Into the Ice

Hello again from the Drake Passage.    It is very  “gross” right now.  Gross is a very technical term that means it is gusting  50 knots an hour,  snowing sideways,  and there are seasick people on board  (me included  ugh). 

We are currently sampling stations at the edge of the Drake- or rather we were until the wind picked up.   The more southern of these stations have some lovely first year sea- ice.  There isn’t much multi year ice around here.  Thus far it has been a really weird ice year.   There is a lot of sea ice for sure.  It is farther north than last year.   However,  it is all thin,  and so new that nothing is growing on it.  Last year  when we found ice it was covered with  algae and critters.  This year the ice is pristine white,   and there are hardly any  seals  or birds  hanging out on it. 

Even though the ice is rather  weak,  it is still gorgeous.

You can’t tell from the photo,   but some of the pancake ice is quite large.   On the ship,  we all day dream about playing Frogger.  Only in our version we would hop from pancake to pancake  and try to avoid getting eaten by killer whales and leopard seals.    When the swell is up  (we have had some 4 meter swells)  we  contemplate using a pancake to surf.

In many places,  the area between the  pancakes is filled with brash ice,  which is just a fancy name for slush.   This slushy stuff gets into everything!   It clogs the saltwater supply lines for the lab- we spend ages trying to melt it before we can work. It fills the  zoooplankton  net,  creating a snow cone.  The slushy ice just fills and over flows the end of the net,  and we need to melt out all of the animals  before we can do our work.

One morning it was calm, clear, absolutely perfect and I had some time in between taking samples.    We all went out to the bow to see what we could see.

We were treated to pancakes at sunrise

Since it was such a beautiful morning,  I stayed out on the bow deck   for a little while longer.  I was rewarded with my first seal sightings of the  trip

The elephant seal is a rather special  sighting.   They hardly ever haul out on ice and are rarely seen in the winter.   I was pretty lucky to be out there at the right time in the right spot.

This is a rather weird ice year.  I am really interested to see what this means for our zooplankton  catches.