice mallet.

A real danger of working at sea in winter conditions is freezing' spray. Given sufficiently cold temperatures, the spray that we might enjoy on a summer day instead becomes a threat to the vessel as it freezes on contact and grows in size and weight with blowing spray from each new crashing wave. In the most severe case, the ship's stability could be affected. Then there are two options: Head for warmer waters, or manually knock the ice off the ship.

While still in Woods Hole we attempted an exchange for all of WHOI's old softball bats. This didn't provide the number needed, so we continued our search in our next ports of call, the Azores islands, and Southampton, England. However, it wasn't until we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that we found just what we where looking for: The "ice mallet" is of stout wood construction including a head of sycamore (a wood with interlocking grain). We wielded the mallets frequently during the Labrador Sea work to break up ice that had formed on deck so we could shovel it overboard. This was grueling work! For example, on February 18 at 60 [degrees] N, 52 [degrees] 39'W, a dozen crew members worked morning and afternoon to remove an estimated 30,000 pounds of ice. This is the rough equivalent of having two extra container vans on deck--and it was discouraging to see how fast the ice could build back up.

Mental preparation for the wintertime North Atlantic was also very important. Both crew and scientists would be subjected time and time again to both bitter cold and long work hours. Extra lookouts were needed while in the vicinity of ice. Fortunately, spirits were generally good, and scientists as well as crew turned to when it became necessary to use the shovels and ice mallets to remove ice from the ship.

Safety, always emphasized, became ever so much more important! We focused on the necessity for good communication during every phase of each operation. …

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