The Arctic field trip of 1998 was a repair mission. Two years previously a fibre-optic cable had been laid on the ocean bottom from Alert (on Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic: see map) to an array of hydrophones in the ocean 180 km north of Alert. The joint Canadian-American exercise was known as the Spinnaker Project - named after a pub in Victoria where some of the initial planning was done.
The 20,000-lb Autonomous Underwater Vehicle that laid the cable had been built especially for this project by International Submarine Engineering Research (ISER) of Port Coquitlam, BC. The vehicle was named Theseus after the Greek hero who laid a string as he went into the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur. And, of course, the submarine had to be yellow.
In the spring of 1996, after several years of preparation and practice, we lowered Theseus through the ice at the 'shore camp' (near Alert) and sent it north. I must emphasize that the vehicle was 'autonomous'. It had its own 'smarts', and it did its own navigation. It had a self-aligning fibre-optic gyroscope to give it its heading, and it used Doppler sonar to measure its velocity over the ground. For the Doppler sonar to work, Theseus had to swim fairly close to the bottom of the ocean. As it swam along it paid the cable out behind it. At the end of its 24-hour journey it delivered the cable to the camp out on the Arctic Ocean and then returned to the shore camp, where it arrived after another 24 hours. It was a great feat of navigation and cable laying. Not only that, but the whole installation worked; data from all the hydrophones came flawlessly down the glass fibre.
Unfortunately, the data-flow quit after about two months, and we didn't know why. It could have been problems with the electronics or the laser at the sending end, or it could have been a broken cable. (The cable, after all, was only 2 mm in diameter, and it had a breaking strength of only 200 lbs.)
A repair mission had to wait until the next spring since only the spring lends itself to establishing and living in ice camps. In the summer the ice of the Arctic Ocean is too wet and broken up to be a safe platform for a camp. It is usually moving, and the weather is often foggy. In the winter the weather is much colder and so the ice is more solid. However, the sun does not come up all winter, and, therefore, flying to a camp on the ice is out of the question. This leaves only the spring - half of March and all of April - for work on the ice.
In 1997 we replaced the underwater electronics and we fixed a couple of breaks. However, we discovered other breaks just as we were running out of time. Another repair year had to be scheduled.
This brings us to 1998 and this set of Newsletters. Email was still very new in the Arctic. It might have been available in 1997, but we hadn't thought to make use of it to keep the lab and our families involved. In '98 the connection was still via telephone dial-up, and so it was slow, and I didn't include any pictures. Because of this, the files were all quite small, and I am able to include all 34 Newsletters here as one small pdf file.
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