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September 05 - A bit of rough

Update (05th September 2004)

Noon Position : lat 68° 29.8' N, long 032° 12.4' W
Air temperature @ noon today : 3.7°C
Sea temperature @ noon today : 1.6°C

It started in Iceland, got a little rough but could only get better.

This weekend you find us deep in the fjords of eastern Greenland. I had planned to start this week by complaining about what an easy time my fellow diary writer i.e. Emma the doc had last week. After all she got to write about polar bears, how brilliant is that!?! However, the fjords of eastern Greenland have spoilt us this week, maybe not with wildlife moments, but the scenery is spectacular. Hopefully therefore this week's column will be equally as good. The map below shows our location at the moment and if you click on the area around "JCR"then it should take you to a close-up of the fjords where we are working.

This Sunday evening you find us sailing out of Courtauld fjord (that's the one where JCR is marked on the close-up picture) into the main Kangerdlugssuaq fjord, having just recovered AutoSub from its latest mission. We had hoped to carry out our next survey in front of the Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier itself, but the ice conditions might prevent us. Part of the glacier's ice shelf has broken away filling the fjord with large bergs and loose ice, but we shall have a look tomorrow before deciding on our next move. There are other glaciers and fjords around us should our first target not be practical. To see what happens you'll just have to tune in next week.......

Isafjördur, a bit of rough and then to the ice once more.

Monday morning saw us wake to the mountains of the Westfjords region of Iceland and our approach to Isafjördur. This marks the halfway stage for the present AutoSub under ice programme with the emphasis changing from sea ice to glaciers. So it was all change during our all too brief (seven hour) port call. This saw us changing about half of the scientists onboard and a busy time for the deck crew as they reconfigured the deck equipment and secured it all before sailing again.

The mountains approaching Isafjördur. The town of Isafjördur.

The mountains approaching Isafjördur.
Click to enlarge

The town of Isafjördur.
Click to enlarge

Isafjördur is a port of about 3300 people and is home to about one third of the Westfjord region's population as well as being its principal port. The Westfjord region is a large peninsula in the north-western corner of Iceland and is only connected to the rest of Iceland by a 10km wide isthmus. The area was formed by volcanic activity some 16 million years ago and has left an area broken up by mountains, fjords and islands.

The local guide explains the geography in terms of a local legend about three trolls. Apparently they wanted to live apart from humans and so set about trying to separate the Westfjords from the rest of Iceland. To make it more interesting they decided to see who could make the most islands and set about smashing up the landscape. The trolls became so engrossed in their work that they forgot the time and were petrified as the sun rose. Stone standing at two places in the region are said to be the petrified trolls.

However, it was back to sea for us with no time to explore further. The weather forecast did not bode well and it was true to its word as we spent the next two days zig-zagging across the Denmark Strait towards the Greenland coast. The picture below might seem quite quiet, it was if you picked the right course. Unfortunately that wasn't the way we wanted to go.

A bit of tilting in the Denmark Strait. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday morning saw us arrive off Kangerdlugssuaq fjord and work started immediately with a sea bed survey and CTD stations across the mouth of the fjord. Though not immediately obvious the mountains and glaciers surrounding the fjord mouth emerged as the day progressed. See below and click to enlarge.

Mountains at the fjords mouth. Click to enlarge.
Mountains at the fjords mouth. Click to enlarge.

That evening we proceeded up the main fjord to begin our work.

The science bit in the middle.

This cruise has three main scientific themes running through it; they are glaciology, oceanography and biology. Though all are interesting in the glaciers of this region and the effects that they have on the environment. Everyone has been busy collecting data to give a detailed picture of our first study area, that is Courtauld fjord. The pictures and brief descriptions below give you an idea of the activities taking place onboard, though I'll concentrate on the coring and biology as they've been the big mud bathers of the week.


This is the area of interest for Julian Dowdeswell, the Principle Scientist, and his team from the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). The main aim to begin with was to map the seabed using the swath bathymetry echo sounder and look at the sediments deposited by the glacier with the TOPAS sub bottom profiler. This is the clean side of the work because after electronics has done its stuff and identified areas of particular interest it's time for mud. That is it's time to go coring. This involves a pipe (3 or 6 metres long on this cruise) with a weight on top of it being lowered into the seabed, where is collects a sample of the sediments.

Corer decends to collect the sample. Click to enlarge.

Here we see the weight head of the corer on its was to the bottom to collect the sample. You would normally be able to see more of the barrel in the water, but this close to a glacier the water is very milky in appearance. Click to enlarge.

Inside the steel barrel is a plastic liner which allows the sample to be removed. Right we see the liner being removed, it is immediately marked for identification and caps put on to seal the tubes; yellow for the top & black for the bottom of each sample. Click to enlarge.

Capping the core liner. Click to enlarge.
Andy Tait with his lastest sample. Click to enlarge.

The sediment is quite hard near the glacier's snout, so a modest 1.5 metres was retrieved this time. Left we see Andy Tait (BAS) taking the sample in to the lab for the next stage. Click to enlarge.

Once in the lab an assessment can be made of the core. Here we see Colm O'Cofaigh and Jeff Evens cutting the core up into more precise samples. These are then stored in the cool room for more detailed analysis back in the UK. Click to enlarge.


Mud on deck is normally the domain of the geologists and sedimentologists, but this week the biologists from Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC) led by Paul Tyler and Brian Bett have been working on beating them all for the biggest haul of gloop to mess up the Bosun's deck. It is not quite what they wanted, but just the nature of the area that we are sampling. The process goes something like this;

WASP about to launch. Click to enlarge

A camera sledge, called WASP, is lowered to just above the sea bed. Then the ship moves slowly along a given track whilst the video and a stills camera record all that they see below them. Left WASP being deployed, click to enlarge.

The next stage is to sample the seabed fauna using an Agassiz trawl. This allows the team to collect those items they can see on the surface and those just below it. The trawl is a steel hoop with a net behind it. Right we can see the net with its haul. However, being so close the the glacier most of this was mud and rocks. Click to enlarge.

A net load of mud! Click to enlarge.
Whats that? Click to enlarge

Though there were things of interest buried in all that mud. Here we see Paul Tyler talking about a worm that lives in the sediments called a Echiuran. Click to enlarge.

A better look at the Echiuran worm. Click to enlarge.

A Echiuran (sediment worm) click to enlarge.

With all this science going on the ship was determined not to be left out. So when Amphipods were found, very much alive, in the sea water strainers they were offered as samples. Luckily these were the very type that were required for filming and are now accommodated in the luxury of the cool room aquarium. After some careful negotiations with their agent the picture below was released for publicity purposes, their stage names have not been announced at this point.

Film star Amphipod. Click to enlarge Sea Strainer Amphipod, Click to enlarge.


Whilst all this has been going on the other corner of the after deck in the white container village where AutoSub lives all has not been quiet either. The team have been hard at work fine tuning and testing the sub to allow it to work very close to the glaciers. This was always going to be a more tricky problem compared to the sea ice work of the previous cruise. Here in the fjords there are layers of quite fresh water, which cause buoyancy problems for the sub. So tests took place and additions made to ensure the sub could cope with the condition before risking it close-up to the glacier. Click below to enlarge the picture of the AutoSub ready to head for Courtauld glacier.

AutoSub ready to go. Click to enlarge

Views of the week.

I said earlier that we've been treated to some spectacular views. Though judging by the picture at the fjord mouth you could be forgiven for wondering where with all that damp, cloud and mist around. Yes up until Saturday morning the weather was a little grey, though this didn't remove completely the magnificent landscape we are privileged to work in, but Saturday and Sunday were something else. It might have been blowing in the main fjord, but Courtauld fjord was quite a sun trap, if a little cool in the shade. Click on the images below to see what we mean, what a place to go to work!

Where does the glacier stop? Click to enlarge
Courtauld glacier in the sunshine. Click to enlarge A little icy fishing! Click to enlarge.

Just to show how good the weather was it even tempted the engineers to the monkey island for an after work beer. Well it was either the weather or the Chief's offer of a free beer! LtoR we have Steve Eadie (4th Eng), Dave Cutting (Chief Eng), Tom Elliott (3rd Eng), Jerry Armour (2nd Eng) & Nick Dunbar (ETO).

Engineers enjoying the sunshine. Click to enlarge.

And Finally.

The week ahead will see us complete our work here and by the next installment of the diary we'll be well on our way home. That diary will be Emma "the Doc" Wilson's last one as she'll be leaving us on our return to the UK after her ten month extravaganza. So our round up of Emma's time onboard will have to wait to the week after, which is probably safer for all concerned.

Thank you's this week go to Ruth Mugford and Daniel Jones for allowing me to use their pictures.