In the fall of 2016 writer Peter Lourie went aboard Canada's oldest and biggest icebreaker in the Beaufort Sea to join a 26 scientists and 55 Canadian Coast Guard crew for a month to produce video stories. Peter's trip was funded in part by the National Science Foundation via a grant to atmospheric chemist Prof. Paul Shepson from Purdue University. This was part of the "Broader Impacts" for a project called the “O-Buoy Project.” O-Buoys are ice-tethered buoys that have been used by a group of collaborating scientists from the U.S. to study ozone and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and how they are connected, in part, through climate change. Many of the O-Buoys were deployed into the ice in the Beaufort Sea from the Louis S. St-Laurent. To date, 15 O-Buoys have been deployed all over the Arctic Ocean. You can see a deployment of OBuoy #12 at http://www.o-buoy.org/?page_id=326.
Peter Lourie and Paul Shepson started their collaboration at Barrow (now Utqiagvik), where the first O-Buoy was tested. It was there that Peter worked on three books, "Arctic Thaw," "The Polar Bear Scientists," and "Whaling Season" and a website, also funded by the National Science Foundation, Arctic Stories.
The Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project Aboard the Icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent
Some daily dispatches I sent back from the Louis to WHOI, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. They give a good idea of what each day looked like. Woods Hole Dispatches
"My cruise on the venerable and largest Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker the Louis S. St.-Laurent this past fall occurred during one of the most ice-free autumns on record. So I was sure lucky to experience some icebreaking, at least for a week or so, and to get out on the ice once (it wasn’t safe to work on and many people out there put their feet and legs up to their hips through the ice into the water), but for a lot of the month we had open water and so worked from the ship. The sun even came out three times that month. Unheard of, said the Newfoundland crew who had traveled many times to the Beaufort in October.
"Being on an icebreaker for a month is not everyone’s idea of a good time. Many friends scrunched their faces when they heard about my upcoming trip and practically barked “Horrors!” All that metal. A bunch of guys stuck on a little ship in a big frozen ocean!
"When atmospheric chemist Paul Shepson from Purdue University asked me if I wanted to go board to collect videos of the ship, operations and the crew and scientists for the National Science Foundation, I jumped. Icebreaker? Seemed preposterous. You mean it actually breaks up the ice to go places like the North Pole, where few have gone?
"I simply had no idea what it would be like. And I admit I was scared of so much time stuck with a bunch of strangers in a metal tub the size of a football field. I didn’t want to bunk with anyone (I snore), but I wanted the experience. The phrase “Once in a lifetime” comes to mind. Right.
"It’s so strange how just when you think a region of the planet might be doomed and perhaps even irrelevant because the ice that made it famous is now disappearing, in fact just at that very moment of crisis, it actually becomes an important center of human activity and thought and study, and even of political and economic relevance. The ice is melting fast but the Arctic is the happening place.
"Not only does global warming show its effects faster and more deeply in the Arctic (the canary in the coal mine) but the fragile ecosystem breaks down faster, too. Things look dire for the polar bears and the seals they depend on. For longer periods every year, the Arctic is staying ice-free. And there’s a report out this week that it’s 36 degrees warmer there right now than in most years. The forming ice is very thin...."
Crew Change in St. John’s & Helicopter to the Ship
"I flew Air Canada to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I boarded a jet with the Coast Guard crew at 4 a.m. for Kugluktuk in Nunavut above Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. From here we’d be helicoptered onto the ship replacing the alternate crew that had just been 47 days at sea from Tromso Norway over the North Pole to “Kug,” as it’s called.
"The scientists would all arrive the next day via Calgary and Edmonton through Yellowknife.
"It was thrilling to be helicoptered onto the ship in groups of 5. Captain and Mates went first to take charge of the ship. A bright new red helicopter lifted us from the dirt strip of the one-room airport to the boat. I was in the last ride.
"As the ship came into sight and got bigger I couldn’t believe we would actually touch down on that landing pad at the rear of the ship, but we did, like the proverbial feather, and some guys in the coast guard helped me out of my lifejacket. The chopper took off to make a number of sling trips with everyone’s duffels and gear. And pallets of food that had come up from St. Johns in the cargo hold of the plane.
"We wouldn’t head into the Beaufort for two days. First the other scientists arrived the next day, and then I woke the second morning to a huge refueling tanker moored alongside for more than 24 hours pumping 1.4 million liters into the Louis, more than enough to steam around the circumference of the earth!!
"Where are we going anyway that we need that much fuel? Maybe breaking ice takes extra?"
Here are the dispatches I sent back to WHOI, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; they can give a good idea of what each day looked like. 2016 Dispatches for WHOI.
Path of the Louis St. Laurent (in yellow)
Path of the Louis St. Laurent (in yellow)
A Parting Shot on the helicopter landing pad of many of the crew and scientists from the 2016 Louis Cruise