Sunday, February 14, 2010
Over the Hump?
February 8, 2010
I’ve been busy and it’s been cold, so time and mental energy have been rare commodities. But tonight I’ll provide a summary of how life on the water has been to me over the past few weeks:
Ice was something we all anticipated this winter, but this time it was weird ice. Sometimes, when it really freezes over, it thickens a few inches over the oyster farms and we wait a day or two for it to melt or get busted up by the fronts that routinely introduce new series of NW breezes; sometimes these even switch around, briefly, to the S or NE before reconstructing the NW gusts.
We’ve seen this pattern this winter, but something was a bit different on the east side of the bay where I work. Ice formed and we worked through it, but at the same time more ice was forming behind the Power Point Bridge, and this stuff built up, and built up into very thick slabs of waxy sea ice. This ice gets thick by being trapped by the bridge, building layers, and picking up marsh mud (and marsh), and it continues to build under the right conditions. And the right conditions prevailed for most of January. On the big tides (the moon tides, drainers, or spring tides) there is finally enough volumetric inertia to force this thick ice through the bridge supports, kind of like slicing slabs of cheese. These slabs move quite suddenly southward through the pilings on drainer ebbs like missiles in slow motion. As the tide drops these ice floes scrape the bottom and, upon the low, they eventually settle on the flats until the tide changes. These big chunks can measure up to 25 feet long and 4 feet thick and they often bring loads of marsh mud and clumps of weed along for the ride.
This is fun stuff for an oyster farmer. You know, finding truck-sized chunks of ice on the oysters. Well, we’ll see what happens.
So, in sum, January was kind of tough: it was perpetually cold but not cold enough to solidify the bay. The weather pattern seemed stuck on the same song each week. But then in early February things began to change a little. We had a warm week that straddled the transition from January, then cold, and now (finally) the higher angle of the sun is beginning to warm each day above freezing more consistently. And with this change I am seeing a response in the water. Crabs are waking up. So are the fish – some flounders are nosing about the oysters in search of mates and perhaps the blood worms that are now increasing in activity in the mud below.
I look forward to the longer, warmer days ahead.
Please visit Dave Grossman's version of the ice and related topics: