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Aug 11 - Ice Cores and Bears

Noon Position: Lat 80.17 N, Long 16.17 E
Location: North of Svalbard
Total Distance Travelled: 2449 NM
Air Temperature: 0.7 Degrees Celsius
Sea Temperature: 0.4 Degrees Celsius

The ship is still out of satellite range; therefore this diary entry will be published at a later date again.

We have spent the last week mainly in the sea ice, stopping for several days in one place, which we called ‘Ice Station’ for obvious reasons. Here most of the experiments that had been done in several positions of open water were repeated. This will allow comparison between the deeper and shallower areas of open water in the region and the ones with ice cover.

JCR in sea ice
JCR in sea ice


On the first glance sea ice seems completely devoid of life apart from the ever-present birds. If one looks closer however the algae living underneath and inside it can be even seen with the naked eye as reddish brownish stains on the ice. There will be plankton and other organisms in the sea under the ice, but their metabolism might be altered because the ice will take away some of the sunlight. It was therefore very important for the scientists on board to get out onto the sea ice, collect samples and investigate the metabolism of microorganisms in their natural environment.

This is the theory, but the practical side of things is a bit more complicated. First people have to get off the ship down onto the sea ice. One possibility could be to climb down a simple ladder. With a gap between the ship and the ice that would have not been very practicable. The device we used to transport people off the ship is called a ‘wor geordie’ (apologies, I have no idea why, but apparently they are produced in Newcastle…). It looks like a giant doughnut attached to a net and suspended from a crane. Up to four people step onto the doughnut, hold onto the net; get lifted up over the side and onto the ice. It is not only convenient, but also very good fun!

Stig and Anette on the wor geordie
Stig and Anette on the wor geordie


Some precautions have to be taken to make sure everyone is safe on the ice. Anette and Stig went out to check the ice first, because they are the most experienced in working on arctic ice. The ice was about 100-150 cm thick. It had many melt pools in it, but Stig pointed out that this is a typical feature of sea ice in the arctic.

In the next picture Ellie (Dr. Elanor Bell) demonstrates some of the equipment for working on sea ice. Because there is always a slight possibility that someone could break through the ice and fall into the icy water, she is wearing a waterproof boat survival suit and a buoyancy aid, which would automatically inflate when getting in contact with water. She also wears insulated wellie boots and carries a bodger to test the sea ice. (Please note that the conical ‘hat’ is actually a metal sieve and not part of the regular kit…).

Ellie tin man on the sea ice
Ellie tin man on the sea ice


Having wintered in the Antarctic Ellie is experienced in ice drilling and coring and was therefore in charge of most of the drilling and coring. She works on bacteria and viruses and will examine some of the ice cores herself.

Ice coring
Ice coring


The yellow and red striped device, which looks like a lollipop is the manually operated corer. Once it has been lifted out of the hole the core can be taken out, wrapped up in foil to keep it clean and put in a box for safe transport onto the ship.

Ice cores in the cold room photo James Bendle
Ice cores in the cold room photo James Bendle


Keith and Ellie drilling trough the ice
Keith and Ellie drilling trough the ice


Several holes were drilled through the ice to collect water, put instruments down or for incubation experiments. The scientists marked the holes with small red flags to be able to find them again. Early one morning the newest member of the scientific team inspected the research site and was not satisfied with the position of the flags, so he moved one:

Local member of the science team rearranging the marker flags photo by Robert Paterson
Local member of the science team rearranging the marker flags photo by Robert Paterson


While we are always excited about seeing any polar bears they were not welcome anywhere close to the scientists on the ice as they can be potentially dangerous. We therefore had two people on constant lookout on monkey island (the highest deck of the ship with the best view) on ‘bear-watch’ whenever people were on the sea ice. That was in addition to the regular watches of the ship’s crew. Fortunately it was never necessary to call people from the sea ice back onto the ship because of polar bears.

Laila on bear watch photo by Peter Lamont
Laila on bear watch photo by Peter Lamont


Stig and Anette, who are members of the Norwegian Polar Institute, also perform their own research while they are onboard the ship. To obtain larger quantities of plankton they deploy plankton nets to certain depths. A plankton net has very small holes and a container at its’ lowest point where the plankton gets collected.

Stig inspects the plankton net
Stig inspects the plankton net


The weather most of the time was what we have come to regard as typical arctic summer weather: grey, foggy and overcast, with little or no contrast. We were rewarded with beautiful sunshine on our way back from the ice station. I cannot resist including a picture taken on that day in here, although it is somewhat misleading. It is rare but when the sun comes out the light in the Polar Regions is very clear, which is one f the things that make them so special.

Sea ice on a sunny day
Sea ice on a sunny day


We were very lucky to see more polar bears; so far the total count is 17! The highlights were a mother with 2 cubs and a swimming bear with a whale in the background, both quite close to the ship!

Swimming polar bear photo by Ellie Bell
Swimming polar bear photo by Ellie Bell


It was also a week of several birthdays: Henrik, Eric and Mango the 3rd engineer all celebrated in style and a good time was had by all.

Henriks  birthday photo by Pauline Learmonth
Henriks birthday photo by Pauline Learmonth


Petra

(Photos by Ellie Bell, James Bendle, Peter Lamont, Pauline Learmonth, Robert Paterson and myself)