Tuesday, September 2, 2008

#12 Ice II - Buoy reprise

Ice II - Buoy reprise
Friday, 2008-08-29
Well, we finally reached a spot on the old multi-year ice floe that allowed one of the weather buoys to be deployed. If you look at the pictures of the ice above, you will see in part why an ice liberty was decided against (an ice liberty being the chance for all crew to get out onto the ice). There were too many melt pools and structural uncertainties. What you can see in the view from the deck is that the ice was so thick we could not break our way any further into it to get to a more stable section. This is the thickest and oldest multi-year ice we have seen the entire trip, and the type of ice that is so rapidly disappearing from the Arctic (see my Ice – III blog entry #13 for more details).

Landing folks on the ice is quite an effort. The Coast Guard crew uses a crane to lift the open steel box (the "man cage") from deck to ice, carrying one or two people each trip. The first two on ice are the rescue swimmer (yellow suit) and armed polar bear watch. (Polar bears can come out of nowhere at about 30 mph). Both men check the ice for the best place for the others to work. Once the buoy and three other men were on the ice they were able to drill a hole and set up the buoy pretty quickly. The whole operation took about an hour (not including the travel time into the ice floe).

I promised a short bit about Walt Lincoln and Peter Legnos, the business partners who designed and built the buoys. They are engineers, seamen and adventurers, now both based in Connecticut. Walt’s quiet intelligence and vision reflect his MIT PhD and his time as a submariner and Navy captain. Peter started building and sailing boats when he was just a high school kid; decades later he still hasn’t stopped experimenting in the vessels and buoys he designs. They both saw the need for an arctic buoy that could operate in water or in ice.
Until recently, most of the US National Ice Center buoys were built for ice covered polar waters and designed to be deployed on multi-year ice. As the multi-year ice melts, those buoys are sinking and researchers need to find new ways to fill in data gathering blanks. This is where the seasonal buoys that Walt and Peter are developing come in. A NOAA Small Business Innovative Research Grant funds production of their buoys, which are being deployed as part of the larger International Arctic Buoy Program (IABP). The IABP is not a classic international organization, but acts as a forum for sharing of buoy information amongst the arctic states, and other interested states and entities (e.g. Japan, the World Meteorological Organization). All of the members coordinate to provide as much buoy coverage as possible for monitoring ice, weather and other data in the Arctic Ocean. The IABP is yet another example of a functioning mechanism between arctic states that does not need the formal structural requirements of international organizations yet manages to provide an effective forum for the states that know most about a particular arctic issue to address it first hand.

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.