Nares Strait 2012: Grounded in St. John’s, Cod, and Crossing of Lines

Hurry-up and wait: The rushed 5 am arrival at St. John’s airport this morning turned into a six-hour wait and a canceled departure for Thule, Greenland. Crew, officers, and scientists are all grounded and spend an extra night waiting. There is lots of talk about screeching-in and uncertainty if membership in the “Order of the Blue Noses” or the “Order of the Gold Dragons” substitutes the more mundane “screeching-in.” Let me explain:

Canadian authorities aboard CCGS Henry Larsen.

The CCGS Henry Larsen originates from St. John’s and most of its officers and crew are local to the town, island, and icy waters offshore where cod once ruled supreme until mis-managed industrial-scale offshore trawling almost wiped the cod out and destroyed much of the local economy that was based on cod for centuries.

Time series of (a) catch of cod (in 106 tonnes) over the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf (b) the total abundance of Gadidae over the southern Newfoundland shelf (c) the catch of shrimp and (d) crab over the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf (e) the greenness index from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) over the southern Newfoundland Shelf (f) bottom temperature from inshore on the southern Newfoundland shelf and (g) the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index. The heavy solid lines in panels (f) and (g) represent low-pass filtered smoothed curves of the plotted data. [From DeYoung et al, 2004: Detecting regime shifts in the ocean, Prog. Oceanogr., 60, 143-164.]

The CCGS Henry Larsen has two crew who rotate on and off the ship every 4-8 weeks. Over the years I have met many crew who hailed from families who had worked the cod on smaller, inshore boats. They are superb and experienced sailors who know how to handle and run ships and all attached to it in harsh and icy waters. But how does this relate to screech and cod? Let me digress a moment by comparing US and Canadian Coast Guards:

The U.S. Coast Guard’s ice breaker operates 24-hours/day under military rules without alcohol or overtime to be had. In contrast, the civilian Canadian Coast Guard operates less hours at full strength with some alcohol and some overtime served in moderation. The cultures aboard US and Canadian vessels differ: US ships are permanently in training with young crew on 6-month deployments moving to a new assignment each year, while Canadian ships are working with an older, more experienced, and steady crews. The Canadian crews do the same amount of work in 12-18 instead 24 hours with 1/3 the staff. Ironically, US ships have more “unclassified” electronic capabilities with many more advanced sensor systems. Both ships also have “classified” sensors and missions that I know nothing about, but I digress. Cod and screech are potentially aboard Canadian ships operating out of Newfoundland only.

CCGS Henry Larsen crew at work: Deployment of a tide gauge (subsurface pressure sensor) in Alexandra Fjord. This is one of the instruments we will recover from Nares Strait that was deployed in 2009.

Our small motley crew of eight scientists this year consists of 4 Canadians from British Columbia, 3 Americans from Delaware, and 1 Dutch from England. Yesterday night we all converged at a fine restaurant on Ducksworth Street in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland. A dispute is still raging among us on what is valid proof of earlier”screeching-in?” I learnt the hard way, that “laminated certificates” are invalid, but what about “un-laminated certificates?” The former are easily obtained in the vibrant port city of St. John’s with its many bars and pubs. The “un-laminated certificates” may be valid, if signed and authenticated by an officer of the CCGS Henry Larsen aboard said ship, but enforcement has been selective.

There are also arguments, that a crossing of the Arctic Circle (certified by a Commanding Officer of a Canadian Coast Guard ship) or the crossing of the International Dateline north of the Arctic Circle (certified by a Commanding Officer the CCGS Henry Larsen) may supersede the more common “screeching-in” ceremonies and certificates. I am the main person making these arguments facing authorities with powers that exceed mine by far.

Our failure to leave for Thule, Greenland today may give some of us a chance to get potentially needed “screeching-in” certificates, but I very much doubt that these “laminated certificates” carry much weight. Time will tell. It will also tell if we get to Thule tomorrow. Hurry-up and wait.

One response to “Nares Strait 2012: Grounded in St. John’s, Cod, and Crossing of Lines

  1. Afraid my certificate was signed by a highly inebriated bartender on George St. – Probably wouldn’t pass inspection. The best lobster I ever ate was at a restaurant down the hill from the Battery Hotel – but I can’t remember the name of the place.

    I’ve a couple of friends flying in to St. John’s today, but they’re headed straight to the dig at Ferrieland.

    The ice looks a little better through Kane Basin although the fast ice has pulled clear of Humboldt – Perhaps the unexpected layover will work in your favor.


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