For some people traveling into the Arctic and following the path of previous failed expeditions might invoke fear or worry. I haven’t felt scared or concerned for my safety at all. Until yesterday.
Yesterday I got the opportunity to be part of the first group to do ice coring. For those that don’t know, ice coring is when you go out to a piece of sea ice and basically drill a cylinder of ice out of the ice sheet. We went into our muster station and were equipped with gear like life vests and ice picks, in case we fell through the ice. It was at this point that I realized I was going to be standing not on land, but on a piece of floating ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. I imagined myself, or one of my friends, walking too close to the edge of the ice and falling in. I couldn’t believe they were giving us, students, early career scientists, the chance to participate in an activity like this.
As we went up in the helicopter I thought to myself, “No way we can just land this helicopter on the ice without falling in.” The ice has lots of water pools within it. There aren’t very many pieces of just solid ice, which had me concerned. We flew around for about 5 minutes for before Ted, our pilot, finally decided on a spot to land. When he landed he bounced the helicopter up and down on the ice sheet to make sure it was frozen and solid enough for us to land and do our work.
We got out of the helicopter and unloaded all gear. Once I got my feet on the ground (or in this case, the ice) my fear immediately disappeared and I was filled with excitement. I have been studying ice core data for a few years now and to be able to take my own ice core for my own data was a surreal and exciting experience. The ice was a lot thicker than I expected it to be, (around 3 m thick). The batteries for the ice core drill had died and we had to hand drill ice cores 3 meters down. It was a work out, but our team is amazing and hardworking and we were able to do it in under 10 minutes. Our lead scientist, Dr. Brice Loose, was really impressed with us.
The icebreaker Oden was starting to catch up with us, after about 45 minutes of ice coring, and Ted told us it was time to go. We got back in the helicopter and the captain of the Oden had asked Ted to do a fly about and do some ice reconnaissance to look for a path ahead with the least ice (so the ship could continue our expedition west). We flew about 1000 feet into the air and very far away from the ship to do a survey of the ice. Arctic helicopter rides never get old. From so far up, you can see that the ice goes on forever. It was the most ice I have seen on this trip so far. I was really lucky to be part of the first group to do ice cores and I can’t wait for the rest of my peers to have this experience as well!