We’re currently sitting in pack ice, while we’ve been enjoying some good weather. The sea ice research team have been waiting for weather like this to allow the helicopters to fly. One of the sea-ice projects involves doing acoustic ranging tests in preparation for 2012, when an automated underwater vehicle will be used to collect sea-ice mass data. The tests they are doing now are helping them to work out at what distance and in what conditions they will be able to operate the robot while still maintaining contact and control over it. The other project is using a helicopter equipped with a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system, camera and infra-red temperature monitor to gather information about sea-ice thickness. This is all being timed to occur when we are under the pass of a satellite, so that the satellite imagery can be compared with the data they collect. Measurements in the Arctic have shown rapid sea-ice decline, however this project will help to address the lack of data for the Antarctic, providing important information about the impact of climate change.
We were due to move to a new location overnight on Monday night, however the crew have taken the opportunity to do some engine maintenance, and so we remain in the same location (well, actually, we have been steadily moving with the ice drift, and we’re now 15 nautical miles further away from Davis station than when we first stopped)! The helicopters went out again today to do some more sea-ice research, but also to do a reccy to see if they could find an easy way for the ship to get through the ice. The ship apparently runs its two engines (a V12 and a V16) at almost 100% to break through the sort of thick pack-ice we’re currently in, but with a problem with one engine, we might not be able to do that, so the crew have been working hard to try to get it fixed.
I took a tour of the engine room last week (or was it the week before – I’ve lost all track of time!). It was quite amazing to see all the bits and bobs spinning and burning and pumping away. I don’t envy the people that work in it though. It was hot, noisy, cramped and seemed pretty dangerous down there! Jim was our enthusiastic tour guide. We started in the ‘control room’, where he told us of the engine room mascot, a bird called Pueblo. Jim showed us the ‘bird’: a brown, wiry, hair-ball-like round lump, with plastic googly eyes stuck on, sitting on a perch in a handcrafted little wooden cage hanging from the low ceiling. He told us, with the sort of glint in his eye and tone to his voice that can only mean trouble, that we had to pat the mascot before being allowed into the engine room. For good luck. Of course. I hesitantly poked the thing through the bars of the cage, with one finger, while looking at Jim’s smirk out of the corner of my eye. My fellow tour attendee did the same, while we waited for the thing to spring open and chomp us, or for a shoot of water to emerge and squirt us in the eye, or for an alarm to go off, or for it to start singing and moving like one of those fake mounted trout. But no, Jim proudly announced that the pet we were patting could give us a hint as to its origins by the first syllable of its name. Yes, ‘Poo’-eblo is a remnant from the waste treatment system – the leftover stuff that doesn’t decompose in the tank.
So away from that lovely image and on to more pleasant things. It has been just stunning being among the ice in this lovely weather. The icebergs are a common sight now, and the last few nights have seen plenty of people out on deck to watch the amazing sunsets. The wildlife has been a little scarcer than usual according to the old-hands, but I’ve seen a seal, quite a few Adelie penguins and two emperors now. I love watching and listening to the emperors as they waddle, toboggan and poke inquisitively around the ship. There has been one just near us this afternoon, all on his lonesome, just dawdling around and squonking now and then as he stands on top of an ice lump, surveying his kingdom.
Next time I write I will have had my initiation ceremony performed by ‘King Neptune’ (for crossing 60 degrees South for the first time). Although we crossed the line a while ago now, the King’s been a bit busy. And who knows, I might even be at Davis!