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Icebreaker Suffers Engine Failure in Beaufort Sea

icebreaker suffers engine failure

On Thursday August 18, the Canadian icebreaker Louis S. St.-Laurent experienced a
failure of the starboard shaft that left her temporarily shut down in the pack ice of the
northern Beaufort Sea.  For a week the engine department labored at a colossal repair job that is normally handled in the shipyard.  While progress continued down below, the science team struggled to continue its work.  One attempt to deploy ice buoys was foiled by a crack forming in the ice between the mooring crew and the ship.  On August 23, the team finally succeeded in getting the buoys installed.  This dispatch is a recount of that successful day.

Aug. 23, 2005—I was hesitant to look over the port side of the ship this morning, where the crack in the ice floe had appeared yesterday. The way our luck has been going on this cruise, I expected to see a gaping chasm separating us from the one floe that we have been considering for a buoy deployment for four days now.

It looked like our luck might be taking a turn for the better--the crack was exactly the same size as yesterday. The buoy deployment was on.

I dubbed today’s buoy operation “Camp Persistence” because of yesterday’s foiled attempt.
Since the small crack was easily stepped over, only one other barrier stood between us and
our destination--a lead, or opening in the ice, about 15 feet across. We didn’t know
how deep the water was under the half-inch skin of new ice, and we didn’t want to find out.
Yesterday we took the long way around, but today we had a lot more gear. We needed a flat
and level way across. John Kemp and Kris Newhall had measured the opening the day before,
and came prepared with oak planks that they assembled into a sturdy bridge. In about ten
minutes, sled-loads of ice drilling equipment, a collapsible gantry, and buoy components
were being pulled to our site. So far, so good.

Once at the site, Rick Krishfield and Doug Sieberg drilled holes for the Cold Regions
Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) Ice Mass Balance buoy using a small gas-powered
auger. The whirring blades sliced easily downward, revealing an azure blue hole through the
multi-year ice. After drilling two more holes, Ryan North and Doug began assembling the buoy-
-they were old pros, having constructed a similar one at Camp Smiley just over a week ago.
The buoy will send data on the ice, snow, and atmosphere back to CRREL scientists using an
Argos satellite connection.

While Ryan and Doug were busy fitting tubes and attaching instruments, John, Rick, and Kris
assembled the three-legged gantry that would support the load for the Ice-Tethered Profiler.
Once everything was set up and the reel of wire in place, Kris attached the 250 pound anchor
that would keep the mooring line taut. Down the hole it went, followed by 800 meters of
wire. Along the way, Rick attached the profiling CTD, which would climb up and down the wire
four times per day recording the water temperature, salinity, and pressure. The final
component was the yellow, cylindrical top float. The float is more than mere flotation--it
serves as the data transfer device. When the profiler finishes its run up the wire, it
passes the data up the connecting cable to the circuitry inside the float, and then it makes
an iridium satellite phone call to our computers back in Woods Hole. The phone line stays
open just long enough to transfer the data file, and then hangs up the line until the next
data dump. In that way, we can monitor the water underneath this floe from our desks in
Massachusetts for as long as the batteries last--or it is crushed in the ice. 

Starting tonight (fingers crossed) the Ice-Tethered Profiler should make its first trip up
the wire. We are hoping to hear from our colleagues in Woods Hole tomorrow whether or not
the profiler’s maiden voyage was a success. Rick is nervous. “This is the worst part, the
waiting” he tells me at dinner tonight. “I can’t sleep well until I know that profiler is
sending good data.”

Meanwhile, the engine department continued to reassemble the shaft bearings that caused us
to shut down the engines last Thursday night. The latest update is that we could be moving
as early as tomorrow evening. Although there are now two new buoys to look at on the
surrounding ice pack, we are all eager for a change of scenery. We are also eager to resume
our science program, to see how much we can finish in the time we have remaining.

[

Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project


Photo by Chris Linder

| Posted 09.01.05 at 4:24 pm

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