Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
Mocness Loch Ness
23 June 2008, Finney @ 10:14 pm

[This post written 6/23/08; position: lat -58’01”, long -43’10”; temp 1C; wind chill -14C]

Before I do anything else, I want to answer Niknik’s questions about pack ice. First of all, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t understand something, chances are there are other people out there who also don’t understand it. Now that I think about it, “pack ice” is kind of a weird phrase. Like a pack of dogs, only it’s ice! Niknik wants to know what pack ice is, how it can “come for you,” and why wind makes it happen faster. Pack ice is the free-drifting ice that forms every winter on the polar oceans. We got to watch some pack ice forming when we were further south on this trip, and it’s way cool how it happens. First, the water starts to look sort of greasy as the first ice crystals form. This is called grease ice. As the freezing continues, round patties of ice form in the grease ice. They look kind of like lily pads, only white. This is called pancake ice. You can see a picture of pancake ice in my blog entry for May 2, “Mom Has a Cow.” As the winter goes on, the ice becomes a floating layer of chunks jostling against each other. These chunks can get quite big, and eventually there are so many of them that there is more ice than open water. The pack ice grows each winter. Down here, it starts on the southernmost shores of the Antarctic continent, or at the ice shelves, and it grows steadily northward all winter. When spring comes, it begins to shrink again.

When I said the pack ice was “coming for us,” I was being dramatic. It’s just ice. It was coming toward us, blown by the wind. The wind catches the taller chunks of ice and pushes on them as if they were sails. Since the wind was going 50 miles per hour that day, the pack ice was moving fast. Probably slower than the wind speed, but still pretty fast. I hope this answers your questions!

Next, I got up early, and Rainy did, too. (Ash doesn’t count in this case, because he always gets up early, but not for the MOCNESS; for the engineers.) Why, you might ask? Well, I have been getting more and more curious about the MOCNESS. That’s the thing that gathers specimens of krill, squid, jellyfish, and all that strange-looking stuff in the pictures I have put up sometimes. MOCNESS is one of those words that is made from the first letters of a lot of other words. In this case, Multiple Opening-Closing Net Environmental Sensing System. For most of us, including me, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Mostly, I just call it the Mocness. And it reminds me of Loch Ness in Scotland, where Nessy the water monster is supposed to live. Plus, sometimes the scientists laugh and call the MOCNESS a monster. So when I say it, I get a creepy, mysterious feeling that is totally irrational, but there it is. So, I was curious about it and wanted to see what it looks like and how it works. So Rainy and I got up early, because the MOCNESS is always launched at midnight and retrieved at dawn. Here is what we saw:

Dude. It is huge. At the top, you can see them bringing it out of the water (it’s the big black square thing) and laying it down on the special brackets on the deck. There are big, black nets attached to it. Danni says there are six. In the next two pictures, you can see people pulling the nets out of the water and dragging them onto the deck. In the bottom two pictures, you can see that there is a sort of bottle at the end of each net. These are called the “cod ends.” Inside the bottles are all the sea creatures the nets have gathered during the night. They are poured into the buckets and then sorted, which I have blogged about before. (See “Penguins,” June 12.)

So there it is, mysteries of the MOCNESS revealed. Pretty cool, huh? Now I just wish I could solve the mystery of Strike’s “decision tree.” It would be nice if I had some clue about the nature of the huge decision I will soon be making, but Strike is still not sure he should tell me. He is driving me nuts.