|Environment Canada research scientist Alexandra ("Sandy") Steffen and University of Manitoba research technician Debbie Armstrong collect samples of surface snow to analyze for mercury deposited from the atmosphere.|
ON THE ICE – Black exhaust smoke suddenly began billowing out of the Amundsen’s funnel, a sign that the six powerful engines were being revved up.
The Coast Guard icebreaker was only a few hundred metres away. Nonetheless it’s an alarming thought that your cozy floating home is about to steam off when the temperature is minus 32 C out on an Arctic ice floe.
Of course, that wouldn’t have happened. Our trio was in radio contact with the bridge officers. As well, the captain had said she was merely trying to shuffle the stuck ship back and forth to clear floating ice from beneath the doors of the moonpool. That’s the hole cut though the hull in the stern where sampling and recording devices can be lowered into the water, as far as the ocean floor if necessary.
Nonetheless I’ll confess to some relief when shortly afterwards Debbie Armstrong announced that she and Environment Canada research scientist Sandy Steffen had finished gathering samples of surface snow from a pristine patch they’d marked with reflectors as off-limits to snowmobiles.
The two women are part of a group on board that’s researching how mercury moves through the air, snow, ice and Arctic food chain (.pdf)(And it does some very peculiar things. More about that in the Star later).
Debbie, an ebullient and impressively accomplished research technician from the University of Manitoba, has a firearms certificate so she was toting the polar bear rifle. A close-up glance revealed something blue was stretched over the end of the barrel.
“It’s the finger of a latex glove,” Debbie explained. “There’s so much salt out on the ice that it was getting into the guns and they were rusting.”
That was the second surprise of the morning. The first came when we arrived to be lowered by a crane down to the ice in a metal cage, like miners going to work underground.
Amundsen crew members were busily scraping ice from the deck with choppers and shovels, just as Canadians do to driveways and sidewalks. But while spring has officially arrived across the entire country, conditions are going to remain wintry up here for weeks.