Bay of Sails
BAY OF SAILS, ANTARCTICA– One of the main goals of SCINI is to explore new areas. Our first target this year is Bay of Sails. I selected this general location because it is an “iceberg graveyard” – a place where icebergs collect due to winds and bathymetry. Located across McMurdo Sound on the Antarctic continent, it will be an ideal comparison site to Cape Evans on the Ross Island side of the sound, where we looked at iceberg impacts last year.
Icebergs are moved by wind and currents, and when they come in contact with the seafloor, plough across it leaving a swath of destruction. Cape Evans, on the eastern side of McMurdo Sound, is bathed by plankton-rich water from the open Ross Sea, providing a good food resource to benthic communities during the summer months. But at Bay of Sails, on the western side of the sound, the water has spent a long time circulating in darkness under the thick ice of the permanent Ross Ice Shelf, so it is very oligotrophic, or food-poor. I am interested in the differences between how these two communities recover from iceberg disturbances.
To start this effort, we did a reconnaissance helicopter flight. Scottie, our pilot for the day, flew us in beautiful loops and spirals over the dozen icebergs scattered in the bay. We were looking for a berg that was grounded on the seafloor, was in about 50 m water depth, and was close enough to other icebergs that we had alternate target options. Since the bathymetry in this area is poorly known, I had to guess at depths based on distance from shore and iceberg height. I selected a moderate-size, tabular-looking berg about 2 km from shore. It was a good choice, but a better one was about a km further offshore, as we discovered from our initial survey with an extremely high tech weight on a tape measure.
Parallel with selecting the camp location, we have been packing up camp gear. 335 pounds of food, 330 pounds of water, sleeping bags good to minus 40, tents, fuel for the stove and heaters, sleds, safety supplies, another 1485 pounds of stuff. And then there is the science equipment - drills, electronic gear, the ROV itself, power supplies, batteries and generators, all in all 760 pounds of toys. Then there is the 1000 pounds of people. Not to say we are fat, but several of us are up to three desserts per night. Yow!
All of this is sorted into classifications of Can Freeze, Do Not Freeze, and Keep Frozen (some of the food). Bags and boxes are weighed and tagged. Hazardous material is certified as safe to fly. Much of the Can Freeze camp gear has gone already in an overland (well, over-sea-ice) traverse to a fueling depot about 10 km from Bay of Sails. The helicopters will carry it the rest of the way to us.
It’s a little nerve-wracking, making sure we remember everything, and enough of it. I have lists, and lists of lists, and I wake up in the middle of the night to make more lists. Remembering to bring all the things we needed to Antarctica was bad enough, but the field camp list must be pared to a minimum yet not leave out anything. We will get a resupply flight after a week, to bring us more water, so we do have that opportunity to fix any bads, but it would be very unproductive, not to say embarrassing, to have forgotten the batteries to the joystick to drive the ROV.
Tonight as the sun dips to touch the horizon I think that we have all we need to survive. But I am worried about the engineers getting their stuff packed; they are still out doing tests at 10 pm, 12 hours from when it must be on the helo pad. I am beginning to think that procrastination and engineering must go hand in hand. I think a walk up Ob Hill is in order to reduce my stress!