This iceberg has proved extraordinarily difficult to board. We’ve been fended off by a variety of threats, often cunningly working in consort. The combination of fog and the threat of bears is a particularly effective deterrent to going “ashore”. The helicopter that had been planned to be used for transport around the iceberg has been held back by poor weather on Baffin Island, and it’s possible that it won’t be able to join us. On the other hand, we have made some real progress in understanding how icebergs decay in warmer waters, and also how icebergs affect the water around them.
Today we were able to pull alongside and land a science party, who succeeded in deploying some instruments, despite strong winds, driving rain and the coming and going of mist. It was a great feeling finally to set foot on the ice, after seeing others go ashore in the past, however briefly. At one point we had to make a temporary retreat back to the ship when a female bear and two cubs came shambling towards us out of the mist. In the event they showed little interest and wondered off, although another animal was quietly snoozing several hundred metres away. For researchers used to working in the Antarctic, having polar bears wondering freely around one’s study site adds a piquancy missing in our usual fieldwork.
Tomorrow is our last day, and so we are keen to make the most of it. Overnight we plan to undertake the last scan of the face of the iceberg, which uses multibeam sonar imaging to record the shape of the submerged face, and laser scanning to do the same for the exposed ice cliff. These are then meshed together to generate an impressive image of the entire ice wall. This will be the third entire scan of the iceberg, and will help show how the shape has changed during over the last ten days. One thing we can be sure of is that the changes will be substantial – we were part of one of them when the ice we were moored to broke out. The scans will mean that we can estimate the iceberg’s volume change due to the breaking of ice from the edges, and the detailed shape of the wall will be evidence for the mechanisms for that ice loss.
Despite the difficulties faced by the expedition, the coming together of different groups to tackle aspects of the problem of iceberg decay from a variety of different points of view has been very exciting. And the fact that we have divers on board, keen to dive down the ice walls, has offered opportunities for unique experiments. The mix of different expertises has led to fascinating discussions, and to some wonderful datasets ready to be analysed.