Ice Ops

April 2015.

At the far end of the station, Sue put a hydrophone down her own private hole in the ice. She heard nought for animals. Just the ice, and the ice makes a lot of noise if you stick your head down and listen. Or better yet—because who remembers a towel—a hydrophone. Sue walked a distance out from the rest of us, because the ice is a giant drumhead and even something as small and impermanent as people walking on it, and drilling into it, produces a lot of noise.

Humans and exploration—where we can be way out here on a frozen ocean and having devised an elegant system to keep everyone together and maximally safe—then Sue or Rob or the Captain, or Perry or myself, or someone, comes up with a list of good reasons we need to go out a little farther, and be alone, away from the group and ship. I want to make pictures of the Sikuliaq from far afield. Rob needs his virtual clean room for trace metal analysis. Sue has perhaps the most poetic of reasons. No people. Better if the boat and everyone else just motored on out a ways (miles) and came back for us later. Not that she’s really suggesting that. Separation from the ship is a bad thing.

Objects in hydrophone are farther than they appear. I can imagine what Sue hears down her hole. One driveway. One parked boat. The scientists take their samples and the crew trains and augurs holes. The day is bright and sunny, and everyone mugs for the camera. We discuss our dreams of hoisting the picnic table, the deck chairs, and the barbecue out on to the ice. We think it might make a nice picture. “This is why you want to be scientist!” 

Sam laughs and then says, “We don’t want to make it look too much fun.”

We’re on station brief enough we don’t set an ice anchor, just spin the port side prop slowly to keep us in the pocket. Half a dozen hours of the day. A short stop.

Bed tonight as the boat shakes like a really long series of temblor aftershocks, rattling like a pair of marbles in a tin can. We’ve started to do more than turn ice floes into shattered dinner plates—we’ve started to make model office blocks, chunks almost as tall as they are across. They clink about in the still taller glass of ocean, but the sound underwater must be like sledgehammers making cobblestones.


—Thanks to the National Science Foundation, and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF. (2015)

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