Checking Out Turtle Rock
After so much time in the lab testing equipment, we were very excited for our first trip to the sea ice this season! It was time to visit Turtle Rock, to check out our field site and decide where we wanted our “Fish Hut” to be located. A Fish Hut is a small, heated shelter, where we house our metabolic equipment and also where we warm up as needed. Similar huts are used as dive shelters, covering a large dive hole that has been cut in the sea ice. The hut prevents the hole from freezing over, and also provides shelter to the divers before and after getting in the frigid (-1.7°C / 28.9°F) water. We will not be needing a dive hole in our hut.
So to get to Turtle Rock we need to drive on the sea ice, a layer of ice that has formed on top of the Ross Sea. The sea ice has been very active this year. The fast ice, which is the ice that is frozen to the land, broke into pack ice (a collection of ice floes) in July, so the current sea ice has only begun forming since then. Now, there are a number of active cracks in the ice that we have had to navigate around, to safely cross them. Thankfully, we have the Field Safety & Training (FS&T) staff who are dedicated to finding these safe routes and setting up the flagged “ice roads” that we follow on the sea ice.
A Pisten Bully, which is slow a vehicle but provides good shelter from the elements, is the best way to safely get our sensitive equipment to our hut. It takes us about an hour and a half to get there. On our way, we noticed a brand new crack in the sea ice, cutting right across the ice road to Turtle Rock. Thankfully it was narrow enough and was no problem for our tank of a Pisten Bully, but we’ll have to keep an eye on it during the season to make sure it doesn’t open up too much to cross safely.
Once at Turtle Rock, we noticed that the ice around the island looks different than it did last time we worked there. There were no longer pressure ridges (large, upshifted pieces of ice) against the north side of the island. But there were four seals nearby! They were probably males, starting to establish their territories, while the pregnant females stay in the water to eat as much as they can before giving birth. We found a place where we hoped to put our hut, north of the dive hut that is already there, and hopefully close to where most of the seals will be. We placed a green flag to mark the spot for FS&T, who will direct the placement of our hut this week. In the meantime, we will continue to visit Turtle Rock to scout for seals, and we will work to find a safe route to Hutton Cliffs, which will be our other field site this year. To get to Hutton, we will have to cross a large crack that forms every year off the north end of Turtle Rock. So, our next mission is to find a safe crossing and look for seals at Hutton Cliffs as well…
Written by: Heather Liwanag