Pack Ice Playground

Afternoon sun

Afternoon sun

On Monday, February 9, we went out scouting for a different sampling area. Up to this point, all of our ice cores have been from shallow areas, water less than 30 feet. To get some variation in our ice cores, we were looking for meter thick ice a little farther off shore, where the water was at least 50 feet deep. For this exploration we rode our snow machine down the coast south of Barrow to an area known to have a greater expanse of navigable ice. We had a lighter load this time, with only the wireless drill and augers, no ICE-MITT, so we ditched the sled and were on our way.

Ross, Rachel and Mike climb a pile of pack ice

Ross, Rachel and Mike climb a pile of pack ice

This may have been one of the most beautiful snow mobile rides that I have ever been on. As we crossed an expanse of snowy tundra, the sun rose in its perpetual sunrise and the sky was clearer than it had been in the past few days. On our way we passed several arctic fox dens, and watched the creatures dart away upon our passing, frightened by the noise of our snow machines. It was like crossing a prairie but completely white in every direction.

fox tracks

fox tracks

I thought it was breathtaking; Rachel assured me that it was even prettier where we were headed. Despite the beauty of the snowy tundra, I can’t say I completely disagree with her.

Rachel playing in the ice

Rachel playing in the ice

We arrived at the sand dunes (recognizable by their shape) and then rode down onto the beach and out onto the sea ice. At this location, the pack ice had formed ridges, between which were expanses of flatter ice. We crossed several of these.  I, in the passenger seat of the Ski-doo can only describe the experience as akin to a witch trying to knock you off her broomstick – or a bucking bronco if you want a more “of this world” analogy.

The pack ice had broken and been rafted up into in giant blocks, piled on top of each other like some terraced mountain. It was hard to not look upon them as an enormous playground, and so, while we waited for a forgotten drill, we climbed and took pictures. It was warm out so Ross jogged up and down the sea ice (he had decided it wasn’t safe enough to run by the road because of polar bears). On the underside of the blocks, brine-cicles were forming. These are really salty icicles that drip out of the brine channels of the sea ice and collect hoar frost.

Brincicles

Brine-cicles

Ellyn testing for salt content

Ellyn testing brine-cicles for salt content

Despite repeated efforts (at 5 different locations), we failed to find ice that was thicker than 1 meter.

Ross

Ross

It was getting later, so we called it a day, vowing that we would return when the weather got colder and the ice had thickened. We rode along the beach on the way back so we could check out the ice. I drove this time an Rachel was on the back. I may have flipped our snow machine twice (#klutz), supplying Rachel with endless teasing entertainment for weeks to come. (She wanted to name this blog “Rock and Roll Over”.) I really don’t think that she will let me forget this one. Lesson learned: all of Ellyn’s passengers ride at their own risk.

Mike and Rachel measuring the ice thickness

Mike and Rachel measuring the ice thickness

blocks of pack ice

Chunks of pack ice

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