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Sep 18 - Going Bear..

Date: 18Sep2005
Observation Time: 12:00 Local
Latitude: 70 ° 24.3 N
Longitude: 005 ° 39.5 E
Bearing: 191 °T, 524 Nm from NY Alesund
Total Average Speed: 11.6 kts
Wind: Direction NW , Force 7
Sea State: Moderate
Air Temp: 6.7 °C
Sea Temp:9.7 °C
Pressure: 991.9 Tendency: Rising

Click for latest position/track  - latest webcam picture

The past week has seen a number of exciting events,  the most notable being the sighting of polar bears.  The first sighting was late on Sunday night (11th) when it was dark,  but two bears were spotted in the searchlights.

Polar bears in the night! Two polar bears in our searchlights.  Photo Emily Venables

Our second sighting was on Monday evening,  just as we were all enjoying coffee in the bar after dinner,  when an announcement was made that a polar bear was at the stern.  I have never seen the bar clear so quickly as everyone rushed to grab cameras and binoculars.  This time it was a lone bear who came within a few hundred metres of the ship,  but seemed to be a bit wary of coming too close.

A daylight visit from a polar bear A lone polar bear near the ship.  Photo Katie Doig

Members of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) are writing a weblog on the SAMS website and the page written by Lois Nickell is worth putting in our webpage this week.  Below is her account of  Sunday 11th September:

Yesterday, the weather worsened and the sea began to  pick up whilst we were working on a CTD transect down  the West Svalbard Shelf.  Difficult decisions had to be made and rather than sitting out the weather hove-to,  wasting valuable science time, we set off north towards the ice edge hoping that we might be able to return later to finish the transect.  We then spent the night and early morning beating a path through rough seas in the Fram Strait towards Greenland. I woke at 0700 this morning to the sound of something (later identified as the frozen strop) pounding on the wall of my cabin.  I looked out but could see almost nothing because of the ice now covering the porthole. There had been a lot of sea spray last night but the temperature must have dropped to make it freeze.  I couldn’t sleep any longer so decided to get up for only the third breakfast I have eaten on board.  This is  because I do the twelve to four watch and am never usually around until after 1000.  There were few people around and having had only a few hours sleep, I retired to my cabin to try and get a little more shut eye.

When I got up for the second time, my heart skipped a beat.  Out of the cabin port hole I could see nothing but a sea of ice!  This is the moment I had waited for and I ran to the UIC to be confronted by a huddled group of people around the chart table, all with worried faces.  Not wanting to disturb the decision-making process that was clearly in operation, I picked up my camera and headed for the bridge.  The Captain, Jerry Burgan, was at the helm guiding the ship through the dense pack ice (nine tenths cover, I was informed).  I have few words to describe standing there at the centre of a panorama of white frozen water, the dramatic snow storms and the grey leads of seawater marking boundaries between sheets of pack ice.  The James Clark Ross, herself encrusted now with ice, would shudder beneath us as she hit each slab, which turned and buckled beneath the weight and power of the ship.  Although the pack has the overall appearance of being white, I had not expected the intensity of aquamarine colour, which the ice occasionally takes on when there are no bubbles of air trapped within.  The visibility was not great, with snow and sleet lashed by the wind, but I stood mesmerised, feeling hugely privileged to witness this sight and somewhat overwhelmed by a sense of insignificance in this frozen sea.

The day has been spent slowly but steadily under way, stopping some 30 miles into the pack.  We are here to carry out work for our geologists, John Howe and his PhD student, Suzie MacLachlan.  Plans have had to be revised and reduced because of the unexpected early encounter with ice, which has been blown south by the same gales which forced us to abandon the CTD work at Svalbard.  Acoustic surveys have been in operation whilst in transit across a defined box of seabed, and with skill and professionalism, Jerry and his crew have succeeded in getting us on station.  Next will come attempts to piston core.  Richie Phipps and Kevin Smith from UKORS have spent the day preparing the corer.  This would have been no insignificant task in fine weather but has been made many times more difficult by the freezing conditions.  Gusts of up to 66 knots have brought the windchill down to around -30°C and this evening a decision has been made not to start coring until first light tomorrow in order to give everyone a much needed break and hopefully a few hours of sleep.  In the interim, a plankton sample has been collected and the net was brought aboard clogged with organisms.  Although temperatures are sub-zero, these waters can be highly productive and Nuria Navarro, our Spanish colleague, is collecting samples of phyto- and zooplankton for the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa back at SAMS.

As for my own work, I feel this is the calm before the storm.  Myself and Martyn Harvey are carrying out process studies on the macrobenthos along a transect from the Voring to the Yermak Plateau.  We have collected cores from the seabed at Bear Island Fan and are currently incubating these at -1°C in the JCR’s cold room.  Using experiments designed to simulate the influence of a phytoplankton bloom, we hope to understand changes in benthic organism responses to algal deposition to the seabed.  The sampling is 12 hourly at the moment but this incubation will finish tomorrow, when we will slice all the cores retaining the sediment for further analysis back at SAMS.  We still hope to core at a minimum of three more stations and will have a hectic schedule to fit all these in and be packed before arrival at Immingham on the 24th.  But plans must always be flexible because we are at the mercy of the weather and the ice.

This has been an exceptional and unforgettable day in my life.

In the ice Working the pack.  Photo Katie Doig.

Icing on deck With the cold temperatures and freezing spray,  ice formed on the deck.  Photo Peter Lamont.

One of the tasks to be completed whilst working amongst the pack ice was to take some core samples from the seabed,  using a piston corer,  which allows cores of up to six metres to be taken.

Deploying the piston corer The piston corer being deployed.  Photo Peter Lamont.

Once our work had been completed in the ice,  the ship headed back to Spitsbergen and the Kongsfjord,  where more sampling was to be carried out.  Kongsfjord is the home of Ny-Alesund,  the most northerly community in the world,  and the site of an international research station.  Whilst working in the area time was taken to go alongside at Ny-Alesund,  to partake of some retail therapy at the shop,  to meet the people who are living here and to invite some back onboard for a drink and a look around the ship.

During our time in the Kongsfjord the ship's Cargo Tender and one of the inflatable boats went out to do some work with the scientists,  part of which was to collect ice from one of the glaciers.

Collecting iceCollecting ice,  although this piece looks a bit large for a G and T!  Photo Andy Liddell.
A spectacular sunsetOn departing Ny-Alesund we were presented with an amazing sky at sunset. Photo Mike Gloistein.

This is the last webpage from the Summer 2005/Arctic Cruise.  The JCR is due to arrive in Immingham on Friday 23rd September and will load for the forthcoming 2005/6 Antarctic Season.  There will be a crew change on Sunday and so the next page should be written once they have settled onboard.

A bit of a Rich bear  ....... and finally, Richard,  our rugged,  handsome (the best looking Purser in the Fleet no less) is looking for someone to care for him during his leave,  he is of  low maintenance,  fully house trained and  can cook!  Not overly sure about his choice of hats mind,  but don't let that put you off.  Click on the image for the bear details........  Photos Chris Handy and Mike Gloistein.