We use cookies to make your experience of our website better. To comply with EU regulations we need to ask for your consent to set these cookies. I agree |  No thanks |  Find out more

Skip navigation

Aug 04 - Longyearbyen

Noon Position: Lat 80.22 N, Long 16.24 E
Location: North East of Svalbard
Total Distance Travelled: 2384.8 NM
Air Temperature: 0.4 Degrees Celsius
Sea Temperature: 1.4 Degrees Celsius

This edition of the web diary will be published with considerable delay, because the ship is out of range of our regular communications at the moment. Out of the range of the satellite we do not have access to the Internet and regular phone lines. In case of an emergency we are not without any link to the outside world though, as we could use the Iridium satellite phone, which is just very expensive and cannot handle large amounts of data, like photos for example (and what would a web diary be without photos?).

Since last week we have made our way up to our destination- Svalbard in the Arctic. The first task of the team was to retrieve a mooring, which had been put out by another scientist from SAMS last year in October. This mooring contains an array of instruments, which kept measuring under the ice and no doubt collected lots of data. To read the data the instruments (with the mooring) needed to be retrieved. One attempt about 5 weeks ago had failed, because there was still a lot of sea ice and it was considered too dangerous because the mooring could have come up under the ice. When Colin tried to contact it now (via an acoustic signal) he did not receive any answer whatsoever, which meant that either the battery was flat or the whole mooring had gone completely. A thorough echo sounding of the area in question did not show any trace of it, so it is highly like that it has disappeared and all its data with it. It might have been caught by a trawler. I was told that a certain percentage of these mooring get lost, so although the disappearance is disappointing it does not seem to be too unusual.

Colin and Estelle try to contact the mooring, but it is not answering
Colin and Estelle try to contact the mooring, but it is not answering


It was a beautiful day, so spirits did not stay low for very long. The views were stunning while we sailed towards Longyearbyen. Longyearbyen is the main settlement on the island of Spitsbergen and named after its founder, Mr. Longyear, a mining magnet of the early 20th century. We had to go there to pick up a few more scientists, amongst them Stig and Anette from the Norwegian Polar Institute, who know these waters and the islands intimately and also George, a BBC cameraman, who will be sailing with us to document this cruise for News Night.

Longyearbyen as seen from the JCR
Longyearbyen as seen from the JCR



The JCR as seen from Longyearbyen photo by George Pagliero
The JCR as seen from Longyearbyen photo by George Pagliero


From Longyearbyen we went straight towards our first science stop, which we called Shelf Station 1. We stopped there for 3 days, while experiments were going on day and night, to make the most of the available time and because many experiments don’t stick to a ‘nine to five’ timetable. In addition to the analysis of seawater from various depths, collected with the help of the CTD, we also collected soil from the bottom of the sea, from app 450 depth. We have a brand new megacorer on board, which takes out neatly layered soil cores (well- mud to you and me) even with a column of bottom water on top of the core. Because the soil comes up inside Perspex tubes even I could see the layering. The mud cores are then carefully divided amongst the scientists on board, who continue to investigate them for all sorts of minute life forms and their metabolism. Some parts were frozen, to be later worked on at home.
Martyn for example, who is in charge of the megacoring, works on anaerobic bacteria in the ground. These bacteria use sulphate reduction instead of oxygen, because at the depth were they live all the oxygen has been used up by other organisms closer to the water. Martyn takes a part of the core, incubates it with marked sulphate and later works out how much sulphate has been used by the anaerobic microorganisms.

The megacorer on its first return onto the deck. The plastic tubes are full of grey soil
The megacorer on its first return onto the deck. The plastic tubes are full of grey soil


The SAMS landers, which I described last week, were deployed, sank to the bottom of the sea and came up 24 hours later. There were a few tense moments, when a line got entangled, but in the end both landers were retrieved with only minor damage.

Deploying the lander
Deploying the lander


The lander has surfaced again after 24 hrs on the bottom of the sea
The lander has surfaced again after 24 hrs on the bottom of the sea


We were very lucky to be out here for the solar eclipse on the 1st of August. Although the ship was not in the area for the total eclipse, which up here would have been to the North/East of Svalbard, we expected somewhat more than 90 % of the sun covered. It was not to be. The weather was typical Svalbard weather (as I was told by Anette, who spends a lot of time up here), which meant quite dense sea fog/low cloud. Apparently you don’t have to climb very high up to get out of it, but on the JCR at sea climbing up is not really an option. Therefore we did not see very much of the eclipse, only an occasional glimpse of a fog covered sun, with an increasing bite missing. It was interesting nevertheless as the temperature dropped considerably; it also went quite dark, which is of course very unusual in the land of the midnight sun. All the birds decided it was night and settled down on the sea to rest!

This is NOT the moon (you will have to take my word for it) but the solar eclipse as we saw it
This is NOT the moon (you will have to take my word for it) but the solar eclipse as we saw it


Shelf Station 1 had a surprise in store for us on the next day. A group of three or four humpback whales came to visit the ship. They came very close to the ship and kept diving underneath it from one side to the other, which made it very difficult to work out how many exactly there were. For most of us it was the closest we had ever seen a whale, let alone a large one. Because nearly everyone on the ship has interest in wildlife an announcement was made over the loudspeakers and all (from scientists to cooks) who could drop what they were doing at that moment ran outside to watch the whales.

Humpback whale photo by Ellie Bell
Humpback whale photo by Ellie Bell


Having stayed at shelf station 1 for three full days we went on northwards along the east coast of Svalbard. Soon we saw the first pack ice, which got denser over time. It was amazing to see seabirds up here, which we know well from home, like fulmars, guillemots and kittiwakes. They not only live on the cliffs of Scotland but also are perfectly at ease on and around the arctic sea ice.

Kittiwake having just caught a polar cod
Kittiwake having just caught a polar cod


With the sea ice closing in the first polar bears were sighted in the distance. I was devastated to have missed the first ones at Monday lunchtime, but was outside when the next one was spotted far ahead of us. The captain slowed the ship down and eventually stopped it, which gave us ample time for bear watching! The bear was curious to investigate the ship (which must have smelled very appetising, with dinner being cooked) and came closer and closer up to about 20 m distance of the ship. It was cautious but not afraid. It was quite obvious that in his world he has got nothing to fear! Again this was a first for many people n the ship and we felt extremely privileged to watch this magnificent animal in its natural environment! After a while the bear lost interest and ambled away back into the pack ice and we too went towards our next destination.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge


11 - Click to enlarge
11 - Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge


Petra
(Photos by Ellie Bell, George Pagliero and myself)