It’s been a busy week since the last update! Last you saw we had just begun work at our very first field site on the ice shelf. We spent two more days at our first field site, collecting water samples, gathering video and image data, as well as taking salinity and temperature profiles beneath the ice shelf with a special instrument attached to SCINI. With what seems like endless sunny days, our operations have been running seamlessly, in large part thanks to Dennis, Jeff, Darren, and Graham working incessantly to drill ideal down-holes to get underneath the ice. They’re work in creating near perfectly circular holes through over a hundred feet of ice is crucial in getting sampling equipment as well as SCINI down to the ocean safely. We’ve gathered a huge amount of data at our first field site, and it was time to move all of our equipment and efforts to our second field site.
After a long day of science that included a 3 hour long SCINI dive we took a short break for dinner before gearing up again to break down all of the science, drill, and camp equipment to move onto the next field site. Brief moments of relaxation out in the field are mundanely otherworldly. Miles away from anything or anyone, just sitting back with friends and enjoying a bite to eat and a good view reminds us of the uniqueness of this place and our tremendous opportunity to get to come down here and do the research we love.
Science Interlude Now that we’ve gotten to spend some time with SCINI in the water, and have images from our dives, it’s much easier to show the grandeur of the under ice world. SCINI is imaging areas underneath the ice shelf that have never been viewed before, and this gives us an insight into not only what it looks like down there, which alone is stunning, but also helps us to understand how the ice-ocean interface behaves at different locations underneath the shelf which is crucial in understanding the processes that lead to the formation and collapse of these huge structures. All of the major Arctic ice shelves have collapsed since the start of the industrial revolution, and Antarctica is following suit with three massive shelf collapses since 2000. Figuring out what is happening underneath these shelves is instrumental in our understanding of how these cataclysmic events are happening and what effect they have on our global oceans and climate. On top of that, the mysterious creatures that thrive in these areas are not well understood of documented, and as you’ll see below, we come across these individuals during our dives.
Back on Base The science crews success out in the field was well matched by Anthony, Mick, and Matt’s progress with Icefin back in McMurdo. All of the vehicle’s sensors are integrated and working, and upon our return from the field camp we were greeted by the fully constructed submersible minutes away from tank testing. This indoor test is to ensure the vehicles ability for all of its sensor’s to communicate through its fiberoptic tether with our computers above the ice.
This post midnight feat was a huge step forward for us because it means the next step is open ocean testing. This coming monday, after a few tweaks over the weekend, will be Icefin’s maiden voyage. We will be placing the vehicle underneath the sea ice via ‘the jetty’ (where SCINI was first deployed (see our first field post)) to begin operating all of its sensors in an ocean environment, and to learn the immense scope of all of it’s capabilities. After which we’ll be moving the entire vehicle out to a new field camp to drop Icefin through 20 meters of the ice shelf and begin the most detailed profiles to ever be taken underneath multiyear floating ice. Four kilometers of tether and a depth rating of 1500 meters will give Icefin the mobility to reach locations no other vehicle can.
Field Camp #2 and the Future
Our second field site ran as smoothly as the first, and we acquired new data including water samples, salinity and temperature measurements, and SCINI images. The variation in site location ensure multiple data points at various locations underneath the ice shelf in the hope that we can understand and extrapolate the differences in the properties and dynamics of the shelf and ocean beneath the entire Ross Ice shelf, other similar shelves, and floating ice on other bodies in our universe.
With Icefin scheduled to be taking daily dips in the jetty next week, and dual operations occurring while we maintain our field camps to continue taking ‘downcast’ salinity and temperature profiles as well as water samples in wait for Icefin’s ice shelf debut, we’ll have an action packed next couple of weeks. Although this grueling schedule forecasts long days with Icefin, coupled with night operations at the field camps to accomplish everything, the group’s morale is as high as ever as we all strive to return home with data that has the potential to greatly impact the fields of glaciology, climatology, planetary science, and biology, as well as have constructed and utilized the most capable and versatile under ice vehicle to date. Until next time! – The SIMPLE Team