Not having accomplished a real science mission yesterday, our day started at 7 AM today with plans to test our equipment on the deck and then go out on the ice as early as possible. There are different tasks that need to be carried out on the ice (and to be repeated everyday at each new station): first a square grid of either 100 or 200 meters will be laid on the ice, and its coordinates will be surveyed in. The ice floe we are on would be moving the whole time (very slowly) so all the coordinates are local. Once the grid was laid out and its corners marked with spray paint, then a number of measurements would be taken. For example, snow depth would be surveyed every 4 meters along the main transect of the grid, snow pits would be dug until ice was reached and then the ice would be drilled to see how deep it is. In the meantime, we would use a 3D laser scanner to make a map of the ice thickness from the corners of the grid, our AUV would make the same map from the bottom of the ice, an airplane that would take off from the Rothera base would survey the same grid using a laser scanner aerially. Eric looks at the microbes in ice, and my cabin mate Kerri’s team uses a radiometer, scatterometer, and ground penetrating radar (gpr) etc.
At 7, our AUV was being lowered into open water to do an “out-and-back” mission under the ice, and I was testing the laser scanner on the deck.
By 8 AM, I was on the ice and on my way to the first corner of the grid to do some scanning. If you look carefully to the bow of the ship, though blocked by a chunk of snow, there is a man-basket that lowers everyone -and the gear- down to the ice. It’s a lot of fun to ride in the basket.
People on the ice usually work in small groups, and everyone gives each other a hand when needed. My equipment is quite heavy, and I would need to walk about 100 meters to go from one station to the next, so I tow it all in a sled, but the snow over the ice makes it a real workout to go anywhere. We measured up to 170 cm of snow on the ice today (not to mention 9 meter thick ice), and every time I tried to take a step forward, I would sink into the snow down to my knees, sometimes down to my chest. If someone has walked that way before you, the safest thing to do is to walk in their footsteps. Most small groups carry a radio to talk to each other, and then to talk to the captain on the bridge at a different frequency. Only 8 people are allowed on the ice at any given for safety reasons, and everybody has to wear a mustang suit (a special suit that provides insulation as well as flotation) AND an extra personal flotation jacket, even though we were not working near the ice/sea interface at all. Inside the mustang suit, I wore 2 layes of top and bottom thermal underwear, and I was not cold at all. Overall, I was on the ice for 10 hours (no bathroom break), but it was a bright and sunny day and I had a great time. Once I got back on the ship, though, and took off my mustang suit, I realized my thermal underwear was completely soaked in sweat.
It turns out the AUV team back on board was not having such a great time throughout the day. During the times I carried a radio, I could follow the conversations between the AUV people and the bridge, but I did not have the full picture until I went back up to the ship at 6 PM. First few test missions were completed successfully in open water, then under the ice and back out, but due to a bug in the mission programming, at some point the AUV waited for instructions from the controllers, did not hear back within its time-out limit, and floated back up to the surface. Which is what we want it to do exactly – in open water, of course, not under a thick sheet of ice. In accordance with Murphy’s Laws, when it floated up it found itself a nice tight groove, very close to the hull of the JCR, but perfectly unreachable, and as I am writing this (midnight), it is still there. Jeff, our professional team member, has a small ROV with him (=remotely operated vehicle. An autonomous vehicle is either capable of making its own decisions as it goes, or it is pre-programmed and it follows a certain mission and can receive commands from the surface if needed. It is not tethered to the surface. An ROV on the other hand, has a tether that goes to the surface/ship and receives power,instructions, commands, sends back real time data vs thru that cable).
When I came off the ice, the ROV was sent to search for the AUV and it had actually located it under the ice. The ROV has a metal claw, which Jeff can control using a joystick on the surface and it had gripped the AUV tightly but was not able to pull it out of the ice it was stuck at. About 9 PM, all ops to recover the AUV were abandoned until the morning. It gets dark around 10 PM and the sun rises at 3 AM, but I think we’ll meet around 8 (to give the JCR crew some time to rest as well, as they were working around the clock to help us) to continue exploring options as to how to reach SeaBED.
This photo is showing the control panel of Jeff’s ROV, and if you look carefully, the camera on the ROV is showing the thruster and the propeller of the AUV that it has tightly grabbed.

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2 Comments on A Long Day

  1. Sinan says:

    Bravo all teams and the crew. The action and suspense has passed any CSI I have seen. Will the ROV swat team be able to arrest the AUV or will the AUV pop up on a beach after the ice melts away?

  2. Ben Pietro says:

    Good Luck Heffro

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