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Friday, February 18, 2011

RV Celtic Explorer Newfoundland & Labrador Fishery Survey: DAY 19

Date 17/02/2011 Time: 22:00 hrs (UTC)

Position: 51 21.76 N; 055 34.42 W; St. Anthony, northern Newfoundland, docked

Day 19 began with the Celtic Explorer holding station in St. Anthony Bight, just outside the main harbour which was ice laden the previous evening. By mid-day the ice has blown out of the harbour and the vessel was docked at the shrimp plant wharf, where we were warmly greeted with typical rural Newfoundland hospitality by Jim Gibbons, the manager of St. Anthony Cold Storage and former Marine Institute student.

Coming into a now ice-free St. Anthony harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, on a clear but windy day
photo by Kate Barley)

Outside, however, the gale raged on, with a deep low off the Labrador Sea that just doesn’t want to push off. We have been instructing it to ‘push off’ in many colourful ways, but to no avail. Mother Nature is in charge here. Winds up to 70 knots are spinning counter-clockwise around this deep low and hammering Labrador and NE Newfoundland. Seas have risen to over 12 m. Some serious damage has been done to breakwaters and some communities under major tidal and storm surges. We can only stay put and watch the forecasts, relying on our experience in this region as to the best time and way to re-engage the survey. It will be at least another day…

Satellite image of the weather patterns in eastern North America today. Notice the swirl in the top right corner, which is the big low that is driving the winds and heavy seas off Labrador and NE Newfoundland
(courtesy of Environment Canada)

The NE and N winds have broken up much of the first year ice and compacted the rest near the coast and into the Strait of Belle Isle. Of note, there is very little ice this year, much less than normal. Harp seals, which pup on the ice at two locations, one in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as they follow the ice through the Strait of Belle Isle, and the main ground at ‘the front’, normally off NE Newfoundland, will have a difficult time this year, as will our sealers. As the harp seal herd is now over 7 million animals, it is not likely that one poor pupping year will affect the population greatly, but if such conditions persist with a warming climate, there will almost certainly be an impact on distribution and abundance. As pupping time approaches (early April), what will happen will no doubt be interesting.

Current ice conditions in the Newfoundland-Labrador region, with full ice cover shown in red and partial in orange and yellow. Blue and white indicates almost no ice. (courtesy of Environment Canada)

Back in St. Anthony, we wait. Some crew and scientific staff have gone out for walks, others have worked out in the ship gym, still others have read or worked on their projects. Some brave souls have gone to the local Bingo game – the crew will certainly get a warm welcome from the local women what with their sporty Celtic Explorer clothes and charming accents. No Guiness though, it hasn’t made it this far.

Graduate student Genevieve D’Avignon and some crew members happy to touch dry land after the Celtic Explorer docked in St. Anthony (photo Kate Barley)

And so we wait with the patience of Job. The forecast is much better for next week, and we are preparing to pull out all the stops to get the main survey completed.

The Celtic Explorer has now seen its first ice, as loose as it was, and its first taste of the Labrador Sea. I can’t help but think of the Newfoundland song about Lukey’s Boat, changing the words and the tense somewhat ….

‘Aodhan’s boat was painted green, aha me boys,
Aodhan’s boat was painted green,
The prettiest boat we’ve ever seen,
Aha, me boys, a diddle a-day’

There are other verses which we will save for a more appropriate moment.

Until tomorrow say a prayer for better weather.

Blog by Kate Barley with local colour by Dr. George Rose.


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