Arctic Survey Expedition (2014)

From August 9 to September 18, 2014, Canadian scientists with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) will be aboard the icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. They will collect data to assist in defining the outer limits of Canada’s extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

August 7th 2014 - Preparations and Weather

If you were to look past the fog that fills St. John’s harbour today, you might see quite a bit of action in the dockyard. Preparations are continuing aboard icebreakers CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent and CCGS Terry Fox to get ready for the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014. Amongst crew changes and the arrival of science staff, there is a clear air of enthusiasm and focus as old shipmates are encountered, new faces are acquainted and new equipment is double tested. The day included muster drills and ship familiarization for new personnel.

The objective of the mission is to collect seismic data and multibeam bathymetry data in the High Arctic in support of Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in accordance with article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

CCGS Terry Fox departs from St. John’s, NL

CCGS Terry Fox departs from St. John’s, NL

For many on board, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is a familiar vessel. Built for Arctic ice, the Louis is the Canadian Coast Guard’s flagship icebreaker and has been active in multidisciplinary Arctic science for decades. In 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, the Louis took part in joint missions by Canada and the United States with US Coast Guard Cutter Healy to acquire geophysical data in the Canada Basin and the western High Arctic.

This year CCGS Terry Fox, a smaller but powerful icebreaker, will break ice ahead of the Louis. This task is important in heavy ice conditions where breaking ice alone makes the acquisition of seismic data difficult to impossible. Docked only a few metres from the Terry Fox Memorial Park in St. John’s with a statue of Terry Fox, there may be no better or more appropriate place to start such an exciting mission.

With the remnants of Hurricane Bertha lurking offshore, even some of the more experienced crew members and science staff are anticipating what might be a bit of a “bumpy ride”. As someone who has never been seasick in the past, I decided I better second guess my initial confidence and head into town to buy motion sickness pills. I might just thank myself later.

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August 9th 2014 - Departure Day - Day 1 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

With near torrential rains through the night and lightning early this morning, the weather began to break just around noon. After a test of the steering, the Louis left St. John’s harbour at approximately 13:30 under clear skies. With that, the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014 is officially underway. The Louis will steam due northeast to catch up with the Fox which began sailing yesterday. Thus begins the transit north, which will take the pair of icebreakers through the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland and Fram Strait between Greenland and Norway, towards the survey area centred around Lomonosov Ridge and Amundsen Basin.

Some of the science staff and crew took in some of the scenery on the afterdeck as the ship exited St. John’s harbour. This included great views of Signal Hill and Cape Spear as well as a tail salute from a pair of pilot whales off the starboard side. As we drew further from the coastline, we were reminded by some of the more experienced members that this would likely be the last green trees we would see for some time now, as where we are headed is an entirely different, frozen landscape.

The view north along the coast from the afterdeck. Photo by Kai Boggild

The view north along the coast from the afterdeck. Photo by Kai Boggild

Everyone has begun to find their sea-legs again as the ship approaches deeper water. All the lab equipment and computers have been tied down using a variety of heavy duty stick-tacks, Velcro and creative ingenuity. Meanwhile, work on board continues as preparations continue for our arrival to the survey area.

Although we are many days away from our main survey area, ancillary science operations may begin as early as tomorrow. Physical oceanographer Jane Eert and chemical oceanographer Glen Cooper are on board to collect a variety of oceanographic data, from salinity and dissolved oxygen to inorganic carbon concentrations. The data will help towards an understanding some of the major processes in the Arctic Ocean and the challenges it faces including ocean acidification and climate change. They expect to deploy their first XCTD (Expendable Conductivity Temperature Depth) probe tomorrow when the vessel reaches deeper water. The XCTD probe is an instrument that can be ejected off the stern of the vessel. The probe contains conductivity, pressure and temperature sensors, and when ejected, freefalls down through the water column. The instrument sends back a conductivity (salinity), temperature and depth data of the water column.

Between preparing for science operations and leaving port, we have to eat! With a brand new soft-serve ice cream machine on the Louis this year, there is a whole new level of dessert options available. It comes complete with cones, waffle bowls and sundae toppings so you may leave no stone unturned. This morning I couldn’t help but polish off my breakfast with a pretty well dressed cone. The ship is issuing a “Biggest Loser” style weight-loss challenge to anyone who wants to participate during the expedition. However with the ice cream machine doling out creamy delicious soft-serve, I’ll likely be on the flipside of that coin. On the plus side, by the time we reach Arctic waters I might have another layer of insulation to keep me warm.

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August 10th 2014 - Day 2 of the Canadia n Polar Expedition 2014

We have now crossed the Orphan Basin and continue to transit northeast. Today, the first science staff meeting was held in the boardroom on the upper deck. Chief Scientist David Mosher gave an introduction to the mission and assigned the team shifts for the various science duties on board.  Captain Tony Potts officially welcomed us on board and introduced the department heads on the ship.

This year is especially exciting because of the new state-of-the art multibeam bathymetric sounder that was retrofitted to the Louis earlier this summer. After passing initial trials, this expedition will collect some of the first data by this instrument. The sounder uses up to 864 beams of high frequency sonar to measure water depth and produce a high resolution 3D image of the ocean floor (i.e., bathymetry). The images are collected in a swath along the ship’s path. The width of each swath depends on the conditions and the depth, but can be as wide as six times the water depth. The data it produces can be pretty visually satisfying and gives you a great sense of what you are sailing over.

This kind of data is of great use to Canada’s UNCLOS program because it can be used to clearly identify features on the seabed that are crucial pieces of article 76. This includes the 2500 m isobath (the line connecting all points of 2500 m depth) and the foot of slope points (points at which there is the greatest change in slope). This kind of data is also important for updating the hydrographic charts of the Arctic Ocean. In the ice covered Arctic, very little data exists due to the remoteness and harsh conditions. Data collected here will serve scientists and navigators for years and decades to come.

Hydrographers Paola Travaglini and Jim Weedon conducted a patch test of the multibeam over a small ridge just north of Orphan Knoll this afternoon. A “patch test” or “calibration test” is conducted over an area of seafloor (i.e., a patch) with a recognizable feature that preferably has already been surveyed by multibeam bathymetry. Using existing data and crossing the same area several times, the hydrographers on board tune the roll, pitch, and yaw of the instrument to ensure that the data coming back to the ship matches.

During lunch, an announcement was made over the pipe that we were all summoned to King Neptune’s Court (the forward lounge) at 20:00 to pass in certificates of crossing for the Arctic Circle. For many, this will be their first time actually sailing across the Arctic Circle and they will need to earn these certificates via some kind of test. What kind of test? This is not disclosed yet. Someone who is brand new to Arctic waters is what they call an Arctic greenhorn. The test will require the greenhorns to bring their A-game to earn their stripes.

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August 12th 2014 – Day 4 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

The Louis has officially crossed north of 60 N, and is sailing on calm seas. Last night was a little less than calm, with quite a bit of rolling in the night. For some people, the motion puts them right to sleep, but for others, they had a little more trouble catching some rest. And then, it may be another challenge when we start breaking ice.

Yesterday, the science staff were given a flight safety briefing from helicopter pilots Paul Mosher and Colin Lavalle. This included a tour of the two four-passenger MB-105 helicopters on the flight deck. Helicopters are important assets to have in the High Arctic, and will likely play a role in assessing the ice conditions around the vessels. These helicopters may also play a role in deploying scientific gear during the survey period. It was fantastic summer-like weather up there on the flight deck, and with the panoramic views of the North Atlantic, it wasn’t a bad place to be.

With about 600 km left until we cross the Arctic Circle, the Arctic greenhorns have each been given raw eggs that must be protected, or suffer the consequences. The eggs are clearly marked with the captain’s signature and the ship stamp. As per rules, each greenhorn must keep their egg with them at all times and be ready to present them on command. Many greenhorns have already built elaborate shock absorbers and cocoons out of soap boxes and battery cases to shield their eggs from the elements, and/or egg assassins. Word has it that some yolks have already been spilled, and some greenhorns are already egg-less.

Eggs aside, there is still a lot of activity on deck. With some help from the mammal observers, the seismic technicians spent part of the day preparing the hydrophone streamers that will be used during the survey. The streamers are about 200 m long and look a bit like clear garden hoses. Hydrophone streamers are an integral component of any marine seismic survey. Often referred to as the “eel”,  the streamer is towed behind a seismic source and uses an array of imbedded hydrophones to listen for the seismic waves that reflect or “bounce” off geologic boundaries in the subsurface during surveying. The data recorded through these hydrophones are used to produce cross sections of the subsurface. Preparations of the seismic equipment being done now will ensure all instruments are ready for action when we arrive at our destination. Then it’s go time.

Seismic crew assemble the hydrophone streamer (eel) on the helideck prior to spooling on to the winch

Seismic crew assemble the hydrophone streamer (eel) on the helideck prior to spooling on to the winch.

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August 15th 2014 - Day 7 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

In the last day or so, it has become remarkably cooler on deck. Now well into the Arctic Circle, the Louis and Fox continue their northern route through the Greenland Sea. There is plenty of company up here, with a pod of bow whales off the port side yesterday afternoon and a persistent group of fulmars that seemed to be following the vessel.

The greenhorns put on a talent show two nights ago, featuring short stories, songs, jugglers and novel ways of reciting the alphabet. This lead into the Arctic Circle crossing ceremony yesterday afternoon with appearances by King and Queen Neptune in full costume. Greenhorns recited poetry for the King and Queen and proceeded to hand over their eggs, in various states of completeness. The ceremony went off without a hitch, marking the final event for the Arctic greenhorns. Later that evening certificates of crossing were issued to each of the (now former) greenhorns by Captain Potts. Everyone is glad to have earned their certificates and to be continuing north.

Captain Potts presents a happy group of greenhorns with their certificates

Captain Potts presents a happy group of greenhorns with their certificates. (Photo Kirk McNeil)

Today around mid-morning, the Louis caught up to the Fox. A short exchange of supplies was made between the two ships. Some of the crew and staff collected on deck over morning coffee to get a good view of the neighbouring vessel. Soon enough, the pair continued the transit with the Louis taking the lead. Shortly after the rendezvous of the two ships, a single iceberg was spotted several miles out off the port side, a sure sign of things to come.

Aboard the Louis, marine mammal observers Nelson Ruben and Dale Ruben have completed the construction of their enclosure up on Monkey’s Island with help from ship’s carpenter Gary Morgan. The enclosure is about 7 feet tall and painted white to match the bridge. With large windows, it gives a panoramic view of the horizon from inside. During survey operations, the Rubens will take shifts monitoring the environment for signs of wildlife. In the event that marine mammals are spotted within 1000 m of the ship, seismic work will be shut down immediately to avoid any risk to the animals. As you can imagine this can be tough work, especially when exposed to the elements. This post will serve as shelter from the harsh Arctic winds during the long shifts outdoors.

Left: The Terry Fox appears on the starboard side this morning. Upper Right: A large iceberg in the distance. Lower Right: The view from the enclosure on monkey’s island.

Left: The Terry Fox appears on the starboard side this morning. Upper Right: A large iceberg in the distance. Lower Right: The view from the enclosure on monkey’s island. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Meanwhile, mechanical technician Peter Vass has been working on the air ventilation of the housing for the compressors. The compressor supplies the airguns in the seismic array with the pressured air required to produce each seismic shot. These compressors, about the size of a small SUV, are impressive pieces of machinery that produce 1950 PSI during survey work. The compressors are housed in large white containers just above the flight deck. The housings have large controllable vents that allow air in and out. Keeping the air compressor from overheating is an important part of keeping the compressor healthy and functioning. If the compressor becomes starved for air it may overheat and fail. This year, new vents have been added in the housing’s walls, making air flow much easier. In the end, it’s always best to keep cool under pressure.

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August 16th 2014 - Day 8 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Around 23:00 eastern time last night, the Louis hit the first loose sea ice of the expedition. Those on the lower decks heard the ice immediately. Within minutes many staff and crew gathered on the outer decks to get a good look and take pictures. For the number of the former greenhorns who have never seen Arctic sea ice, it was pretty exciting. With the sun shining most of the day now, it felt like mid-day on deck with excellent views of the incoming ice. The ice seems to be a mixture of multi-year and first year ice, with the multi-year ice taking on a darker translucent blue colour than the white first year ice. Pictures that do the scenery justice are hard to come by in this area. Later in the day, the bridge reportedly saw what appeared to be bear tracks on the ice floes. No sightings of the track maker yet. 

Some views of the ice from around the Louis today

Some views of the ice from around the Louis today. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Today the Fox will begin to catch up to the Louis. The Fox has a slower cruising speed than the Louis by about 2 knots and lags behind. Now that the Louis is beginning to break through the ice, the Fox will begin to close the gap. The difference between the two vessels won’t matter once survey work begins because relatively slow speeds of about 3-4 knots must be maintained when towing the seismic gear to get useable data .  Besides, the mission of the Fox will be to break ice ahead of the Louis.

The seismic team erected a big red vinyl wind shield around the outside of quarterdeck where the seismic equipment is stored and will be deployed. The wind coming off of the ice is remarkably colder on deck and the shield will protect the crew from a good part of it.  It is estimated that some test deployments of the seismic array may happen in the next few days before survey work begins.

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August 17th 2014 - Day 9 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Early this morning around 0500, a pipe came from the bridge of the Louis saying that there were two polar bears straight ahead. Those who were awake, or half awake, filtered on to the forward deck to get a view. For those on deck, it took another 10 minutes to spot the bears against the loose sea ice on the horizon. A mother and her cub were swimming together between the ice, barely visible. The Louis slowed down as it passed the two bears. After a few curious looks, the bears swam off and the Louis forged on.

A polar bear and her cub spotted by the bridge early this morning

A polar bear and her cub spotted by the bridge early this morning. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Late-morning, the Louis came to a stop to do a test deployment of the seismic array. The seismic team gathered on the quarterdeck to deploy the sled. With the help of experienced deckhands, Bosun Rico Amamio and Seaman Vince Mullett, the sled was lowered into the water using the ship’s A-frame. Once in the water, the Louis increased her speed to tow the sled.  This was followed by a test of each of the three airguns in the array. According to Chief Technician Des Manning, the test was a success on all fronts. Part of this exercise was to make sure everyone is familiar with the deployment procedure so that everything runs like a well-oiled machine once the Louis arrives on-site.

By this point, you may be asking yourself what this thing is and how it works. Basically, the seismic array is a piece of equipment that geophysicists use to make a sound wave. The sound wave travels down to the seafloor where it partially reflects off the bottom and partly penetrates into bottom. When the seismic waves meet geological boundaries, they are likewise partly reflected back up to the surface where the hydrophones listen to them and record them. The time it takes for the seismic wave to travel down and come back up is then used to place these boundaries in space and produce a cross section of the subsurface. Simply put, reflection seismology is the process of making a sound and counting how long before the echo comes back.

Test deployment of the seismic array

Test deployment of the seismic array. (Photo Kai Boggild)

The seismic array is made of a trio of airguns mounted on a modified sled developed by the Geological Survey of Canada specifically for heavy ice conditions. All together, the seismic array can shoot a combined 1150 cubic inches of compressed air to produce the acoustic pulse necessary for imaging the subsurface. 

The sled must be towed beneath the Arctic ice. Otherwise, the sled and streamers would be destroyed, and the constant noise created by the crunching ice would overpower the data. To overcome this problem, the sled is equipped with a 3500 lb weight. The weight is a modified artillery shell (long since discharged), whose shape allows it to be towed through the water without producing too much drag. This weight will keep the sled out of harms way of the ice at a depth of approximately 12 m below sea level when being towed off the stern of the vessel. Conducting a seismic survey under heavy ice is no cakewalk, and requires a lot of adaptations to overcome the challenges of doing science here. 

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August 18th 2014 - Day 10 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Today the icebreakers crossed the prime meridian into the eastern hemisphere at a latitude of approximately 82o N. The Louis and the Fox are breaking ice, just beginning to reach the edge of the Eurasian Basin. The ice has become very thick in the past day or so, and the pair of icebreakers has been manoeuvring to find the path of least resistance. Breaking ice is a coordinated effort, where the movement of one vessel can help the other and vice versa.  

The vibrations of breaking ice can be felt throughout the ship, but otherwise, there is very little movement. It is very different from open water, where swell often introduces a rolling motion. Some members on board have compared the current movement on board to a constant small magnitude earthquake. On lower decks the ice makes very distinctive sounds against the hull of the ship similar to anything from an airplane landing to rushing river rapids.

The fog has finally given way to a clear skies and bright sunlight. With this new found visibility, the first ice reconnaissance flight was done this morning using one of the helicopters. The flight was conducted by pilot Paul Mosher and ice observer Denis Lambert. The helicopter took off from the flight deck of the Louis, doing a landing on the ice to complete an ice drift check. The helicopter has a GoPro camera mounted on the front of the aircraft that records the entire flight. Lambert also uses his own handheld camera to gather photos and video of the ice conditions. Ice conditions observed were between 8 and 9+/10ths concentration according to Lambert. Information collected on this flight will be used by the bridge to navigate through the ice and by the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa.

Images from the air during the ice reconnaissance flight

Images from the air during the ice reconnaissance flight. (Photo Denis Lambert)

During the stoppage of the Louis for the helicopter flight, Paola Travaglini employed a new technique with the multibeam sounder to gather some more high quality data.  This technique uses the controllability of the sounder itself rather than the vessel. Instead of keeping the sounder static and moving the ship, the ship is stationary and Travaglini sweeps the sounders in the forward and aft directions. In the 3500 m water depth, this technique was able to resolve about 1200 m of seafloor along track by sweeping the sounders 10 degrees in each direction. This technique may come in handy areas where it’s critical to have depth information.

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August 20th 2014 - Day 12 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

The Louis and Fox covered better ground last night due to slightly improved ice conditions. Last night, the pair of icebreakers passed over Gakkel Ridge and are once again sailing over the North American plate. Gakkel Ridge is the spreading centre of the Eurasian Basin that separates the Nansen Basin in the south from the Amundsen Basin in the north. Gakkel Ridge is the slowest spreading centre in the world as characterized by its deep axial valley. It is connected via the Fram Strait to the Atlantic Mid-Ocean Ridge. At these spreading centres, new oceanic crust is being produced on the seafloor as the margins of the basin move away from each other. That means last night oceanic crust was slowly being created just kilometres below the two vessels.

The Fox took the lead this afternoon, which will be the configuration of the vessels during upcoming science operations. The hydrographers were monitoring the multibeam and single beam bathymetry data to see what effect this new configuration would have on the data quality. Chief Hydrographer Paola Travaglini says she is very impressed with how the new multibeam system is performing, and that the data coming in matches very well with previous data collected in the area. This is the first time this new system has been operated in heavy ice conditions, so this is good news.

Left: The Terry Fox takes the lead position to break ice for the Louis. Right: The towable subbottom profiler during tests this afternoon

Left: The Terry Fox takes the lead position to break ice for the Louis. Right: The towable sub-bottom profiler during tests this afternoon.

The towable sub-bottom profiler was deployed shortly after the Fox took the lead. This profiler is mounted on a sister sled to the seismic array and operates much in the same way. The main difference is frequency. The seismic waves created by the sub-bottom profiler are a much higher frequency of 3.5 kHz. The end result is much higher resolution data. The trade-off is that there is much less penetration of the subsurface. Because of this, these systems are mostly used to resolve the upper sedimentary layers of the seafloor or to produce bathymetry data. This instrument is another tool that can be used to find the foot of slope points for defining the outer limits of the continental shelf.

Chief Scientist David Mosher arranged the first of nightly science meetings in the boardroom this evening. Shifts for data acquisition watches will begin tonight as the vessels make their way to the first survey waypoint. Now that our arrival at the study area is just around the corner, everyone on board is excited to get started.

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August 22nd 2014 - Day 14 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Yesterday morning, the seismic equipment was deployed and seismic survey operations officially got underway. Second Scientist John Shimeld was in the seismic lab as the first data was coming in, and says he was impressed by the quality thus far.

This was the first time the hydrophone streamer had been deployed this season. The streamer had to be flaked on the deck in a figure eight pattern before deployment so that it could be easily and quickly deployed off the stern. The figure eight pattern prevents the streamer from becoming kinked. Kinks in the streamer could damage the electrical connections inside so it is important to be careful when handling it. The streamer has a new addition of an acoustic release this year. This means that the eel can deploy nearly vertical off the stern and upon a signal, it drops a weight at the end of the streamer and it floats to a more horizontal position. This causes it to straighten out behind the vessel into its desired orientation.

After the eel was put in the water, the seismic array sled followed. With the go-ahead from the marine mammal observers on monkey’s island, the first seismic data acquisition of the expedition began.

Left: The view looking down on the quarterdeck during seismic acquisition. Right: The “figure-eighted” eel.
Left: The view looking down on the quarterdeck during seismic acquisition. Right: The “figure-eighted” eel. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Terry Fox leading the Louis S. St-Laurent through heavy ice during seismic operations
Terry Fox leading the Louis S. St-Laurent through heavy ice during seismic operations (Photo David Mosher)

After collecting data for approximately ten hours, the seismic gear was brought up late yesterday to attend to an unexpected change in orientation of the gear likely due to interaction with loose ice. Consistent winds throughout the day have started the pack ice moving and ice pressure has made it too risky to redeploy the gear. With winds and compression of the ice pack, the ice is filling the wake of the Louis too fast to attempt to deploy. Instead the Louis will continue to collect multibeam and will head towards Lomonosov Ridge. The team will continue to look for an opening in the ice and evaluate if a redeploy is feasible. Any time gear is deployed in the water there is inherent risk involved. In the tough ice conditions of the arctic, these risks are often amplified so careful planning and risk management is important.

Even with the brief survey operations, a preliminary processed section was produced for the collected line and shown at today’s science meeting. A big part of processing the data is the removal of artifacts left from the data collection. Once this is done, geological interpretations can be made from the profile. The profile produced was of good quality and all are pleased with how it turned out.

There is sparse seismic data in this area due to the unforgiving environment. Data here is not easy to collect, and so every little bit counts. This data will be used to demonstrate the thickness of sediments. For scientific purposes, data collected here is very valuable to develop the relatively young body of knowledge that exists for this area.

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August 23rd 2014 - Day 15 of the Canadian Polar Expedition

 The pair of icebreakers are now headed parallel to the axis of Amundsen Basin. Seismic acquisition started again in the early afternoon and continued into the night. The first seismic refraction data were also collected today. Collection of these data uses instruments called sonobuoys. Sonobuoys are independent deployable hydrophones that float and record seismic waves in one spot, transmitting the data back to the ship over a radio frequency. They are about the size of a large baseball bat and are used to collect seismic waves that refract rather than reflect. Just as light refracts when it passes through different media (such as from air to water), sound refracts too as it passes through different geologic layers.  Refraction is key to determining the “velocity” of the different geologic layers in the subsurface.

The morning shift monitors the incoming reflection and refraction data in the seismic lab

The morning shift monitors the incoming reflection and refraction data in the seismic lab. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Seismic waves travel at different velocities based on the physical properties of the material through which they are traveling. For example, in seawater, seismic waves travel somewhere on the order of 1490 m/s. Seismic velocities of the sedimentary layers are needed so the seismic reflection records, which are recorded in time, (i.e., the time it takes to emit the sound and receive the echo back again), can be converted to depth or thickness in metres.  Since velocity is influenced in large part by the density of the material, it is also often used as a sort of proxy measurement for density and related physical characteristics. Generally speaking, the denser the material the higher velocity it has. Over the years, scientists have determined the typical velocities of different groups of rocks. While you can never perfectly describe the rock type using velocity, you can narrow it down significantly using knowledge of the geological setting and arrive at a very reasonable interpretation.

While seismic data are being acquired, the marine mammal observers are on constant lookout for wildlife around the ship. With the midnight sun in full effect, the observers have constant daylight even during the night hours. While it is not unheard of for polar bears to be spotted this far north, there has been less evidence of them recently as the icebreakers increase in latitude. In the past couple days, the closest thing to wildlife has been the stern of the Fox, which continues to break ice in front of the Louis.

Nelson Ruben scans the horizon for signs of marine mammals from his perch on the Louis S St. Laurent

Nelson Ruben scans the horizon for signs of marine mammals from his perch on the Louis S St. Laurent. (Photo Kai Boggild)

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August 25th 2013 - Day 17 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

After a successful day yesterday, the Louis and Fox are headed on a line due north through the Amundsen Basin collecting more seismic and multibeam data.  The pair of icebreakers are inching closer and closer to the 90th degree of latitude and are set to break 89 degrees sometime tomorrow. Crew and staff are getting increasingly excited about getting as north as the map can take them.

Some of the crew have started placing wagers on what minute of the hour the Louis will officially reach the North Pole. Since most maps will only ever display up to 89.9999999999 degrees latitude, the official time will be counted when the captain makes the announcement over the pipe. So far, almost all of the time slots are taken.

Outside, the wind has picked up and has mixed with some flurries. Visibility is not great and there is some blowing of snow drifts across the ice. With the departure from clear skies and never-ending northern sunsets in recent days, today it is starting to feel more like what you would expect the top of the world to feel like.

The Louis gets dusted in an episode of blowing snow this afternoon

The Louis gets dusted in an episode of blowing snow this afternoon. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Since the current position has both vessels right over the middle of the abyssal plain of the basin, the seafloor has been astonishingly flat. Depth soundings in this area have been more or less uniform at an average depth of about 4130 m. The basin is geographically distant from sediment sources like Greenland or the Siberian shelf. Sedimentation from Lomonosov Ridge into the basin is believed to have ended about 50 million years ago. Today, the sediments being deposited here on the seafloor of the abyssal plain are mostly flat lying distal sediments like turbidites that have travelled far from their source.

When the icebreakers reach the Lomonosov Ridge, it will be another story, with much more drastic relief of the seafloor. This is the area where it is hoped the multibeam sounder will really shine. The base and flank of Lomonosov Ridge are the key destinations to find water depths and describe the seafloor morphology.

Breaking heavy ice can be very impressive to watch. Often blocks of ice the size of a small bus can be seen rotating and twisting in place around the ship. From the motion of the vessels, neighbouring floes are seen colliding and bringing up seawater and spray in the ships wake. Looking off the side, you can see that much of the ice is stratified with interlayered dark and light ice. These layers are the result of different periods and rates of freezing and melting of the sea ice pack.

Interlayering of white and blue ice as seen in the wake of the Louis

Interlayering of white and blue ice as seen in the wake of the Louis. (Photo Kai Boggild)

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August 26th 2014 - Day 18 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

This morning the convoy crossed the 89th parallel and are within the final degree of latitude. With a course set for the pole, this is already the furthest north most of the crew and science staff have ever been. Along the way, the Louis will continue to collect seismic and multibeam data. By now the science team has gotten into a good rhythm and, despite a changing environment, have managed to collect some very nice looking data so far.

Many people on board have planned ahead for a visit to the North Pole. Several have agreed to personally courier letters to the pole for their relatives. Some have brought flags from back home or special items to pose with at the top of the world. It is expected that the two ships will arrive sometime tomorrow. The bridge is on the lookout for a workshop or any elves in the area to avoid any collision courses with Christmas.

Pressure ridges have been a common sight over the past couple weeks. These ridges form when ice flows compress together at a seam. The result of this compression is thickening in the form of these protruding ridges of ice, a process similar to the tectonics of mountain building. Ranging from small to very large, these miniature ice mountain ranges are some of the only relief on the otherwise flat horizon. Some ridges are large enough to require several passes of the leading icebreaker.  Remember - what is seen above the ice is only 1/10th of what lies below - so these ridges are truly remarkable.

Some small pressure ridges forming

Some small pressure ridges forming. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Breaking ice also exposes some of the brown algae that live under the ice. With the crystal clear arctic water, the algae are pretty easy to spot. The algae sometimes become trapped, frozen in the bottom of the ice. Under the ice exists a thriving ecosystem consisting of a diversity of microalgae, amphipods, and even Arctic cod. Occasionally, Arctic cod can be seen in the water during ice breaking. These fish are only about the size of your pinky finger when adults. Their dark colouring allows them to be easily spotted against the white ice. Surprisingly, a couple of fulmars are still being spotted around the Louis this far north. It is possible that they are benefitting from the path being created in the ice and looking for a free bite to eat along the way.

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August 27th 2014 - Day 19 of the Canadian Polar Expedition – Arrival at the Pole

In 1994, icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent became the first Canadian ship to reach the North Pole. That makes this expedition the 20th anniversary of her last polar visit. As you walk onto the main deck, you are greeted by the Canadian flag that flew aboard the Louis in 1994. It is embroidered with the names of the crew and science staff that were involved in the mission. Current Louis crew members, Boatswain Rico Amamio and Engine Room Technician Kenneth Pettipas, were part of the 1994 expedition along with CCGS Terry Fox Chief Engineer Nigel Hawksworth.

Today, almost exactly 20 years later, the Louis has returned to the Pole with the Terry Fox. After supper, people slowly started filtering onto the bridge to watch the final minutes of latitude tick up to 90 degrees north. Fog had been pretty thick on the way in, but as the icebreakers cut nearer and nearer, the fog lifted and gave way to a big fog-bow right in front of the Louis. A fog-bow is a halo optical phenomenon, similar to a rainbow but white, produced by sunlight diffracted (scattered) by small water droplets in the fog.  In a rainbow, the sunlight is refracted (bent) by large water droplets of rain, producing the colours). Talk about a warm welcome. 

A fog-bow welcome to the North Pole during the approach aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent

A fog-bow welcome to the North Pole during the approach aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent. (Photo Kai Boggild)

When the latitude came within 0.01 decimal minutes, a bellow of the ship’s horn was sounded by Captain Potts at an official time of 19:26 marking the arrival at the pole. Shortly after the Louis arrived the Fox followed suit, playing Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” over her loudspeakers as she made the final approach.

Later that evening, the Louis and Fox came to a full stop in the ice. The Louis lowered her gangway and the Fox started lifting personnel off using her crane. Crew and science staff walked off the ship for the first time in almost three weeks and on to the ice. After seeing the ice from the ship for so long, feeling it underfoot really made it sink in. Personnel from the two ships were finally able to meet. Several old friends and colleagues were reunited and morale was high.

Members of the 80 crew and science staff from the Louis and the 26 crew from the Fox came together on the ice for what would decidedly be one of the most northern hockey games ever played. It was the orange team vs. the dark team in a battle for polar hockey supremacy. For the past couple weeks, some of the engineers have been welding full size hockey nets in preparation for this polar showdown. Clearly a zamboni hadn’t been around for some time, so ice conditions were sloppy at best, but in the Canadian way both teams managed to make the best of it.

Hockey night at the North Pole

Hockey night at the North Pole. (Photo Walli Rainey)

With a loonie placed at centre ice, the game began.  Scoring was opened by engineer Stuart Maclean for the orange team. The dark team came back including four goals by marine mammal observer Dale Ruben. The final score is up to debate depending on who you ask. All will agree that carrying out an age old Canadian tradition in one of the most remote places on Earth was a pretty incredible moment for everyone.

Hockey wasn’t the only thing going on at the pole today. Polar golf was teed-off alongside some ice floe soccer and pictures with Santa among other things. Chief Scientist David Mosher recreated his first trip to the North Pole by playing “Farewell to Nova Scotia” at the pole on his Nova Scotian handmade Windward wooden Irish flute. Mosher is one of the few on board who had been to the Pole before. He did so as a PhD student on board research vessel FS Polarstern in 1991.

Some of the action from a stop to the Pole

Some of the action from a stop to the Pole.

The crew and staff also took some time to fundraise for ALS research by participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. This challenge had everyone from the cadets to the Captain and scientists dumping buckets of ice-water over their heads beside the North Pole. The ship will be continuing to collect donations over the next few days.

After the flurry of action on the ice, people gradually made it back to their respective ships around midnight with the sun still high in the sky. With freshly brewed Tim Horton’s coffee available in the mess there were plenty of ways to warm back up.

Partial group shot of some of the crew and staff of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014 at the North Pole

Partial group shot of some of the crew and staff of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014 at the North Pole. (Photo David Mosher)

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August 28th 2014 - Day 20 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Early this morning the Louis manoeuvred to get an open pool in the ice for a CTD rosette cast. The CTD is an instrument that measures Conductivity, Temperature and pressure with Depth. It is lowered on a winch cable to the lowest depths of the ocean and produces a profile of the water column. The CTD is surrounded by a rosette of empty bottles. As the CTD is raised from the bottom of the ocean, these bottles can be “triggered” at different depths. When triggered, the bottles close and collect a water sample from the desired depth.

Glenn Cooper retrieving the CTD rosette after casting in the oceanography lab

Glenn Cooper retrieving the CTD rosette after casting in the oceanography lab. (Photo Kai Boggild)

The ship is equipped with two labs to analyze the samples. Using these labs, oceanographers Glenn Cooper and Jane Eert can process the samples to investigate a large number of chemical, biological, or physical properties of the water like total inorganic carbon, dissolved oxygen content, or even microzooplankton diversity.

The data collected on this expedition will be used by a wide number of researchers. Eert is particularly interested in circulation modelling of the Arctic Ocean. One particular method involves the measure of radioactive isotopes such as I129 that are released from nuclear reactors. Using the ratio of the isotope and the radioactive by-products of its decay, Eert can trace a body of water and tell you how long it took for the water to be circulated to where the sample was taken. There are an impressive number of analytical techniques in their arsenal that are applied to many different branches of oceanography such as monitoring ocean acidification or the tracking of glacial melt runoff.

The CTD rosette cast was done essentially at the North Pole where many casts have been done over the years. For oceanographers, this is a great bonus because by repeating casts, they can study how the water column has changed with time at this location.  For the hydrographers and geophysicists on board, this cast serves yet another purpose: producing a sound velocity profile that shows how fast sound will travel at different depths in the water column. This is useful for the processing and corrections to the seafloor for both the multibeam bathymetry and the seismic data. The North Pole is close spatially to the data being collected, so this sound velocity profile is relevant to the interests of this survey.

Crew and staff me mbers from all around the ship decorated styrofoam cups with everything from narwhals to maple leaves and wrote on the names of family and friends. The cups were put in a big sac and attached to the rosette before it was lowered on the winch. The water under the ice at the North Pole is deep. At approximately 4200 m depth, it is one of the deepest areas in the Amundsen Basin. At this depth, there is an extraordinary amount of hydrostatic pressure. At the lowest depths, the pressure is enough to compress the air-rich styrofoam cups to a fraction of their original size. The drawings on the cups come back as miniaturized versions of their former selves.

Before and after of a polystyrene cup sent down with the CTD this morning.

Before and after of a polystyrene cup sent down with the CTD this morning.

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August 30th 2014 - Day 22 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Yesterday was hump day – the middle point of the expedition with 21 days past us and 21 more to go. The shi p began following the eastern flank of the Lomonosov Ridge where we have been collecting a swath of multibeam to follow the 2500 m bathymetric contour. Early in the morning the ship collected multibeam data over a small knoll just east of the ridge. Since the charts of the area rely on sparse data acquired by submarines with large errors in navigation, there was some uncertainty as to whether this feature would even exist at all. After some searching, the knoll showed up on the soundings. The ship took a few passes at the structure to produce a render of the bathymetry. Very few detailed bathymetric data exist in this region so every new bit of data acquired is a discovery. When the new compilation and charts of bathymetry data are produced, this area will be revised using this new, more detailed information.

As the multibeam surveying continued, the ship would occasionally do a “pirouette”. These 360 degree turning manoeuvres help get a circular swath of bathymetric soundings around a point of interest. This increases the coverage of the feature – necessary since knocking about in ice causes significant noise on the instruments. After imaging the knoll, the pirouette was used to get a better idea of how it was connected to the surrounding morphology. You can tell on the ship when they are performing one of these manoeuvres from the sounds and the horizon from the window.

Later yesterday evening, North Pole certificates were handed out by Captain Potts and Chief Scientist David Mosher in the forward lounge. The certificates recognize the arrival at the pole on August 27th with a picture of the map in the background surrounded by narwhals, mermaids, and King Neptune. Afterwards, Jane Eert surprised everyone with metal mugs that had been sent down with the CTD yesterday. They were reportedly completely round before they were sent down and have come back to the surface buckled by the immense pressure, each in a unique pattern. Each mug is engraved with the date and the name of the Louis and UNCLOS program. Also included with the mugs were some water samples they collected at 4212 m depth. Everyone was really thrilled with the unique souvenirs. Afterwards there was a buffet of finger food and draws for prizes under the Christmas tree in the lounge. The ship is still pretty close to the North Pole hovering around 89.5 degrees north, so Christmas cheer is still in full force.

Left: Metal mugs that were sent to the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole courtesy of Jane Eert. Right: Some of the science staff and crew receiving their certificates from Captain Potts

Left: Metal mugs that were sent to the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole courtesy of Jane Eert. Right: Some of the science staff and crew receiving their certificates from Captain Potts.

This morning, the multibeam and sub-bottom sounder picked up a trench in the seafloor just east of an extension of the Lomonosov Ridge. After this latest discovery, the call was made to run a seismic line over the depression in the hopes of imaging the deeper part of the structure. Some on board are interpreting it as a low angle extensional fault. If this is true, it is likely a relatively recent fault since it is not yet draped with sediments. The last couple of days have highlighted how much we have still to learn about this area. These kinds of discoveries are exciting to see and are a big reason why doing exploratory science in this part of the world is so rewarding.

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September 1st 2014 - Day 24 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

The Louis and Fox alongside

The Louis and Fox alongside. (Photo Kai Boggild)

 The Fox pulled alongside the Louis this morning for a refuelling. The Louis can carry more fuel than the Fox, so refuelling at this point in the mission is a strategic move. The ships are in a large pond in the ice where it is incredibly still, with very little wind. The engines on both ships are now quiet and there is hardly any noise on board. The temperature is very mild outside and open water that isn’t frozen is flat like a glass mirror.

These ponds sometimes have very thin sheets of clear ice on the top called dark nilas. This very new ice can occasionally slide laterally onto itself to create  big finger-like sheets of thin ice. This is called finger rafting. It creates some pretty interesting patterns on the surface and on a still day like today it shows very clearly.

Finger rafting happening in dark nilas

Finger rafting happening in dark nilas. (Photo Kai Boggild)

The gangway was lowered between the two ships so personnel from both vessels could go over and check out the other ship. After the Fox came alongside, the fuel hose was run from the bay doors of the Louis to the deck of the Fox. Other supplies like oats and milk were also exchanged. The bridges of the two ships lined up perfectly with windows that open right to each other. The crew of the Louis put up a cardboard drive-thru debit machine at the window so the Fox could pay for her fill-up.  With the windows open, the Louis attempted to kidnap the Fox’s mascot by fishing it out with a rod and coat-hanger but they got caught in the act. So far the Fox’s mascot is still safe and sound while the Louis’ mascot is still missing.

The view from the bridge of the Fox this morning at the drive-thru window. Terry the Fox is spotted in the lower right corner

The view from the bridge of the Fox this morning at the drive-thru window. Terry the Fox is spotted in the lower right corner. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Later in the day, after the Fox had parted from the Louis, a science talk was held in the boardroom. The talk was given by David Mosher on the Extended Continental Shelf program (often referred to as the UNCLOS Program).What many people don’t realize is that Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNC LOS) is only one page long. Yet, its content and associated guidelines lay the groundwork for determining the extended continental shelf for Canada and the estimated 80-plus other countries that are thought to have a continental shelf that extends beyond 200 nautical miles. Since marine geology is often not cut-and-dried, there are many unique cases where the geology informs the application of the agreement.

For those in attendance, the talk was an informative marriage of geology and law of the sea. With so many people on board who are experts in their field, this will be the first of many interesting science talks on the Louis.

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September 3rd 2014 - Day 25 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

After another CTD cast yesterday afternoon, the Louis surveyed over the Lomonosov Ridge into the night. Because of the great amount of noise while collecting multibeam bathymetry in heavy ice, the hydrographers employed a beam fanning technique where they sweep the multibeam sounder forward and aft to get the best coverage of the area. The surveyors on the icebreaker USCGC Healy nicknamed this technique the “Hokey Pokey” (i.e., put the left foot in, take the left foot out…). Ours is modified, as we leap ahead about 9 km (the beam spread of the multibeam system in these water depths), then turn the ship 90 degrees to the track orientation, stop and survey along track by sweeping the beam forward and aft, then we leap frog ahead again.  Perhaps this is more like a “tango” than a hokey-pokey! The ship is not breaking ice while stopped, so the data are very clean.  The researchers on the Swedish icebreaker Oden employ a different technique again – by actually spinning the vessel 360 degrees they get complete coverage of the seafloor – they call this manoeuver, “the pirouette”.  According to hydrographer Chris LeBlanc, the data are looking great and match well with any existing data in the area. 

Lately the icebreakers have been going through a lot of “dirty ice”. This is ice that has drifted a long way from home since it froze. This is likely ice from around the Siberian margin and is filled with sediments from that area. These sediments may be from deltaic inputs where the water is rich in suspended fine sediments. They could also be scraped up by the ice itself in near coastal areas or be the result of silt and dust blown on the ice by wind. When the ice freezes, it traps the sediment inside. Sometimes this ice will then undergo freeze/melt cycles which will in turn concentrate the sediments in dark banded layers. Once frozen the ice can drift, and it can drift far.

This is essentially the process of ice rafting. The process of ice rafting uses the ice as a transport mechanism for the sediment and is unlike any other sedimentary process on the planet. When the ice eventually melts, the rafted sediment will fall through the water column and deposit as a blanket of sediments on the seafloor. Seeing the dirty ice in the centre of the Arctic Ocean, you really get a sense of the scale of this drift and how geologically significant this process can be.

Sediment laden, dirty ice in the path of the two icebreakers.

Sediment laden, dirty ice in the path of the two icebreakers. (Photo Kai Boggild)

The latest track has taken the icebreakers around a bend in the Lomonosov Ridge. The ridge bends almost right around the North Pole dividing the Arctic Ocean into two major basins. The genesis of this bend is still up for debate. One idea is that it formed by transtensional shearing related to the opening of the Canada Basin before the opening of the Eurasian Basin.

The ridge itself is named after Mikhail Lomonosov, an 18th century Russian scholar who contributed to various branches of scientific research including geology and geography. He was involved in finding the Northeast Passage following the northern Siberian coastline and also theorized to the existence of a southern landmass which was later found to be Antarctica. The ridge is one of the most prominent features of the bathymetry in this area. Before the rifting that produced the Eurasian Basin in the late Cretaceous, the ridge was part of the outer edge of the Barents Shelf. The ridge is now a blocky continental fragment that ties into both the Siberian margin and the shelf surrounding Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO) with Lomonosov Ridge in the centre

The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO) with Lomonosov Ridge in the centre.

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September 4th 2014 - Day 26 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

 Rodger Oulton gave a tour of the compressors today. Oulton is the resident compressor whisperer and can tell you about every piece of either of the two air compressors on board. Oulton comes from a small community called Northport, Nova Scotia and has been a part of the UNCLOS program in the Arctic since 2007. Rodger comes from 46 years of experience as an automotive and truck mechanic and has worked on just about every kind of vehicle you can name. When it came time for Borden Chapman to find someone to look after the compressors, this was the man for the job.

The compressor is the heartbeat that drives seismic operation. The air it delivers to the seismic array is crucial to producing seismic waves and without it, surveying like this would be impossible.  The industrial compressors on board were manufactured in Indiana and have been modified for use in the High Arctic. The compressors take in atmospheric air and compress it by cycling it through several stages, increasing the pressure with each stage. Various scrubbers and filters purify the air and remove water which could otherwise damage the engine.

Rodger Oulton and the compressor

Rodger Oulton and the compressor. (Photo Kai Boggild)

The compressors are housed in large containers just above the flight deck. Inside the walls are lined with wrenches, vents, and heaters. In the corner, a computer feed from the compressor room goes directly to the seismic lab two decks down so the data watchkeepers and compressor watchkeepers can keep in contact over the course of seismic operations. If a shutdown is required or if there is a pause in surveying, the compressor watchkeepers are signalled via the computer feed using one of three large siren lights, like the ones you would find on a 1970’s era police cruiser.

For the past 6 years and thousands of hours of operation, Oulton and the rest of the team have discovered what is necessary to keep the compressor in top shape: adding brand new valves, hoses and brackets to ruggedize it for use in this environment. Lots of these lessons had to be learnt on the fly in the early years of the program, when the freezing temperatures of the Arctic had largely been an untested variable on these types of equipment. This year the compressor has been very well behaved, says Rodger.

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September 5th 2014 - Day 27 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2 014

Early yesterday morning, the Louis and Fox exited the ice pack temporarily and are on the transit back to Kugluktuk, Nunavut. When the vessels got out of the ice, there was a lot more swell and rolling motion on board. Everyone had acclimated to the motion of being in the ice in recent weeks and needed to find their sea legs again. As a result, several people were feeling a bit queasy this morning.  Later in the evening, the Louis came back into the ice pack and is once again breaking. According to recent satellite imagery of the polar ice extent, there is anywhere between 1000 and 1200 km of ice between the icebreakers and Kugluktuk depending on the track taken and the conditions encountered.

Last night the Fox came across one of its own. An arctic fox was spotted on the ice at about 86 degrees north. The fox clearly had its summer coat, which is darker than its winter coat. The foxes tend to follow polar bears and are very accomplished scavengers. Up here, they will feed off the remains of what polar bears hunt (e.g. seals) and are usually a good indicator that there may be bears in the area.

As fate would have it, around 20:00h two polar bears were spotted around 83 degrees north. They appeared to be another pair of a mother and a large cub. Nelson Ruben, our Inuit mammal observer, says the cub is likely three years old.  He says that they sta y with their mothers until their hormones kick in and then they are kicked out (maybe a good plan to follow!!).  The bears were on the ice floe looking into holes in the ice and licking the air. It is expected that the vessels may come across more bears during the transit back to Kugluktuk since they tend to be at the edges of the ice extent when searching for food.

Polar bears and the Arctic fox (upper right) spotted in the last day

Polar bears and the Arctic fox (upper right) spotted in the last day. Credits: W-A. Rainey; K. Boggild; crew of Terry Fox

With the latest move, the two vessels are once again in the Western Arctic sailing over the Podvodnikov Basin. The last time the Louis was in this area was during the 2011 joint Canada-US continental shelf survey with US Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Tectonically speaking, this part of the world is still very much an unsolved mystery, with a lot of basic questions yet to be answered. Researchers are still trying to iron out the timeline of events that created the modern basin structure of the region. This timeline needs to be better understood to fit the Arctic Ocean into the global tectonic framework. Chief Scientist David Mosher describes the Arctic Ocean as the “last holdout in plate tectonics” due to its apparent inability to seamlessly fit anyone’s regional model.

It is these questions that PhD candidate John Evangelatos is looking to address with his thesis. On board as a seismic refraction processor, Evangelatos’ thesis investigates the evolution of the Makarov Basin using data from the joint Canada-US continental shelf surveys. This is an area that has barely been touched and the lack of prior data is the most challenging and rewarding part of this kind of research, says Evangelatos.

While on board, his workflow starts by hand-picking what is called the “direct wave” of the sonobuoy records. This wave is the seismic wave that travels directly from the source to the sonobuoy through the water only. By picking this, the records can be rectified and interpretation of sedimentary velocities can proceed.

Data collected this year, and in years past, will not only support Canada’s continental shelf submission, but will also be used by the scientific community for years to come. The evolution of the Arctic Ocean is a topic of active interest by researchers and is one of the least understood frontiers left on the planet. It is an exciting prospect that there is still more to discover.

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September 7th 2014 - Day 29 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

The mornings have been getting progressively darker as the Louis and Fox descend in latitude. Last night, the clocks on board went back one hour as the ship changed to Kugluktuk time. Tonight, the clocks will go back one more hour, bringing us into the Mountain Time zone.  While closer to the pole, the vessels were constantly crossing time zones so there was no sense in changing the clocks on the ship; they remained on Eastern Standard Time. At the pole itself, you could kind of imagine being in all time zones at once.

The Louis is sailing over the edge of Mendeleev Ridge, part of the Alpha-Mendeleev Ridge Complex. It is generally accepted that this is a large igneous province; in fact, it’s one of the largest igneous provinces in the world. However, there are likely rocks of a modified continental origin involved in the structure as well. A big question that scientists are asking is whether or not it is of continental or oceanic origin. The genesis of the structure may have been related to the opening of Canada Basin, however researchers have a bit of a “chicken and the egg” situation when trying to determine which came first. It remains an interesting and elusive target of study due to the heavy ice that covers the majority of the structure year-round.

Sunday is a traditional day of the week on the Louis. Every week on Sunday, the officers and stewards don their summer dress uniforms instead of their usual blues. If you lose track of what day it is on board, you can usually get back on track when you see the white shirts and black pants. Sunday at lunchtime is always jigs dinner: a combination of salt beef, cabbage, turnips, carrots, and often turkey and gravy as well. Lots of gravy. At supper time, the Captain invites a handful of ship personnel to dine with him in the Senior Officer’s Dining Room. The room is complete with an elegant dining room set and table settings.  On the bulkheads are portraits of past Captains of the Louis and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. It is a five course meal, complete with a special sorbet before the main dish.

Following this week’s Sunday meal, Captain Potts gave everyone a presentation in the forward lounge about the construction of the new polar icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard fleet. The icebreaker will be named the John G. Diefenbaker and is planned to replace the Louis around 2021/22. The Captain walked personnel through the design process and showed some videos of the icebreaking and sea-keeping trials of the 1/25 scale model with a cutting-edge hull design. It’s exciting to see the kind of vessel on which future polar science could be conducted.

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September 9th 2014 - Day 31 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

Late yesterday evening, the Louis and the Fox arrived at the first waypoint of a seismic line that will take them across the Canada Basin from west to east. The objective of this line is to fill in some data between the areas surveyed in previous years. Seeing as this line draws roughly in the same direction as the path back to Kugluktuk, the opportunity was right to attempt some more data acquisition.

The line will take the vessels across a structure that is believed to be the extinct spreading ridge of the Canada Basin. Like the modern day Gakkel Ridge that the icebreakers crossed in the Eurasian Basin, this spreading ridge could have at one point been an active spreading centre where new oceanic crust was being produced. It is now covered with a thick blanket of sediment. A seismic line across the structure might help determine if it is indeed a spreading ridge and answer some questions about its origin. Eventually, this might help paint a better picture of how the basin opened in the first place, which still remains an unsolved puzzle.

Now out of the midnight sun, the night was the darkest it’s been yet. Up ahead of the Louis, the Fox could clearly be seen illuminated by her bright searchlights. The humidity and wind has also risen in recent days but ice conditions are very light. This is clearly shown by records from the 3.5 kHz single beam sub-bottom profiler, which has been running the whole time. With less ice, these records have very little noise and as a result display a very clear signal. This signal shows a high resolution image of the uppermost sediments, giving you an idea of what has happened recently from a geological standpoint. Things like glaciogenic debris flows and erosional surfaces are pretty easy to spot. Being able to continuously collect this kind of data on the way home is a big plus.

Dark and dawn in the Canada Basin as the Fox lights the way for the Louis. (Photo Kai Boggild)
Dark and dawn in the Canada Basin as the Fox lights the way for the Louis. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Early this morning, the seismic team used a helicopter to deploy a sonobuoy about 35 km ahead of the ship. The sonobuoy is dropped from the aircraft into an open pool. It is activated when it hits the salt water and shoots up a transmitting antenna. The transmitting antenna has a fluorescent orange flag to indicate it has successfully deployed.

Electrical Technician Patrick Meslin deploys a sonobuoy from the helicopter this morning. (Photo Kai Boggild)
Electrical Technician Patrick Meslin deploys a sonobuoy from the helicopter this morning. (Photo Kai Boggild)

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The Louis and Fox in seismic acquisition configuration as seen from the helicopter windshield. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Today the science staff and crew also received news of the results from the search of the Franklin Expedition which turned up the wreckage of one of Franklin’s long lost vessels in recent days. Everyone was excited by the news of the story which has been a long time in the making. Some on board have ties to the mission through colleagues, friends, or working partnerships and were very pleased to hear of their accomplishment. As the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014 rolls into its final week, it’s great to see the future and past of Arctic exploration unfold at the same time.

 

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September 11th 2014 - Day 33 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

This morning, the seismic gear was raised and so ends the line across Canada Basin. Towards the Canada margin, the ice has thickened quickly. This was anticipated, and the seismic team was pretty impressed that data collection could progress so far into the thick ice pack. The seismic line collected consisted of good quality data that ties into previously collected lines of data. With less than a week left until we reach our final destination of Kugluktuk, and after a long period of transit from the eastern Arctic, the science operations have revitalized the science team.

The seismic data was impressive and the Chirp sub-bottom profiler data was equally as exciting. What initially resembled flat lying abyssal plain sediments turned out to have some beautiful sedimentary structures. The penetration into the sediments has shown some drift and contourite deposits. Contourites are deposits of sediment that are laid down by deep ocean currents that follow bathymetric contours (like topographic contours but in depth). They look impressive when displayed in cross-section.

By mid-day, the Louis arrived at seaward of M'Clure Sound, at the bottom of a wedge of sediment emanating from the sound, referred to as the M'Clure Trough Mouth Fan. Even with the low slope angles, there is plenty of action with mass failures and debris flows (submarine landslides) along the slope.

In the evening, Naval Architect Tracy Clarke gave a presentation about the multibeam sounder refit of the Louis that occurred this spring. This was an extraordinary display of engineering where they had to cut two large holes into the hull of the ship to install the system. The multibeam sounder consists of transceiver and receiver compartments in the hull. These compartments house the instruments required to produce and receive the pings that image the seafloor. The sounder system is specially installed for polar ice conditions including hydrodynamic faring plate to keep the ice flowing around it. The installation is an impressive testament to the effort of everyone involved.


The Louis in dry dock during the refit in Quebec City this spring. (Photo Gary Morgan)
The Louis in dry dock during the refit in Quebec City this spring. (Photo Gary Morgan)

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September 12th 2014 - Day 34 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

So how does one get a job as an Arctic explorer anyway? Ask people on board the Louis and you will get a wide variety of answers. The majority of the science team comes from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The ship's crew is mostly based out of Newfoundland, however there are also members that live in Nova Scotia and parts of Quebec.

Captain Potts is originally from Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Being on the water was a big part of Potts' early life. In fact, he was only 7 days old when he was brought home by boat from the hospital. Growing up, Potts was always on the water and was a boat owner from a young age. When the time came to choose a career path, it was a natural decision for him to enroll in the Coast Guard College in 1979 with his eyes set on one day becoming a Commanding Officer. Only a year later in the summer of 1980, Potts had his first experience sailing in Arctic waters aboard CCGS Labrador. Since then, Potts has spent time in Atlantic Canada and is once again in the great white north, but this time as Commanding Officer of the Louis.

Chief Scientist David Mosher's interest in the Arctic also started when he was a student. As an undergraduate, he got a taste of life as a research scientist during a summer job at the BIO. Mosher discovered that the research institute could be a very interesting and dynamic environment. Something clicked and made him realize that research was something he wanted to pursue. As a graduate student, Mosher got a summer job as part of the Canadian Ice Island project. This had him living and working on the ice for weeks on end, taking cores and geophysical measurements. This job was his first field experience in the Arctic, and one that would become the first of many. During his PhD, Mosher was aboard the German FS Polarstern when she became the first non-nuclear icebreaker to reach the North Pole. After his PhD, he eventually returned to the BIO and became involved with Canada's Extended Continental Shelf Program. Since then, he has been on the cutting edge of Arctic geology, an exciting and developing realm of research.

For Mechanical Technician Bob Murphy (a.k.a. Murf), this is his second last science expedition before he plans to retire. Murphy started at the BIO when he was 21 years old, but the start to his career in ocean sciences was far from orthodox. Originally working on the submarines at the Halifax naval dockyard, Murphy had been laid off and given some labour work to paint the warehouses at the BIO. When some of his fellow painters skipped out early on a Friday afternoon, Murphy kept working. Someone at the BIO noticed and eventually gave him a full time job as a technician. Since then, Murphy has had a long and successful career at the BIO and is a familiar face to many of the science programs run at the institute.  When he gets off the Louis, he will make his way to Tuktoyuktuk, Northwest Territories where he will join the CCGS Amundsen to help with a coring program in Lancaster Sound.

There are people on board from many walks of life, but one thing they all have in common is that their career paths each pointed north - all the way north in fact!

Potts, Mosher, Murphy

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September 13th 2014 - Day 35 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

The seismic gear was redeployed last night for more data acquisition. By now, this is a familiar routine for the deck crew and the seismic team. Through the night, acquisition continued as normal, but the ice was beginning to get thicker.

In the early morning before the sun rose, the seismic team in the lab noticed the readings from the streamer had plummeted so they went out to investigate. The streamer had hit a mighty snag in the ice, which ripped off all but one shattered wooden float. The ice was forceful enough to also break off the acoustic release that resides at the end of the streamer. This was a potent display of the power of the ice, and a strong reminder of the main challenge of surveying in the Arctic. Luckily, the hydrophone streamer was recovered and the seismic operations were almost complete. It goes to show that even when you take every precaution, the Arctic can still throw you a curve ball.

The shattered remains of the last wooden float left on the streamer (left) and the acoustic release (right). (Photo Kai Boggild)

Caption: The shattered remains of the last wooden float left on the streamer (left) and the acoustic release (right). (Photo Kai Boggild)

The seismic team thinks that the streamer likely got kicked up to surface during a ship manoeuvre and then the ice closed around it. The streamer was likely caught on a sharp corner in the ice and when pulled forward, the ice sheared off the wooden floats from the eel and caused the acoustic release to break into two pieces.

After last night's seismic acquisition, the seismic team started to demobilize the gear this morning. "Demob" essentially means packing up all the equipment and gadgets used for collecting data. This will ensure that once the Louis is in port, all the equipment is out of the way for the next science leg. Following this expedition, the Louis will head for the Beaufort Sea to take part in the Joint Ocean Ice Study (JOIS) program.

The JOIS program has been active since 2003 and is focuses on monitoring freshwater circulation in the Beaufort Gyre. The Beaufort Gyre is a gigantic circulating current that spans the Amerasian Basin and is influential in the circulation of water in the Arctic. The circulation and volume of freshwater in the gyre is influenced by a suite of changing factors such as water temperature and surface winds. By monitoring how the distribution of freshwater changes year to year, researchers can learn about how this current is behaving and reacting to changes. Measurements taken during the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014 will also help out the JOIS program and fill in some geographic data gaps. Oceanographers Glenn Cooper and Jane Eert have collected a total of 127 XCTD measurements and two rosette water sample stations over the course of the expedition, many of which were in valuable geographic areas along the ships' track.

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September 16th 2014 – Day 38 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014

During the night, the Louis and Fox exited the pack ice for what should be the last time this trip. With clear skies above, the nightshift was even able to see some faint Northern Lights on the horizon. This morning the focus was on continuing to ready the ship for arrival to port and have all the gear and personal equipment packed up and ready for unloading in Kugluktuk .

The Northern Lights as seen from the starboard side of the Louis at 0400 in the morning

The Northern Lights as seen from the starboard side of the Louis at 0400 in the morning. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Earlier in the evening, the Louis entered Franklin Bay.  For the first time in 6 weeks, land was in sight. Along the southwest coast of Franklin Bay are the Smoking Hills. These hills have a lignite coal bed within them that has been smouldering for at least the past two centuries. Early mappers and explorers of the area have recorded seeing the smoke since the early 1800s. During a search for the Franklin Expedition in 1850, Captain Robert M’Clure originally mistook the smoke as fires from a potential camp of survivors. He investigated and found that the smoke was coming from the ground itself. No smoke was seen today, but these hills are often observed to have several active vents billowing out grey sulphurous smoke.

Some of the views along the coastline of Franklin Bay

Some of the views along the coastline of Franklin Bay. (Photo Kai Boggild)

Kugluktuk was the last stop for the marine mammal observers, Nelson Ruben and Dale Ruben, who were airlifted to Paulatuk using the pair of helicopters on board. Dale will continue to Fort MacPherson where he will reunite with his family and young daughter who recently just started walking. He is also looking forward to getting back for a Caribou hunt which just started.

For Nelson, Paulatuk is home. Paulatuk is a small hamlet at the head of Darnley Bay, home to no more than 350 people. The name Paulatuk is derived from the Inuit word for coal, the same coal that burns in the Smoking Hills. With no road, the town is only accessible by airplane or helicopter. Nelson says he has no big plans for his return to Paulatuk, but may do some travelling once he is settled.

On the flight to Paulatuk, the Rubens were accompanied by Chief Scientist David Mosher and Hydrography Tech Dave Levy. The flight provided some stunning views of the tundra landscape. A herd of muskox was also seen roaming below just kilometres from town.

Pre-departure on the flight deck (L to R) David Levy, Dale Ruben, David Mosher, Nelson Ruben and Paul Mosher. Right: Helicopters and muskox

Left: Pre-departure on the flight deck (L to R) David Levy, Dale Ruben, David Mosher, Nelson Ruben and Paul Mosher. Right: Helicopters and muskox. (Photo David Mosher)

Nelson has been a part of the Extended Continental Shelf program since 2007 and was originally brought on as a marine mammal observer. It was soon discovered that Nelson had a whole other set of skills as well. Nelson has been repairing vehicles and snowmobiles in his hometown for many years and is an accomplished self-taught mechanic. When he came on board, it was quickly realized by the technical staff how much of an asset he could be for the program. Since then, Nelson has played a growing role in the preparation of the airguns for survey operations, as well as other technical and welding responsibilities.

Nelson is also an avid outdoorsman, guide, and hunter. Through years of experience, he is able to tell you the age of a bear cub just by looking at it. He has guided hunts where he has come within an arms length of a polar bear. When asked about it he will laugh and tell you it was “quite an adrenaline rush”.

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September 18-21th 2014 – Day 40-43 of the Canadian Polar Expedition 2014 – Heading Home

Wednesday evening the Louis sailed her way into the Coronation Gulf under a setting sun. Kugluktuk was in sight and final preparations were being made for departure. Science staff was busy making backups of data, and backups of backups.  With the hours winding down, everyone got their personal gear up to the helicopter hanger so it could be slung to shore early the next morning. The crew and staff assembled for what was going to be the last supper of the expedition in the mess, and the last chance to get an ice cream from the soft-serve machine (which has become a real star at meal time). After dinner, personnel gathered in the forward lounge for some awards and certificates. The Louis and Fox and their respective Commanding Officers were presented with mounted ammonites from David Mosher on behalf of the science staff in thanks for a great job done. Ammonites are an extinct fossil group, known for their spiral symmetry that existed from the mid-Devonian to late-Cretaceous. Ammonites were chosen because they still inhabited the Earth when the Canada Basin is thought to have opened.  Their spiral form is thought to have captured the knowledge of the universe, according to some eastern beliefs. The spiral form of the fossil also kind of resembles a “chasing of the tail”, much like the Louis chased the tail of the Fox during this expedition.

Kugluktuk, NU as viewed from the water

Kugluktuk, NU as viewed from the water. (Photo Kai Boggild)

The next morning, personnel got up bright and early in anticipation of a travel day. As the morning went on, news started trickling in that the runway conditions in Kugluktuk were deteriorating. With rain in the forecast, the runway would likely not be operational for another 36 hours. With these new developments, it was decided to head for Cambridge Bay, where the crew change would proceed and the science staff would disembark. Several personnel who were already airlifted to Kugluktuk were brought back on board. On the positive side, this delay meant a few more soft-serve ice creams before heading home.

The Louis then steamed farther east through the Northwest Passage towards Cambridge Bay arriving at dawn. The Louis was greeted by the CCGS Henry Larsen anchored just few miles away. The day started the same as the day before. By mid-day, most of the science staff and crew had been airlifted to the airport. The town of Cambridge Bay is a 20 minute walk from the airport along a dirt and gravel road. Located along the Northwest Passage on Victoria Island, Cambridge Bay is one of the largest municipalities in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. On the seabed of the bay lie the wrecked remains of explorer Roald Amundsen’s ship, the Maud. On a clear day, it is said that the wreck can be seen through the almost tropically clear waters from the surface.

By supper time, the crew change of the Louis was complete and some of the first science staff for the next science program (JOIS or Joint Ocean Ice Study) came aboard. Travel in the Arctic is never easy and it turned out that a few scientists from the Extended Continental Shelf program and crew from the Louis had to stay behind an extra day… the plane was too heavy to take everyone! They would catch a flight the next day along with the crew of the Fox, which had followed the Louis to Cambridge Bay. The Commanding Officer for the next leg aboard the Louis is Captain Marc Rothwell. He was Commanding Officer during the 2008, 2009, and 2011 ECS missions and is well acquainted with science operations in the High Arctic.

Left: The DEW Line station outside of Cambridge Bay. Right: Cambridge Bay airport, featuring a life-like stuffed muskox

Left: The DEW Line station outside of Cambridge Bay. Right: Cambridge Bay airport, featuring a life-like stuffed muskox.  (Photo Kai Boggild)

The final flight out of Cambridge Bay the next day marked the last leg of the journey for the scientists, who were treated to a showing of the Northern Lights from the airplane windows on the way from Nunavut to St. John’s. Thus ends an exciting 6-week expedition that took Canadian scientists and crew to the top of the world and back. It is safe to say that all personnel will remember this expedition for the rest of their lives. It would not have been made possible without dedicated members of Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian Hydrographic Service, and the Canadian Coast Guard. A big thanks go to Captain Potts and the crew of the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent and Captain Duane Barron and the crew of the CCGS Terry Fox for their hard work. The future of Arctic exploration is still ahead and this expedition marks one more step in uncovering what lies beneath the great white north.

Credits:

Science Staff

 David Mosher, Chief Scientist

Paola Travaglini, Chief Hydrographer

John Shimeld, Second Scientist

Des Manning, Chief Technician

Borden Chapman, Engineer Consultant

Ken Asprey, Mechanical Technician

Kevin DesRoches, Data Integration

Patrick Meslin, Electrical Technician

Bob Murphy, Mechanical Technician

Rodger Oulton, Mechanical Technician

Peter Pledge, Engineering and Navigation Support

Walli Rainey, GIS Support

Dwight Reimer, Seismic Acquisition

Dale Ruben, Marine Mammal Observer

Nelson Ruben, Marine Mammal Observer

Peter Vass, Mechanical Technician

David Levy, Hydrography Technician

Chris LeBlanc, Hydrographer

Jim Weedon, Multibeam Acquisition

Jane Eert, Physical Oceanographer

Glenn Cooper, Chemical Oceanographer

John Evangelatos, Seismic Processing

Kai Boggild, Student

 

CCGS  Louis S. St-Laurent Crew

Anthony Potts, Commanding Officer

Donald Whitty, Chief Officer

Trevor Hodgson, First Officer

Kyle Hennebury, Second Officer

Baxter Stuart, Third Officer

Ron Collier, Chief Engineer

Joost Van Hardeveld, Chief Engineer

Gerald McDonald, Senior Engineer

Dylan Dominie, First Engineer

Todd White, Second Engineer

Jonathan Nowe, Third Engineer

Stuart Maclean, Fourth Engineer

Freeman Steves, VMM Engineer

Steve Tucker, Electrical Officer

Anthony Engbers, Electrical Officer

Tony Walters, Logistics Officer

Rico Amamio, Bosun

Gary Morgan, Carpenter

Vince Mullett, Winchman

Llewellyn Oram, Leading Seaman

Paul Gillingham, Lead Seaman

Alain Monfils, Seaman

Chad Leriche, Seaman

Yuri Mikhailyuk, Seaman

Barney Noseworthy, Seaman

Craig Joe, Seaman

Keith Blake, Seaman

Kenneth Pettipas, E/R Technician

Cody Coleman, E/R Technician

Bradley Gillard, E/R Technician

Brandon Baker, E/R Mechanic

Cyril O’Brien, E/R Mechanic

Jeremy Lane, E/R Mechanic

Kody Critch, E/R Mechanic

Calvin Careen, E/R Mechanic

Bradley Keeping, E/R Mechanic

Kevin Power, Chief Cook

Sylvie Arbour, Storekeeper

David Bartlett, Storekeeper

SueAnn Pye, Second Cook

Jonathan Hoskins, Second Cook

Cheryl Benger, Second Cook

Deborah Hibbs, Steward

Justin Morash, Steward

Gregory Williams, Steward

Chad Hedderson, Steward

Kirk McNeil, Steward

Colin Lavalle, Helicopter Pilot

Paul Mosher, Helicopter Pilot

Jacques Lefort, Helicopter Engineer

Carey McGrath, Electronics Technician

Denis Lambert, Ice Observer

Claude Morency, Medical Officer

Elisabeth Paradis, Medical Officer

Tracy Clarke, Marine Architect

Jeffery Janes, Cadet – Electrical

Renee Hachey, Cadet – Engineering

 

CCGS Terry Fox Crew

Duane Barron, Commanding Officer

Matthew Wheaton, Chief Officer

Dave Critch, First Officer

Emilie Belanger, Second Officer

Morgan Begg, Third Officer

Nigel Hawksworth, Chief Engineer

Todd Courtney, Senior Engineer

Boyd French, Senior Engineer

Ken Oake, First Engineer

Perry Pike, Second Engineer

Eric Naugier, Electrical Officer

Randell Hayes, Logistics Officer

Israel Strickland, Bosun

Perry Kirby, Leading Seaman

Wayne Stone, Leading Seaman

Eugene Pretty, Leading Seaman

David Maher, Leading Seaman

Trevor Baldwin, E/R Technician

Walter Lowe, E/R Technician

Jeffery Simms, Oiler

Vince Hearn, Oiler

Lori Goodyear, Storekeeper

Nicole Sweetapple, Chief Cook

Dolores Rumbolt, Assistant Cook

John Walsh, Steward

Heidi Wells, Electronics Technician

Ghislaine Telemaque, Medical Officer

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