• Photo courtesy of USGS

Two ships have been crashing through the frigid waters in the Arctic since August — one a high-tech cutter, American coast guard ship the Healy, and the other, an older Canadian icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent. They are clearing ice for each other and trying to map out the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The countries are on a joint mission, but each is vying to lay claim over the Arctic’s untapped oil resources by claiming sovereignty over the Arctic in what the United Nations calls the “new frontier of international affairs.”

In 2007, Canadian Geographic featured a cover story about being aboard the Louis S. St. Laurent but dispatches from members of both the Canadian and American crews on the current journey are plentiful online. Here’s a guide to some of the best diaries out there written about the ongoing Arctic expedition.

Paul Watson, who is billed as “Canada’s only Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist,“ has published several articles about his journey aboard the Canadian ship on his Toronto Star page.

His August 8 article paints a concise political picture of what’s at stake for Canada in the Arctic. Canada needs to use science and geology to prove its territory extends to the unclaimed areas, where more than 90 billion barrels of oil could lie below the surface.

“When Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2003, the clock started ticking on a 10-year deadline to submit its claim to a UN commission that oversees claims to economic zones beyond 320 kilometres from a country's shores,” writes Watson. “If scientists can provide geological evidence that Canada's Arctic continental shelf extends further than that limit, Ottawa could prove the right to exploit vast reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals from the seabed.”

His August 6 article is a warts-and-all profile of the trusty 40-year-old Canadian ship under the headline, “The Louis is old and ornery but bravely defends us.” Watson quotes a Canadian Coast Guard veteran who calls the boat “the Joan Rivers of the Fleet,” for all her many cosmetic surgeries and refits.

Little known fact thanks to Watson’s reporting — the “Louis,” as it is affectionately called, appeared in the movie Titanic.

Also abroad the Canadian ship is scientist and videographer Lawrence Taylor. He’s blogging his journeys on the Natural Resources Canada website. His last post from August 20 profiles one of the Canadian scientists, John Shimeld. Even though it’s Shimeld’s third trip on the Louis, the northern journey has not lost its lustre.

“The Earth has so many covered secrets, especially in the middle of the Arctic's Canada Basin. To find a volcano that's just sitting there, buried, dormant for so long, blanketed by ice and snow and water — three to four kilometres of water — it's very satisfying to be able to peer down into the secrets of the Earth,” he tells Taylor.

Daily life aboard American ship, the Healy, is better documented, with several more Americans writing home about their time up North. Illinois high-school science teacher Jonathan Pazol has been blogging on the ARMADA project website, an organization funded by the National Science Foundation that gives K-12 teachers an opportunity to actively participate in ocean, polar, and environmental science research. His last post, from August 22, describes the “morale night” aboard the Healy where the passengers cooked a not-so-northern jambalaya together. He had a lot to add about the food on the ship.

“There are also fresh-baked desserts, a salad bar, dry cereal, soup, peanut butter and jelly, fountain soft drinks, coffee and cappuccino, and even a smoothie machine - it's a good thing we have gyms on the ship because otherwise we'd all end up gaining a lot of weight,” Pazol wrote.

No word if the Canadian ship is keeping up with the American menu.

Pazol is by far the most prolific on board blogger. He has posts about the three dimensional tool used on the ship to analyze data, a program called the Fledermaus, as well as the ship’s Knudsen system, which chirps constantly throughout the ship as sound waves are beamed to the bottom of the arctic ocean.

Pazol’s posts have also moonlighted on the official U.S. Geological Survey Arctic Chronicles blog. A host of other Healy crew members have contributed to this blog, including U.S. Coast Guard Officer and videographer Patrick Kelley, who wrote on August 23 about the how the arctic ice continues to amaze him.

“As we move through the Arctic Ocean, the ice changes from one location to the next. The change is not just the thickness, as I had anticipated, but also the colour, density, and texture. In some areas, the ice looks harsh and unwilling to yield to the weight of Healy, and in other spots it appears that the ice attempts to flee before the ship gets to it. Sometimes when you look out you feel like you are cruising through a snow-covered prairie. The next day, it’s as though you have landed on a rocky, frozen planet and the ship has to blast its way through,” Kelley says.

The coolest part of this web site is the tool that lets you see images of the Arctic Ocean from just one-hour earlier from the viewpoint of the ship. Is it any surprise that it’s looking cloudy and icy today aboard the Healy?

Photo courtesy of USGS