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Aug 18 - West of Svalbard

Monday the 18th of August 2008

Noon Position: Lat.: 79.33 N, Long.: 009.57 E
Location: West of Svalbard
Total Distance Travelled: 3053.3 NM
Air Temperature: 3.8 Degrees Celsius
Sea Temperature: 1.9 Degrees Celsius


Today woke up to change of scenery. The first noticeable change was that the ship is gently rolling and pitching, generally behaving like a ship again. A look out of the window confirmed that we are in open water again for the first time in several weeks.

The last week saw us reaching Rijpforden on the island of Nordaustlandet, an island to the North of Spitsbergen. This fjord is of special interest for the scientists because it contains Arctic water (as opposed to Atlantic water for example). SAMS and the Norwegian Polar Institute have been part of a cooperation of scientists investigating this fjord for some time now. There is a small hut of the Norwegian Polar Institute, with a laboratory that was manned most of last year to do continuous observations and measurements. A mooring for continuous underwater measurements like temperature and conductivity had been in place since October last year and was waiting to be retrieved by the ship. The ship’s investigation would contribute greatly to the understanding of this fjord, with echo sounding of the seabed, sediment cores and all the experiments concerning microorganisms.

It had been doubtful for quite some time whether we could get into Rijpforden at all, because it was still iced up completely when we started this journey. Even after the ice had cleared the fjord it sat like a plug blocking the entry and only now it seemed possible to get into the fjord. The journey towards the fjord gave us ample opportunity to admire the mountains of Svalbard as well as the wildlife.

01 - Mountains of Svalbard on a calm day
01 - Mountains of Svalbard on a calm day


We passed plenty of seals, resting on their floes. Most of them were bearded seals- named for obvious reasons.

02 - Bearded seal on a floe
02 - Bearded seal on a floe


Rijpfjorden welcomed us with one day of perfect weather, which was not going to last as the usual fog soon descended on us again. At times we could not even see the mountains surrounding the fjord. I’ll attach a good weather picture nevertheless because it looks a lot more appealing than grey on grey.

03 - Sea ice at the entry to Rijpfjorden
03 - Sea ice at the entry to Rijpfjorden


All the scientific investigations from the ice station and the shelf stations were repeated in Rijpfpforden to be compared with results from the other locations. We also put out a large sediment trap. It consists of several tubes in which sediment will gather over a period of time. This trap has to be suspended at the most promising depth, in this case 50 m by attaching a weight with the appropriate length of rope to it. The trap is then marked with a buoy at surface level.

04 - George the bosun deploying the trap, which is suspended from a winch
04 - George the bosun deploying the trap, which is suspended from a winch


I have mentioned the megacorer in one of my previous diary entries (see Monday 04th of August 2008). While no megacoring could be done at the Ice Station, because the ground was far too rocky, Rijpfjorden proved to be a perfect location for it. The geochemistry group needed to slice the cores into 5mm sections, which takes quite a long time and is also more than slightly messy. To assist Susan and Pauline, who have to do the slicing, Kate and I have graduated to ‘Assistant Mud Slicers’ in the meantime. Kate’s regular task onboard is the swath basymetry (something I find difficult to spell, but I am told it is a sort of detailed echo sounding of the sea floor). With that and myself being the doctor we received quite a lot of good-natured banter concerning our new job! I have to admit that the novelty factor wore of quite quickly, but we both continued to do our share.

05 - Kate slicing the top of a sediment core
05 - Kate slicing the top of a sediment core


Another scientist, Pete Lamont, checks the sediment cores for organisms. He always looks a bit like he is looking for gold when he is washing the sediment in a sieve. He takes the most amazing photos (with the help of a microscope) of the animals he finds in the sediment.

06 - Brittle star fish, photo by Peter Lamont
06 - Brittle star fish, photo by Peter Lamont


While we were in Rijpfjorden Stig and Anette had the opportunity to visit the little research hut, which is not occupied at the moment. They took George, the BBC cameraman with them and stayed out for most of the day.

07 - The RIBs return to the ship, having dropped off Annette, Stig and George, photo by George Pagliero
07 - The RIBs return to the ship, having dropped off Annette, Stig and George, photo by George Pagliero


08 - Rijpfjorden hut, photo by George Pagliero
08 - Rijpfjorden hut, photo by George Pagliero


They managed to climb the hill behind the hut just before the fog rolled in. Unfortunately the JCR was out of sight at that moment, so George never got his shot of the JCR in the fjord filmed from the hill. In the next picture you can just see the fog beginning to rise. Because of the turn in the weather we were several hours late to pick our small shore party up again. They were warm and cosy in the hut however and well fed on Norwegian field rations with cod stew on the menu.

09 - Annette making a brew on top of the hill, photo by George Pagliero
09 - Annette making a brew on top of the hill, photo by George Pagliero


After three days is was time to leave Rijpjorden again, which proved to be hard work for the ship and her crew. This was because the wind had changed direction in the meantime and had blown the ice back in. It has also started to snow quite heavily, covering the ship in a thick white layer.
While officers, crew and the scientists were working hard, some of us still found time for a snowball fight!

10 - Lester throwing a snowball at me
10 - Lester throwing a snowball at me


In a joint effort we also built a snowman on deck. It is of course pure coincidence that he shares his first name with the chief scientist of this cruise…

11 - A snowman called Ray
11 - A snowman called Ray


This last day in the ice proved to be a very special experience. Within about 2 ½ hours during the afternoon we saw three more polar bears. It got even more special when while we were watching Bear 22 a walrus popped up his head out of a lead nearby. The following night more bears were seen, bringing the total bear count up to 27 sightings for this cruise! I think we all appreciated having the opportunity to watch so many of these magnificent bears! Please forgive me for attaching just one last bear photo. This one seemed to be a young bear, intently watching the frozen over lead. It did not even once turn its head while the ship passed by! Maybe it expected a seal to pop up through the ice any time.

12 - Bear 22
12 - Bear 22


13 - Slightly blurry walrus, very close by to bear 22
13 - Slightly blurry walrus, very close by to bear 22


Three more birthdays (Elaine, Pauline and Pete Lens) were celebrated this week. While they all received cards, presents and a birthday cake, there was not a full-blown birthday party for each one of them, because that would have been just a little too much. So on some birthdays we watched a movie chosen by birthday boy or girl. Pauline was particularly excited about having a snowball fight on her birthday for the first time in her life!

14 - Pauline opens her presents
14 - Pauline opens her presents


Petra, photos by Peter Lamont, George Pagliero and myself