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Jul 28 - Off the North Coast of Norway

Noon Position: 69.00 North, 009.59 East
Location: Off the North Coast of Norway
Total Distance Travelled: 1278 Miles
Air Temperature: 11.6 Degrees Celsius
Sea Temperature: 11.9 Degrees Celsius

It is the end of July and the RRS James Clark Ross is sailing the oceans again. The last two months have been very busy and were spent in dry dock and refit. Now everything is order for another busy year. We apologise to any of our readers, who were disappointed not to hear from us, but we were just too busy and dry dock is not the most interesting time on the ship anyway.

As it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere we are on the way North towards Svalbard. The ship has left Portland on the 23rd of July to go on the ‘Ice Chaser Expedition’ led by SAMS (Scottish Association for Marine Science). They have their own website with a daily blog about our trip. (http://www.sams.ac.uk/research/research-themes/arctic/arctic-cruise-2008/) We are heading for the ice edge around Svalbard, where the plan is to investigate how climate change affects arctic marine microorganisms. More information on the actual science will follow later on this website. At the moment we have 32 scientists onboard, who joined the ship in Portland. For some of them it is their first journey at sea and they are still finding their sea legs. This was made a lot easier by the fabulous weather we have enjoyed so far. Sometimes we were indeed wondering whether we were sailing towards the South because it was so warm.

Colin and Tim enjoying the sunshine
Colin and Tim enjoying the sunshine


Science work started immediately after leaving Portland and half hourly water samples have been collected 24 hrs a day ever since. In case you imagined (like me) that to collect water some brave scientist would throw a bucket on a rope over the side and then heave it back- that is quite obviously not the case. It would not only be hard work, but also scientifically inaccurate. This being a research ship, it has an inbuilt water sampling system, where the seawater runs out of a pipe into a sink!

Susan collecting a water sample
Susan collecting a water sample


I thought I could describe some of the incredible devices used by the scientists here to do their work. For people working with them everyday they seem quite normal but for the rest of us they are fascinating and not exactly self-explanatory just by looking at the pictures.

Collecting water samples from deeper down is a lot more complicated than holding a container under a pipe and involves one of those devices, which are strapped onto the deck of the JCR at the moment. They all look slightly alien to the non-marine scientist and could easily be imagined landing on Mars! The one collecting water samples is called a CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. All these parameters are measured automatically and allow the operator to work out the salinity of the water too. The CTD is attached to a long cable and let down to the maximum intended depth, while sending data up to the ship. On the way back up the operators will send signals when to collect samples, which will be brought up to the surface (24 in all, they are in the grey tubes). What follows is a lot of queuing up for the scientist to collect their correct sample for later analysis.
CTD back on board
CTD back on board


Jane collects one of her water samples from the CTD
Jane collects one of her water samples from the CTD


Another fascinating machine is the lander, which looks even more futuristic. It will do just that: gently sink to the bottom of the sea and do the required analyses directly down there. But as opposed to the before mentioned Mars lander it is supposed to come back up afterwards to be reused again. It therefore has a mechanism to drop weights and then its floats will carry it back up to the surface. The floats are inside the yellow plastic bubbles on the top. As they are made of glass they needed to be tested, which happened today. Only the top half of the lander was let down to a depth of 1500 meter, whereas the scientific instruments stayed on deck. Needless to say that all went well!

The SAMS lander waiting on deck
The SAMS lander waiting on deck


On the way to testing the lander floats
On the way to testing the lander floats


Henrik, who will be working with the lander, before and after the test
Henrik, who will be working with the lander, before and after the test


Henrik, who will be working with the lander, before and after the test
Henrik, who will be working with the lander, before and after the test


Yesterday (27/07/08) we have crossed the Arctic Circle (66.56 degrees North), which was commemorated by a group picture up on Monkey Island. There was of course no difference to be seen between North and South of the Circle and we only knew where exactly it was because the officer of the watch (3rd officer Simon) gave us a shout at exactly the right time. There seemed to be some indecision about what to wear, ranging from people in t-shirts to duvet jackets!

Crossing the Arctic Circle
Crossing the Arctic Circle


We also had a few good wildlife encounters, including pots of dolphins and pilot whales close to the coast of Norway.

Pilot whale
Pilot whale


Dolphin
Dolphin


Petra