Monday, January 18, 2010

Bergy water

The forecasters at the National Snow and Ice Data Center were right: we encountered bergy water (icebergs) in our transit to the coastal drill sites. There were different types of icebergs, as our on board ice observer, Diego Mello, explained to us earlier: tabular, pinnacled, dry-dock, blocky, domed, and wedge icebergs. You can see a large tabular iceberg in the image above. The part that is sticking out above water (only 10% of the iceberg) is 195 ft (~60m) high. Smaller icebergs are present as well and the ones that are smaller than 5 m across are called "growlers". You can see a few growlers in the photos below. They can have very irregular shapes and we can see them come close to the ship.

These icebergs are pieces of glaciers that have broken off where they reached the sea. This is called "calving". Glaciers are "rivers" of ice that flow relatively slowly, usually on the order of 1 to 1000 m per year. When ice flows over the rocky landscape it picks up debris, which become partially embedded in the ice. When a glacier reaches the coastline it thins and begins to float, and eventually it calves to produce icebergs. These icebergs will carry the debris that is embedded in the ice out to sea, where it will fall to the sea
floor as the iceberg melts. This debris is commonly called IRD by geologists (short for ice-rafted debris).

The albatrosses are long gone: they prefer to stay further north, and have been replaced with other birds including penguins, which were sited by others on board. Three of us on top of the bridge and the people on the bridge itself saw one or a few small whales yesterday. We are likely going to see more.

We proceeded to the coast of Wilkes Land until one of the radars broke, the wind started picking up, and it began to snow. These conditions were not safe for drilling so close to the coast, where we need good visibility with all those icebergs around. So we proceeded to one of our off-shore sites, where we will arrive tomorrow. The seas are getting a bit rough now as well. Wave heights have been increasing through the day. Once we made our way north far enough, the snow turned to rain, so it is no longer pleasant to be outside.

It will now not be long until we have core. That will be a good thing, because we are as ready as one can be and cabin fever is kicking in. The movie below is a nice illustration of this (not my creation, but I thought, as many others on board that it was incredible funny):

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