Question from Shawn: Have you had to cancel expeditions
before because of storms?
Dispatch 32 - October 11, 2003
By C. A. Linder
Weather conditions: Overcast skies, 25 kt winds, 7-10 ft
seas, air temperature 32°F
Even though I had eaten breakfast an hour ago, the sky was still
dark this morning as I watched a CTD
cast. I could tell a storm was brewing because 10 foot swell waves
were rolling down the side of the ship. As the CTD was being lowered
into the water, it rose up on the wave crest and then plummeted
down into the trough, snapping the cable taut. When the instrument
was brought back aboard we found that the cable connecting the CTD
sensors to our onboard computers was damaged. Rob Palomares is an
expert on the CTD system, and he took the opportunity to lead a
class on how to repair the cable connection. It's a lengthy process;
the CTD was down for several hours.
At midday the sky seemed hardly brighter than this morning. Leaden
overcast skies spat snow and the wind blew the tops off of the waves.
Looks like the start of another storm.
5th grade class at Varnum Brook Elementary School was fascinated
by our last big storm. They came up with these great questions.
Answer: Hi Shawn. I am not aware of any oceanographic
expeditions that have been canceled due to storms, but the weather
definitely has a big impact on science operations. So far we have
lost four work days due to storms on this cruise, which is actually
pretty good! The North Atlantic is notorious for stormy weather, especially
in winter. Bob Pickart battled monstrous waves and subfreezing temperatures
for 47 days on a January cruise to the Labrador Sea west of Greenland.
Ice was forming on the ship and they had to knock it off with wooden
Dan Torres told me another great "sea story" about a bad
storm he was in.
"During one cruise a few years ago we were faced with a hurricane
which was rapidly approaching. We were studying currents around
the Faroe Islands which are located in the North Atlantic between
England and Iceland. Rather than fight the storm head on, we went
to the leeward side of the island where we were somewhat protected
from the storm by the islands' jagged peaks. For 2 days we hunkered
down and battled 50 - 70 knot winds. But that was a lot better than
the 120 knot winds we would have faced if we had taken on the storm
directly. Many ships don't have the luxury of being close enough
to land to hide from storms. We were lucky."
Questions from Felicia: When you
said there was a 'leak of water that someone was gathering', does
the water come in through the cracks of the ship? Could the boat sink
because of these cracks?
Answer: Felicia, the leak you mention was during
the October 1 storm. We had to mop up some water that was trickling
through the main lab. The waves during that storm were so high that
some of them were actually spraying water onto the main deck (note
that the main deck is 12 feet above the waterline, so these were some
big waves). One of the watertight doors leading from our lab area
to the main deck had a bit of a leaky seal, so some water did get
into the ship. This is not unusual, and would not cause the ship to
sink since the amount of water is so small.
One of the mates working for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
Diego Mello, told me a story about how an ice floe in Antarctica
cut his ship open above the waterline "just like a can opener
opening a tin can." He said that big waves sent water rushing
through the mess decks, and they had to lift their feet while they
were eating to avoid getting wet! Even with that gaping hole in
the ship (it was over 100 feet long), they still made it back to
dock for repairs. They were lucky that the hole was above the ship's
waterline, or else the flooding would have been much worse.
Tonight we rolled up our sleeves and cooked dinner for the entire
ship! Despite the crew's initial fears, I think they were actually
impressed with the pizzas, cheesecakes, and chocolate chip cookies
that we made. It was a great diversion for us, too -- we had fun
making the 60 (SIXTY) pizzas.
If you have any questions about the Arctic, oceanography, or life
aboard an icebreaker, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
and I will do my best to find the answers.