I’m beginning to realize that the amount I have to report is directly proportional to the amount of pictures I’ve taken, if there’s no pics then there’s no blog update – I think that also ties in with new activity, if there’s nothing new happening then I take less pics etc. Not that anything we do here is boring as such but once you’ve shown people a few pics of one thing and talked about it there’s not much point in doing the same again…Unless it’s penguins, everybody likes penguins…
A few of us headed out onto the sea ice yesterday to take the first recce up towards Brooks hut this Winter, there had been some measurements taken over the past few weeks just outside the station and the ice was showing depth adequate to get out on quads. Brooks hut was visited regularly during the summer but on foot and overland, it’s only about 10kms from station but the scenery between the two chosen routes are vastly different. Heading out on the sea ice is exactly the same as sailing from a navigational sense, you use landmarks to navigate but even when you are you’re using GPS waypoints and you always try to stick to the centre of the channel. The slight difference being that you’re on a quad bike and you want to make sure you don’t break through the ice….
An example of where we went yesterday begins at the bottom left hand side of the map at Davis station, we head out to sea (green arrows) then follow the agreed waypoint route from BR01 through to BR02, 03, 04 and then 05….Our intended destination is Brooks hut (large green arrow)
Ice testing is pretty basic, you take a long auger drill bit of approx. one metre in length and drill straight down, it’s about 40mm wide and can be extended with other drill lengths for when the ice gets deeper, not necessary for us but for the AGSO’s (Air, Ground, Support Officers) who need to setup the ice runway in the summer the depth needs to be more than a metre. Once you drill through and pull the drill out water comes up through the hole, this is because of the weight of all the ice pressing down on the sea, likewise, the more snow that has settled on top of the ice the heavier the pack is and the more water will come through. To get an idea of the ‘state’ of what we’re measuring we’re looking at a number of things, the snow depth (which you clear down to the tope of the frozen ice level and measure e.g. 10cm), the ice depth which you measure by dropping a weight down through the hole you’ve drilled and then pull it back up, this weight then turns as it hits the underneath of the ice which allows you to measure the thickness back up to where you are standing, finally we measure the freeboard which is the level from the top of the ice to where the water is in the hole you just drilled, this tells us a number of things, the weight of the snow pack on top, and also in summer the state of the ice as it starts to decay and saturate with water, the more saturated the lower it sits etc.
So anyway, yesterday we drove the waypoints out towards Brooks hut as shown on the map, we had two teams and we leapfrogged each other every 250m to take a measurement, the ice away from the fjords was a good average of above 570mm so we were pretty confident that this would stay consistent. As we reached BR02 and headed in towards BR03 there was some change up to 900mm and then suddenly back down to 400mm after BR05, once it started to get thinner we closed our measurements down to every 100m metres and then every 20 metres – As you can see on the map from BR05 to either BR05a or BR06 (Two options) it narrows and shallows significantly, being as these are fjords the tide will be rushing through these narrow points meaning the water won’t have as much still time to be able to freeze – we hit 390mm at both of these areas which sadly isn’t enough depth for our quads to pass through so we turned round and headed back, Brooks hut will have to wait for another day.
The trip back was a straight run as we’d already measured the depths, it takes about 50 to 60 minutes of riding to get back to Davis station from Brooks hut and sitting still that long on a bike doing 30km can induce some serious cold from the wind chill factor. We have massive handlebar mitts and heated handgrips on the bike, without these we wouldn’t be able to drive for more than 5 mins, I accidently switched mine off yesterday and my hands we’re frozen in minutes, I couldn’t operate the brakes or push my thumb onto the throttle. We have a gear change lever down by our left feet which has recently had to be moved round a couple of splines as the boots we use are so big that you can’t get your feet under them to change gear. We have heated helmet visors that plug in via a magnetic catch near the fuel tank…..The magnetic catch is there so that when you walk away from the bike it comes off without breaking and strangling the wearer! they are amazingly agile little vehicles and can carry lots of equipment, for each team (of two) heading out onto the ice we need to carry the following as a minimum:
- Quad Bivvi – A bivvi back that can be stretched between two bikes that forms an emergency shelter for two people.
- A quad recovery kit – A massive kit of ice screws, pulleys, shovels, saws, rope etc for when getting bogged in deep snow
- Spare fuel and a fuel spill kit
- a personal survival pack each with sleeping bag, food, stove, water, bivvy, clothing etc
- GPS, radio, radio batteries, EPIRB, maps, long range antennae
- Ice Drilling kit, emergency starter hotwire pack, first aid trauma kit, ice axes, throw bags
- Bottle of wine & box of cheese for staying in the huts 🙂
- And you really don’t want to forget your neck gator or balaclava…
Anyway, some pics of the trip out yesterday, I have to add that it was very nice to be back out riding through ice berg alley on the way up to Brooks, it’s an amazing place and an awesome opportunity to be able to do something like this.