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Jul 30 - Up North

Update (20th August 2006)

Noon Position : lat 78° 24.5' N, long 025° 31' E

North of Svalbard inside the Arctic Circle

Air temperature @ noon today : 4.4°C

Sea temperature @ noon today : 4.7°C

Weather: Slight Sea with an overcast sky, but good visibility.

The Week(s) In Brief.

This weeks update didn't go quite according to plan as I started to write it on the 30th July. I thought at that time that our communications blackout might just be for short periods. However, the best laid plans and all that meant that full communications will only be established now that we are heading home on completion of the science programme. You could say it's been a rather quiet 21 days on the news front! By the nature of our work we travel to some of the most remote areas of our planet and hence sometimes we have to forego the luxury of instant communication that we have become so used to.

When I last wrote we were due into Longyearbyen on Thursday evening, well this became Friday morning. The reason for this will become clear later. Unfortunately this reduced our visit to just a few hours during which we discharged the mooring equipment recovered on passage and embarked the rest of our science party before heading back to sea and our new science programme.

The passage from the UK had seen us collect the last two Norwegian moorings as we passed Iceland and then headed north-east towards Svalbard. The route was modified to collect some more seabed mapping data (Swath bathymetry) to enhance existing knowledge, whilst still achieving our planned arrival time. Then, on Wednesday, a request was received to go and recover a mooring for a German Institute. This had unfortunately come to the surface early and was therefore adrift. This sometimes happens if a fishing boat dredges them up or if some item of the equipment fails, either way they are a navigation hazard and need to be recovered. This is quite apart from the valuable data that they contain.

General map of our location. Click to enlarge.
Larger map of this weeks location. Click to enlarge

The map shows our general location over the last three weeks.

Click to enlarge.

An enlarged view of the area with the red flag marking the ship's farthest north to date. Click to enlarge.

Each pin also marks noon on each Sunday. 30th July (blue), 6th August (red), 13th August (yellow) and 20th August (black)

Since leaving Longyearbyen we have worked extensively to the north and east of Svalbard. Hopefully you can make out the ship's positions on the map above. The red flag on the right hand picture marks our northern most position to date at latitude 81° 31' N and longitude 032° 05' E and we have a picture of the GPS receiver below to prove it.

GPS showing furthest north. Click to enlarge

The ship's furthest north position so far in its career. Click to enlarge. (Douglas Leask)

The Missing Mooring.

Having been asked to go and recover this itinerant German mooring we headed in the direction of its last reported position. The mooring itself was announcing its position via satellite at set intervals and so we were able to track its movements. However, looking for a few coloured spheres becomes a little tricky when the fog comes down! You might be able to gather from the pictures below that spotting the buoys wasn't exactly an easy task. The task was complicated further as any positions were first emailed to Germany, then Cambridge before making it to the ship some hours later and after six days on the surface the radio beacon had also ceased to function. A datum position was calculated from the last known position and predicted drift of the mooring, worked out by monitoring the series of previous positions, and a search pattern started from that datum. Then it was down to the good old fashioned mark one eye ball to do the final location. We even positioned people on the focsle as well as the bridge to give a differing view as the fog rolled in and out.

Look outs on the bow as well as the bridge looking for the missing mooring. Click to enlarge.
Trust me it is there! (Hint - Upper left) Click to enlarge

Look outs on the bow as well as the bridge looking for the missing mooring. Click to enlarge.

Trust me it is there! (Hint - Upper left) Click to enlarge

We started the search at 1030 and at 1251 this straining of the eye balls paid dividends as first one group of floats were spotted, then another. Once we were satisfied that we knew what was on the surface the job of recovery could begin.

I told you!. Click to enlarge.
Now just a matter of untying the ravelled rope.Click to enlarge

I told you!. Click to enlarge.

Now just a matter of untying the raveled rope. Click to enlarge. George Steward (Bosun) and his trusty Mate Marc Blaby undo the knitting.


Longyearbyen & Svalbard.

Longyearbyen is on the island of Spitsbergen and is the administrative capital of the Svalbard archipelago. It was founded in 1906 by the Arctic Coal Company of Boston USA and named after a John Munro Longyear who was one of the principle owners of the company. The company sold its holding to an Norwegian company in 1916 which is now a state owned concern. Coal mining has been a major factor in the islands history although today tourism is probably a bigger influence on the island economy. For our call we tied up to the coal jetty some 3km out of town, near the airport. The view below is looking towards the town and shows another research ship in the foreground, but several cruise ships nearer to the town itself.

Ships at anchor off Longyearbyen. Click to enlarge.

The science party had flown in the evening before and as can be seen from Ruth Mugford's photograph below the views they had were stunning. The ship are making no comments as we were still in the fog offshore, even if it did clear for our arrival. I have a feeling fog is going to be a common factor in our work up here.

Arrival in Svalbard. Click to enlarge

Spitsbergen and Svalbard from the air. Click to enlarge.

(Ruth Mugford)

The view from the ship during our approach to Svalbard. Click to enlarge

(Robert Paterson)

Despite the briefness of the visit a few people did make it into town, though not for the night out that we'd all hoped for, which have always been good occasions when we've visited in the past. However, the road to town can have some unusual hazards if the road sign below left is anything to go by. Though I suspect the polar bears are not such a problem around here in the summer as they should be up to the north on the sea ice feeding themselves up for the coming winter. Talking of feeding oneself up the picture below right shows some of the more tame locals indulging in their favourite pastime.

Longyearbyen road sign warning of polar bears. Click to enlarge (Ruth Mugford)

Local Reindeer grazing around town. Click to enlarge (Ruth Mugford)

Wildlife Corner

We all knew that the chance of repeating our polar bear encounter of two years ago was very slim, we did hope that we we might still get the odd sighting. In fact they were very odd with, I think, there being only two confirmed sightings during our excursions into the pack ice. The picture below being the best that I have seen and shows Ruth's very quick responses as the encounter was very brief, the fog didn't improve the view either though probably did allow us to approach unobserved. It was just great to see them. Click here to see our last excursion with the kings of the frozen north.

Bear in the fog (Ruth Mugford). Hint - look to the right after clicking to enlarge.

In addition to the myriad of birds that have surrounded the vessel at various times during our travels keeping our resident twitchers occupied for hours, the rest of us hoped to have bigger sights to see. So we were all thrilled one morning when our route took us past the island of Moffen, just to the north of Spitsbergen. The island is in fact a sandbar about two miles long by 1.2 mile wide and the beaches enclose a lagoon . There are stories that ship's in the past were able to sail into the lagoon, but today it is totally enclosed. It is a nature reserve renowned for the walrus population that inhabits it and as such it has protected status. No one can land during the summer or in fact sail within 300m of the land. So with the ship slowed, briefly, we contended ourselves with studying the beaches through binoculars and any viewing device that came to hand. Fortunately some onboard had suitably large lenses on their cameras to give us some reasonable close-up shots of the beaches. However, much to everyone's delight one group of animals hadn't heard of the restrictions on our movements and decided to come and investigate us instead. It was great to watch them frolicking in front of the ship's bow and it was a surprise to me just how well they tolerated reach other as they seemed to spend their time rolling around and over each other. Which given those large white tusks cannot be the safest of activities! It was just a great sight to see and count ourselves very privileged. Thank you to Ruth Mugford for the pictures below.

Moffen Island. Click to enlarge.
Walrus on Moffen Island. Click to enlarge
Walrus swimming. Click to enlarge
Walrus swimming. Click to enlarge.

Sports Desk.

This trip has seen the return of the JCR's "Dessert Cup" table tennis championship which saw several very tight games as the sixteen starters were whittled down to the two finalists of Jimmy Newall (Steward) and Nick Dunbar (ETO). A best of five final on Sunday afternoon saw Nick lift the cup, well he will when the engineer's finish making it. The picture below shows the action from the No.2 hold stadium. The next event for this stadium with be held on our return to the UK when the Chief Officer holds the annual giant jigsaw competition, otherwise know as loading the cargo for the Antarctic.

The table tennis final. Click to enlarge

Nick Dunbar (closest) taking on Jimmy Newall last Sunday. Click to enlarge

One other sport has been taking place in the bar over the last few weeks and might demonstrate just how calm the sea has been as several Jenga tournaments have been held. Stacking wooden blocks is not usually a safe or wise activity on a ship, except when traversing a mill pond.

And Finally.

Well hopefully our communications will remain connected now we're UK bound. Arrival is set for next Sunday and as we have a weeks passage home I thought I'd leave describing the science we have been doing until then. I'm also guessing by then that we'll also have several cases of the "channels" or "going home syndrome" developing as there'll then only be a week of the trip left for this crew.