Thursday, 8 May 2014

Science in the Arctic- The cruise

UNIS Spring semester 2014

The ship crashes through sea ice, its bow parting the surface like a huge knife. Cracks and splinters radiate off from our passage as we push on forward. 
Dicksonfjorden, Svalbard

We come to rest as the ice deepens, thick and solid enough to hold our weight as we stand on it. 

We leave the ship, walking out on the smooth, shining white surface, leaving shallow footprints on frozen waves. The ice here is thirty centimetres thick, the cold sea bottoms out seventy metres below it.
Here we begin our research.

Reading this I realize that it sounds like in the BBC series frozen planet- but it is reality, we actually experienced it. About 1 month ago, Allan, Riba, Esty , I and the other 15 peoples from our Arctic Geophysics course prepared to go into the ice for 5 days. We are students in the Arctic and that is a very special feeling.

After arriving, we leave the safety of the ship and are all alone in the Fjord, apart from some polar foxes and seals. The seals are numerous; we find 60 by just looking around with the binoculars. They are cute and just hang around sun bathing! 

 But our looking around is not just done for fun. At all times two people, one high up on the ship and one far out on the ice, have to watch out for polar bears. When it is your turn, you are prepared for action, equipped with rifle, flare gun & walky-talky to keep the rest of the people safe.

On the ice we make camp, drilling and cutting through the ice, setting the experiments up with the instruments dragged after us on sledges.

We always hear the monotonous sound of the ships engine. Day and night we are running the ship into the ice. The ice has not been thick enough this year to attach the ship with ropes, we are afraid of breaking it.
Lying awake at night I wonder: Isn’t it slightly ironic that we study the environment but at the same time change it? 

But the gathered data is well worth it.

In the evenings we sit together, analysing what we found during the day. Some people help each other writing code or discuss how their experiments could link. Others watch movies.

Ribanna was looking at the salinity and temperature under the ice. I studied the dissolved oxygen. Both data were gathered from our stationary CTD.

Combining our information, we found relatively warm less oxygenated Atlantic water transformed on its way due north, over colder, saltier oxygen rich water originating from an adjacent fjord. It’s like a riddle, or maybe a crime novel to figure out what could have happened with these waters prior to inflowing into our ice covered fjord. Amongst other influences, these water masses decide about the fate of the sea ice…. It might not return next winter.
I love the fact that by using these instruments over some time we suddenly can see things that nobody else can, things hidden under the ice. For 3 days, we take our measurements; over 350 casts of our CTD.

 But we do not stay all the time at our stations. We learn about every aspect of the air-ice-sea interaction. There are three big sections: Meteorology, Oceanography and Sea-ice studies. The Meteorology studying people are looking at incoming and outgoing solar radiation, albedo, wind direction, air temperature and humidity.

Apart from Riba and I, in the oceanography group we have people looking at turbulences at the ice-ocean interface and currents under the ice to explain the water movements.
Deployment of a mooring

The sea-ice studying people conduct growth experiments, depth measurements, brine rejection studies and take many many ice cores.

Because doing science is hard work, we get a lot of food. Living as a student in Longyearbyen is quite expensive and the normal Svalbard student diary consists of pasta, rice and gummy cheese. Maybe frozen spinach.

It is no secret that there is a lot of food on these research vessels but OMG. Every day we have extensive breakfast, ostentatious lunch, and fantastic dinner. 3 times a day buffet with everything! Plus cake and a filled fridge open during the night. It is food heaven.
Probably because of this overwhelming amount of nom noms (that’s the online translation), there is a gym in the hull of the ship. Most entertaining and well recommendable is using the treadmill while at sea.
The ship also has an outdoor Jacuzzi filled with warm salty water.

Sadly our field course ends too fast.

We go back to our “normal” life in Svalbard. And even though the working up of data is time consuming and can be tiring, we always find time to do fun stuff:
 Midnight-sun hikes

snowmobile drives to the glacier-front on the east coast

… oh…. And I would like to share…. They are not a myth, I saw  a polar bear =)

And of course dress up parties
Luci: the best dinosaur

It’s a good life with good people and good science.
Thanks to everybody who made it possible
And thanks to the lovely photographers Ragnheid, Ribanna & Niels
Rachel Vezza

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